On December 6th, 2021, the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship sent a letter to Memorial University of Newfoundland President Vianne Timmons regarding her order that protest posters be taken down.
See the letter below:
6 December 2021
Vianne Timmons, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, NL A1C 5S7
Dear President Timmons,
I am writing as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), an organization of university faculty members and others dedicated to the defense of academic freedom and the merit principle in higher education. (For further information, see our website at http://www.safs.ca.)
SAFS is concerned that in removing the posters calling for your resignation, you violated the freedom of expression of the student who posted them as well as chilled expression at Memorial University of Newfoundland generally.
The posters are not, as you described, a personal attack, but rather a protest against your leadership. Students at universities should expect to be free to criticize their institution and its leaders and to protest whatever they believe needs to change. Calling for a university president to resign or to be fired ought to be protected expression.
By having the posters removed, you have signalled to the academic community at MUN, both students and professors, that they may not take certain stances with regard to the university without fear of being censored or sanctioned. Critical discussion of important matters cannot but suffer because of your actions.
Freedom of expression at a university must include the freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution. Otherwise, problems will not be solved or even identified and whatever consensus on policy might appear will be no more than surface deep. As well, students need freedom in order to develop their own values and views both as intellectuals and as citizens.
That the Respectful Workplace Policy at MUN could be abused in this way should frighten members of the MUN community. The student responsible for the posters, Matthew Barter, has not in fact violated the policy or harassed you, but if you do believe you are under personal attack or being harassed, you should file a formal complaint rather than take action yourself.
Otherwise, you are abusing fair process by assuming the roles of both complainant and adjudicator.
SAFS calls on you to rescind your order against the posters and to state unequivocally that you endorse freedom of expression on campus for MUN students, including the freedom to criticize the university and to propose changes.
We respectfully request that you respond to our letter. With your permission, we will post your response along with this letter on our website.
Mark Mercer, PhD
President, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS)
1801 Chestnut Street
Halifax, NS B3H 3T7
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/safs.ca/
Professor of Philosophy
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Cc. Florentine Strzelczyk, PhD, Provost & Vice-President (Academic)
Delores V. Mullings, PhD, Vice-provost, equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism
Donna Hardy Cox, PhD, Associate Vice-President (Academic) Students
Sean Cadigan, PhD, Associate Vice-President (Academic)
Josh Lepawsky, PhD, President, Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association
Matthew Barter, Student
See image format of letter below:
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.