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Freedom of Speech at the University of Toronto

Message from the Dean

I am writing to draw your attention to a website that the University of Toronto has established. The Freedom of Speech at the University of Toronto website gathers together in one place University policies and statements on freedom of expression and related matters. I believe that members of the Arts & Science community will find the website useful, not simply as a readily available reference resource, but also as a reminder of the set of policies and statements within which we all carry on our research, teaching and learning.

Universities are places where many of society’s stresses and strains are experienced first or most acutely. As institutions of learning and discovery, they are also places which, uniquely, protect academic freedom and depend upon free expression to achieve their mission. The University’s Statement of Institutional Purpose (1992) declares that, within the context of the university, “the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research.” These include the right to speak and write about difficult and radically contested issues, even if doing so upsets or discomfits other people. It is not absolute, but a right to be exercised within the laws of the land, and in a manner that does not erode or undermine the equivalent right of other members of the university. Without civility – without mutual recognition and respect for the right of others to speak without intimidation or threat – the free flow of ideas that is the hallmark of our academic community could be staunched or blocked entirely.

A central task of a university is to secure the conditions within which the right of everyone to speak and write freely is accommodated. It is not unusual, and not surprising, that there are often deep disagreements about what the principle requires in a practical setting, or about whether a particular action or comment is an instance of free expression, or, in its effects, an assault on it. The University of Toronto seeks to ensure that the right is respected, within the framework of policies and guidelines contained in the website.

But members of the University community have their role to play as well. All members of the University community have a responsibility to think through how their conduct affirms, or risks undermining, the goals of the University to which we are all committed. Familiarity with the relevant policies and guidelines is a good foundation on which to build. Hence the utility of the University’s website.