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A message from Concordia’s president

Alan Shepard reaffirms the university’s commitment to academic freedom, free speech and mutual respect
December 5, 2014
By Alan Shepard

Universities have significant modern roots in academic freedom, free speech, and mutual respect. The university's mission depends on these essential pillars, as they make possible our very purpose — to test ideas, to test society, to test ourselves.

These values are never more crucial than when we are tackling an idea that is complex, controversial and emotional.

Last week, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) included a referendum question on its by-election ballot asking its membership whether they approved of the CSU endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

I have heard from a number of members of our community who worry that this issue is divisive and could create an unwelcoming environment on campus.

The result of the vote is independent of the university.

In my view, a boycott barring us from contact with other universities and scholars would be contrary to the value of academic freedom that is a pillar of Concordia and of universities all over the world.

That freedom — to think the thoughts we want to think, to test ideas however controversial — is the bedrock of university life. Boycotts by definition foreclose all opportunities for such a free exchange of ideas and perspectives.

In cases that are as complex as the one at hand, questions of how the discussion, debate and aftermath are conducted are as important as the outcome.

All members of our community have an obligation to uphold the principles of academic freedom, free speech and mutual respect.

I wish to affirm strongly my commitment to these values.  These are not hollow placeholders but essential values.

I call on everyone in the Concordia community to work together to sustain an environment in which all of us are emotionally and physically safe and secure.

Only in such an environment can we truly pursue the freedoms of education.

Alan Shepard

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