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The British are of course veterans…

… of this sort of thing (background here and here). Their universities sponsor events in which speakers call for the death of homosexuals, and where women can’t speak, and are segregated in some other room from the men. Now Ottawa’s Carleton University is dealing with the aftermath of having sponsored an event in honor of Khomeini. A group of Iranian-Canadian professors have written a letter to Carleton’s president protesting the event:

… Clearly, this “conference”, organized by a group of people associated with the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, does not have academic value and cannot provide an objective analysis of Khomeini’s thoughts and particularly their outcome.

… [R]eputable academic institutions have a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye on atrocities committed against their colleagues in other countries. Providing forum to individuals, who under the pretext of academic freedom, propagate the ideas and values of a regime that is known for its violation of all standards of academic freedom and rights, is far from promoting academic debates.


… [A speaker at the conference,] Kurt Anders Richardson, at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, … said Khomeini “was the one who emphasized the equality of human beings, the equality of male and female.” …

In an interview with Maclean’s after the conference, Richardson said he has received a lot of criticism from Iranian émigrés in Canada since making those comments and said he had based them on Khomeini’s writings, rather than his actions.

Oh! Okay then.

Margaret Soltan, June 27, 2012 7:58AM
Posted in: the university

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9 Responses to “The British are of course veterans…”

  1. Alan Allport Says:

    I don’t really understand your point here, UD. If one doesn’t like what was said at this meeting – or any other meeting – isn’t the answer to sponsor one of your own rather than piss and moan that it wasn’t banned?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I think it’s more complicated than that, Alan. Pressure needs to be put on universities uninterested in thinking hard about events they should and should not sanction. Under pressure from student and faculty, British universities have begun to scrutinize with far more care the groups and ideas to which they lend their respectability. Universities are not compelled to sponsor any form of activity or speech; indeed, given their nature, universities are particularly compelled to be serious about ideas and behaviors worthy of sponsorship and those unworthy. The letter from Iranian-Canadian professors did not piss and moan; nor did it demand that Khomeini propaganda be banned. It protested the event, and gave perfectly good reasons why it was unworthy of association with a respectable university.

  3. Alan Allport Says:

    The letter from Iranian-Canadian professors did not piss and moan; nor did it demand that Khomeini propaganda be banned.

    The letter strongly implies that the university shouldn’t have allowed the event to go ahead. If that isn’t a retroactive call for a ban, then there’s a subtle semantic point here that is obviously being lost on me.

    I concede that universities shouldn’t positively encourage every kind of speech. But the bar being set here is awfully low.

    If I understand the details correctly, this meeting was arranged not by CU but by one of its student groups; the only active involvement the university undertook was to allow the use of its facilities and to advertise the event on its website – hardly ‘sponsorship’ in anything but the most token way.

    And I see no evidence that anything said at this meeting was so extraordinarily provocative and/or irresponsible that the university should have intervened.

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    I agree with you that this one is a judgment call. No one asked for the killing of homosexuals, or insisted that women shut up and sit in a different room, as has happened at British universities. As to sponsorship – this is a tricky business, it seems to me. When you advertise something on your university website and allow it to take place on campus you have, in my book, basically sponsored it. You have enabled the people having the event to use the reputation of the university to lend the event the sort of legitimacy universities lend things: To take place at a university means to have intellectual respectability, seriousness, etc. If it’s in fact a crude propaganda exercise, as this event seems to have been (it was a kind of Happy Birthday Khomeini event, apparently), you have allowed your university to be used. You’re supposed to protect the intellectual and moral integrity of your university.

  5. Alan Allport Says:

    Don’t American politicians routinely use speaking gigs at colleges as crude propaganda exercises? Are we to prohibit them too? Or should there be a University Seriousness Committee pronouncing judgment on a case-by-case basis?

    The proper response to speech you dislike is to talk back.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    All universities do have a version of a seriousness committee – their facilities and their names aren’t available to just anyone. They have a reputation to protect.

    If reports of the Khomeini event are correct, it was absolutely without intellectual substance. It glorified a tyrant. I agree with the letter writers that it wasn’t an event worthy of a serious university, but you’re the only one talking about prohibitions and banning. We’re doing what you say we should do. We’re talking back.

  7. Alan Allport Says:

    The letter writers are deliberately fudging the issue, as (with all due respect) I think you are too UD. Carleton had a choice when it was approached by its own student group. They could let the event go ahead, or they could ban it. I don’t see a third alternative here. So what should they have done? What would you have done?

    You can’t have it both ways. If you’re not in favor of permitting something to take place, then you’re in favor of banning it. That’s an intellectually defensible position, even if it’s one I happen to disagree with. What’s not intellectually defensible is to condemn Carleton for allowing the event to take place, but then to fight shy of the implications of this demand.

  8. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Oh, I think I’d have argued, if I’d been on the seriousness committee, against letting Iran film a birthday party for Khomeini on my campus. It’s embarrassing. I think as a result of various professors squawking about it, Carleton will scrutinize future such celebrations with greater care.

  9. Alan Allport Says:

    So you’d have banned it? OK, fine. But let’s be honest about what you’re advocating here.

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