Student Letter Against the "Liberty Lectures"

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Dear Dean of Queen's Faculty of Law,

We are writing to express our deep disappointment in the “Liberty Lecture” series held at Queen’s Law. According to the organizers of the Liberty Lectures, the series “explores the law and politics of individual liberty, including freedom of speech and inquiry, the role of autonomy in liberal democracy and Western culture, and the forces that threaten liberty from within and without”. The three-year series began in 2018 after Queen’s Law accepted the sponsorship of an alumnus, Greg Piasetzki, to appoint Professor Bruce Pardy in uniquely organizing the lectures.

So far, the “Liberty Lectures” series have invited Jordan Peterson, Conrad Black, and Amy Wax, among others, to speak at Queen’s Law. In March 2018, Jordan Peterson spoke at Queen’s following extensive media coverage of his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns and his criticism of women’s studies as well as “ethnic studies and racial studies” classes at universities. In October 2018, Conrad Black spoke at the law school, on a talk titled “In Praise of Sir John A Macdonald: Historical Icon Meets the PC Brigade,” directly after Indigenous students at Queen’s Law expressed discomfort with the name of the law school in light of John A Macdonald’s role in residential schools and Indigenous genocide in Canada. In March 2019, Amy Wax spoke at Queen’s Law, following media coverage of her negative comments on the academic performance of black law students at University of Pennsylvania.

We affirm the importance of free speech in society and at Queen’s Law, and we specifically denounce the attempt of the “Liberty Lectures” to co-opt the term “free speech” as something which is ideologically juxtaposed to promoting inclusivity and diversity. To us, events which support free speech support the opportunity of all voices to speak and be heard, and not just the voices of the economically, racially, sexually, and culturally privileged few. Whether deliberately or not, each of the speakers invited by the “Liberty Lectures” have directly targeted minority groups by appropriating and disparaging their demands and overtly rejecting their phenomenological history and identity from behind a seemingly neutral podium of “academic free speech”. The “Liberty Lectures” have failed to inspire a novel academic discussion of the law and politics of individual liberty, but rather have catapulted its derivative doctrine into social discourse by opportunistically exploiting the credibility of those whom it has always been convenient to exploit. Ironically and tellingly, none of the “Liberty Lecture” events have allowed opposing viewpoints or affected minority groups to respond.

We are ashamed that Queen’s Law has implicitly endorsed the “Liberty Lectures” series. As students in a profession which has, until recent history, excluded women, people of colour, Indigenous people, and other minority groups from even studying law, and as students in a profession which continues to discriminate against these groups, we are ashamed that our law school cannot see why the “Liberty Lectures” are problematic, offensive, ineffective in promoting free speech, and antithetical to Queen’s Law values of inclusivity and diversity. We are also ashamed that Queen’s Law has allowed the “Liberty Lectures” to make our law school an unwelcoming and unsafe place for those already underrepresented in the legal profession and to request from those students that they continually justify their own existence and right to belong.

As Queen’s Law continues to strive to be a leader in Canadian law schools and legal academia, we ask you to reconsider the series of decisions which made it possible for the “Liberty Lectures” to exist as they do today. We ask to you to be conscious of how and where external funding is accepted by the school, and whether that funding will truly promote academic freedom or simply echo historical prejudice against disadvantaged groups. We ask you to have an honest and balanced conversation about the importance of “free speech” on campuses. One day, when we are Queen’s Law alumni ourselves, we wish to remember our experience of Queen’s Law as one which celebrated our diversity and supported us regardless of our differences.

Yours truly,