Canadian university exonerates student in academic freedom row

Wilfrid Laurier University admits it mishandled incident in which teaching assistant was accused of creating a ‘toxic’ environment 

January 3, 2018
Gender neutral
Source: iStock

A university teaching assistant who was reprimanded for showing a video clip of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns was disciplined by her supervisors even though no formal or informal complaint was filed, a report from an independent investigator has found.

Lindsay Shepherd, a communications graduate student and teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, showed a short video clip of a television debate between two University of Toronto professors, who gave opposing views on the use of gender-neutral pronouns, as part of a communications tutorial.

One of the professors featured in the clip was Jordan Peterson, who has long refused to use gender-neutral pronouns.

Ms Shepherd was reprimanded in November during a meeting with her supervisory professor, a member of the university’s equity and diversity office, and another professor, who told her that students had complained about the video and that it had created a “toxic” environment for transgender students.

But, in a statement, Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, said that a report from an “external fact-finder” found that “no formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video”.

Professor MacLatchy added that there was “no wrongdoing on the part of Ms Shepherd in showing the clip” in her tutorial.

The university launched an independent investigation following backlash over its handling of the incident.

“There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question. In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all,” Professor MacLatchy said.

“The errors in judgement were compounded by misapplication of existing university policies and procedures. Basic guidelines and best practices on how to appropriately execute the roles and responsibilities of staff and faculty were ignored or not understood.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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