A Letter to David Cameron, Dean of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto

Regarding Jordan Peterson

To Professor David Cameron, Dean of Arts and Science

I am writing to express my disappointment in the University of Toronto’s decision to host Professor Jordan Peterson in what he terms a “free speech debate” on Saturday, November 19, 2016. The premise of this forum is that the right to gender identity and expression, and the right to have them respected by the faculty and staff employed by this institution, are the subject of academic debate. That you and the wider administration at the University of Toronto have endorsed and facilitated this event is grossly irresponsible.

In the November 14, 2016 issue of The Varsity newspaper you are quoted as saying “In such polarized circumstances, it is appropriate that the university sponsor a forum, which aims to permit — in an academic setting — the rational examination of the various views raised by this controversy.”

Am I to understand that you think Jordan Peterson’s fear-based hate mongering constitutes a “rational examination”? In no uncertain terms, your words show that you believe trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people in our community have so little authority on their own identities that an “academic setting” is required to discuss whether their very existence should be respected by their professors, employers, and colleagues.

To be clear, by hosting this event, you and the wider University of Toronto administration have implicitly legitimized the idea that human rights are up for debate. You have unambiguously decided that dehumanization is acceptable in order to accommodate Jordan Peterson’s transphobia, racism, and misogyny.

As a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, I deeply value the concept of academic freedom. I also recognize that true academic freedom cannot be achieved without diverse representation in academia from all marginalized and oppressed groups. Jordan Peterson and his supporters seek to normalize an academic environment that is actively hostile to gender, sexual, and racial minorities (essentially everyone who does not look and think as he does). His motives are utterly antithetical to the very ideas of academic freedom, discourse, and debate, and so deserve not even the pretense of respect.

As Dean of the largest faculty at the largest university in Canada, it was your responsibility to clearly demonstrate that the University of Toronto does not support rhetoric that constitutes and legitimizes abuse and harassment on the basis of gender, race, and sexuality. You have failed this responsibility.