March 22, 2010
Dr. Francois Houle
Vice-President Academic and Provost
University of Ottawa
Room 217A Tabaret Hall
Dear Dr. Houle:
We are deeply disturbed by your correspondence with Ann Coulter regarding her speaking engagement at the University of Ottawa tomorrow. Your admonishing her about speech rights in Canada raises serious questions about the University of Ottawa’s respect for freedom of expression and academic freedom.
The purpose of a university is aptly captured in the University of Toronto’s statement on the “Purpose of the University”:
Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.
Ms. Coulter certainly does raise disturbing questions and provocative challenges. While many of us profoundly disagree with her, a university should welcome controversial speakers and vigorous debate, not seek to restrict discourse or speakers.
We feel you owe an apology to Ms. Coulter and, even more importantly, you owe the University of Ottawa community an assurance that the administration of the University strongly supports freedom of expression, academic freedom and views the role of the university as fostering and defending these values.
Penni Stewart James L. Turk
President Executive Director