Dear members of the UBC community:
In recent years, certain individuals have either been invited to speak or have requested to speak on campus. This has resulted in a robust conversation on controversial speakers whose views are deeply offensive and hurtful to members of our community. Such views, when expressed on campus, also threaten to undermine our community’s broad commitments to inclusivity and diversity.
Many members of the UBC community have signed an open letter requesting amendments to the UBC Senate Statement on Academic Freedom. In particular, racialized and trans members of our community have communicated that the existing policy is inadequate. The Vancouver Senate initiated a process last year to consider amendments to this Statement and that process is still underway. I look forward to the outcome of that process.
In the meantime, to better understand the legal framework within which the university can evaluate controversial speakers, I have had discussions with a number of faculty with expertise, as well as with internal and external counsel. I have also heard from many other individuals at UBC about how we can improve decision-making regarding speakers. In particular, our concern going forward is to be particularly attentive to those who experience the harmful consequences of speech that denigrates the full equality, inclusivity, and diversity to which UBC’s mission statement properly commits us.
As a result of engaging in this dialogue I have modified our approach to making these decisions, and I would like to thank everyone who has participated in these thoughtful discussions.
We have revised the event risk assessment and mitigation process for these bookings to clearly identify the level of risk for these events and therefore more clearly support decision-making regarding speakers. In addition, all requests for event bookings at the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan campuses or Robson Square are being assessed through the lens of the BC Human Rights Code by an external legal expert specializing in human rights and civil liberties law.
As has always been the case, UBC is bound by the protections set out in the BC Human Rights Code. The Code prohibits publications that are discriminatory or are likely to expose a group to hatred or contempt on the basis of factors such as race, colour, place of origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Code also contains provisions that prohibit UBC from discriminating against anyone in the provision of any accommodation, service, or facility that is customarily available to the public. These two provisions must be read together, providing a coherent and full policy of protection against discriminatory expression and discriminatory actions on campus.
With the advice of expert counsel, our revised process will allow for a more thoughtful and anti-discrimination focused decision-making process regarding potential speakers.
In closing, I would once again like to thank the UBC community for their valuable input into this process.
Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor