This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Many of the talks being provided to the community are one-sided, activist, and controversial.
I’ve been taking a look at the University of Victoria (UVic), located on Canada’s west coast, as part of a larger story I’m researching.
Universities aren’t supposed to be islands of conformist thought. They’re supposed to be a marketplace of ideas. Students who attend these institutions are meant to be exposed to a range of perspectives and analyses.
UVic offers a wonderful service called the Speakers Bureau. If you’re a member of the faculty, a graduate student, a UVic retiree, or even a non-academic staffer at the university, the Speakers Bureau will connect you to audiences in the community.
Anyone wishing to volunteer fills out an online form with the title of their talk, a brief description, and an indication of whether this topic is appropriate for non-adult audiences. Hundreds of talks are currently available, and many sound fun and fascinating (see online here and the PDF booklet here).
There’s a Humorous History of Highways on offer, as well as a presentation titled Into the Woods with German Myths and Fairy Tales. There’s a talk on the replication crisis in science, and one on wrongful criminal convictions. In many cases, the titles suggest a non-dogmatic approach on the part of the speaker. For example:
Electronic Media and Young Children: Positive and Negative Effects on Development
What’s Wrong (and What’s Right) About the Flu Vaccine?
Genetically Modified Organisms: Frankenfood or Cornucopia?
Residential Schools: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
But other presentations are obviously activist in nature. Here are two, currently being delivered by Social Studies associate professor Jason Price:
Education and the Revolution: Climate Change and the Curriculum of Life
Education for Social Justice and Reconstruction
A description of both is currently missing from the Speakers Bureau web page. But we’re told these are considered appropriate for children as young as kindergarten age.
Moussa Magassa, currently employed by UVic as a Human Rights Education Adviser, similarly delivers a talk about How to Create Inclusive Spaces for Social Change. It, too, is considered appropriate for students as young as 10.
Patrick Makokoro, currently a UVic graduate student who has yet to complete his PhD, gives another presentation to audiences as young as 10 whose purpose is to raise awareness “on social justice initiatives” in order to create “a just, fair and equitable world.”
William Carroll, a sociology professor, delivers a talk titled The Challenge of Climate Justice: Can We Make a Just Transition from Fossil Capitalism? We’re advised:
This presentation first outlines how capitalism is implicated in climate change. It then offers a framework for understanding how corporate power works to protect the revenue streams of big business. Finally, it presents some ideas on how we might move toward a socially just and ecologically responsible future.
Another presentation is titled Public Health in the Anthropocene: Addressing the Ecological Determinants of Health. It’s delivered by Emeritus Professor Trevor Hancock, from UVic’s School of Public Health and Social Policy. The description begins this way:
We’re entering a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
One wonders whether this gentleman informs his audiences that ‘the Anthropocene’ is a political term that has never been recognized by the experts who actually have responsibility for naming new geological epochs.
Then there’s the talk given by Dwight Owens. He holds a BA in Chinese language and literature, and an MA in Educational Technology. For the past decade, he has been employed by Ocean Networks Canada, a UVic project that gathers data along coastlines. His current employment title is User Engagement Officer, which sounds like it might involve both information technology (IT) and public relations (PR).
His presentation is dramatically titled Hot, Sour and Breathless: Oceans Under Stress. The description gives the impression he’s a scientific expert, even though he’s not:
The global ocean is under stress from warming, acidification and oxygen declines. Why are these changes happening and what impacts can we expect? This talk outlines these three interrelated stressors, examining impacts and actions we can take to counteract them.
A few years ago, Owens delivered a slightly different talk, focused on ocean acidification. A community group has posted his slides online here, where it’s plain for all to see that he’s included a quote from a group of activist scientists led by James Hansen.
In conclusion, a number of talks being provided to the community by the UVic Speakers Bureau can accurately be described as controversial. In many cases, the tone and content is overtly activist. The audience doesn’t receive a balanced overview, but an aggressive, single point-of-view.
In other cases, the topics appear to be highly inappropriate for elementary school children. In still others, the qualifications of the person delivering the talk should raise eyebrows. Are graduate students currently studying education really experts in “creating a just, fair and equitable world”? Do universities normally promote talks about ocean chemistry by people with no science training?
If UVic is a principled, pro-free speech institution that permits anyone to discuss anything via its Speakers Bureau, it deserves our admiration. But if there’s a vetting process that forbids some people from being part of the Speakers Bureau while tolerating the above, that’s another matter altogether.
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