In an op-ed published in the National Post on Monday, embattled Wilfrid Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd argued that universities are losing sight of their purpose.
“I am a teaching assistant for Communication Studies 101,” Shepherd began. “Last month, I showed my students a clip from TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, which showed University of Toronto professors Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte debating the contentious issue of gender pronouns.”
“I mentioned to my class that watching debates such as the one we were about to view is a great way to break out of communication bubbles and decide for oneself whether an argument is valid or not,” she explained. “I emphasized that watching ideas being debated in action is how a ‘marketplace of ideas’ is formed (a concept that is studied in the very course in which I was censured, ironically enough).”
Shepherd’s story exploded into the national press after she leaked an audio recording of an interrogation that took place during the investigation over her showing the video to students. In the recording, Shepherd was dressed down by professor Nathan Rambukkana, professor Herbert Pimlott, and staffer Adria Joel. Due to the recording’s publication, Wilfrid Laurier was forced to apologize to Shepherd.
“I was told that playing the TVO clip was tantamount to violence, and that I had created a toxic climate and unsafe learning environment,” Shepherd continued. “I was also told that I had violated everything from the university’s Gendered Violence and Sexual Assault Policy to the Ontario Human Rights Code to Bill C-16.”
Shepherd used her experience to argue that universities have largely abandoned critical thinking. “WLU’s interrogation of my decision to air two sides of a topical debate was so troubling because it revealed that these educators don’t believe critical thinking matters, or that they fear students exercising critical thought might lead them to politically incorrect conclusions,” she wrote. “If that’s the case, how can these departments justify charging students for these degrees?”
“I also believe students need to approach university with an openness to being challenged,” she finished. “If a student is not willing to discuss topical issues in an open and respectful way with peers who may have vastly different perspectives, that student should take a year off and only return to university if and when he or she is ready for dialogue and debate.”