The WLU/Lindsay Shepherd controversy was never about free speech
On November 10, Christie Blatchford published a piece decrying the demise of free speech on university campuses across Canada in response to news that a TA at Wilfrid Laurier University was reprimanded for showing a video featuring controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson on TVO. Others soon echoed her sentiments, signalling that the question of free speech on university campuses has been a much discussed, ongoing issue that is just reaching its watershed moment. Many from across the political spectrum said this is symptomatic of graver issues in Canadian higher education and the means by which pedagogy is developed and controversial topics are presented in a coddled manner to students. Somehow, as the story took off, it seems that almost everyone lost sight of the key issues at play within the Lindsay Shepherd affair.
I’m a PhD student in science and technology studies at York University. My subject of study deals with how power, technology, knowledge and sociocultural factors are mobilized across varied contexts. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and professionally and academically, I have straddled the worlds of STEM as well as the humanities and social sciences. I have also been a TA for nearly 2 years, assisting with the grading of material from classes intended for students in arts and science disciplines. Similar to Shepherd’s role, my job is to aid the course instructor in reaching their intended course content objectives and learning outcomes. If I were to deviate from the directives of my teaching assistantship contract, I’d be failing to meet the basic requirements of my job. I would be accordingly disciplined. If there are grading discrepancies between a group of TAs, we generally come together to address how people were approaching their evaluations and to address any misunderstandings. This is routine procedure. If, due to some error, I misdirected students to whom I am ultimately accountable, I know very well, that I would have to answer for my mistakes, intended or not, to my superiors. This is something that is clearly shared between the worlds of academia and the “real world” which Shepherd claims she wants to not “shield” her students from. Ironically, it seems that Shepherd herself has long been shielded from the reality she alludes to.
A source who has chosen to stay anonymous, a graduate student in communication studies and a fellow TA in the “Canadian Communication in Context” class with Shepherd, has…