Halifax – The Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers (ANSUT), which represents more than 1,400 faculty from eight universities across Nova Scotia, supports Dalhousie University student Masuma Khan’s right to freedom of expression.
“ANSUT is absolutely committed to academic freedom. It is the backbone of free inquiry at our universities. Faculty have fought unwaveringly over the years to embed this right, which is also protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in our collective agreements, and we believe that right clearly applies to our students as well,” said Scott Stewart, the President of ANSUT.
The case involves comments made by Ms. Khan, Vice President, Academic and External, of the Dalhousie Student’s Union (DSU) and the decision of the DSU not to support Canada 150 celebrations because, in their view, it celebrates what many in the First Nations Communities consider a continuation and celebration of the colonisation and disenfranchisement of their cultures and communities.
“Whether people agree with Ms. Khan is not the point,” says Stewart. “Freedom of expression does not just cover speech that everyone finds comfortable. Rather, it covers uncomfortable speech, and especially uncomfortable political speech. So, at a time when Canada is dealing with the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and our universities are tasked with decolonizing our curricula, we find it troubling that Dalhousie administration is engaged in a process that may ultimately discipline Ms. Khan for speaking out on just those subjects.”
Dalhousie’s Vice Provost of Student Affairs, who is in charge of this investigation, has determined that “there was not enough evidence for the case to be furthered considered.” Despite this, the Vice Provost has forwarded the case to the Senate Disciplinary Committee, which could discipline Ms. Khan because she refused an “informal resolution” which could have required Ms. Khan to undergo training in appropriate behaviour and/or apologize for her statements.
“ANSUT agrees wholeheartedly with Ms. Khan that this is inappropriate,” says Stewart. As Ms. Khan eloquently expresses it: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for the university to tell racialized students [like Ms. Khan who is a Muslim Canadian] how they can talk about their lived experiences … Suggesting I should take some training about how to talk about racism, that’s incredibly invalidating.”
“It’s ironic,” says Stewart, “that universities venerate Socrates as the exemplar of a true scholar for his unwavering investigation into the truth of things, even when his speech was unwelcomed and prosecuted by those in power in ancient Athens. Yet, when people such as Ms. Khan speak up, we attempt to do the same thing.”