Lethbridge university cancels speech with former Controversial professor
Khai Choual, Staff Writer
Frances Widdowson, a terminated professor from Mount Royal University (MRU) was scheduled to speak at the University of Lethbridge (UofL) but the event was cancelled due to objections. Widdowson made international headlines in 2020 for stating that the Black Lives Matter movement had destroyed MRU and for her defence of the educational benefits of Canada’s residential schools.
Widdowson was invited by a UofL faculty member Paul Viminitz, who works in the philosophy department at the university.
Widdowson’s speech “How ‘Woke-ism’ Threatens Academic Freedom,” was held on Zoom instead of being held on UofL grounds. The ex-professor gave two lectures on the “Indigenous way of knowing” in Viminitz’s class according to her fundraiser. Two petitions were created before her speech in UofL which have over 2500 signatures combined.
Nathan Crow, the creator of one of the petitions and the Indigenous student representative on the Students’ Union Council in UofL, stated in the said petition that, “the atrocities that occurred within the Indian Residential School system are 100% accurate and true, and I strongly feel that Frances Widdowson’s attendance on our campus devalues the opinions and shared histories of the many survivors who attended this colonial system.”
In a Facebook post, Widdowson was committed to going through with her speech. “You will have to haul me away by security to stop me,” she wrote.
The University of Lethbridge President & Vice-Chancellor Mike Mahon has responded with the statement, “The University of Lethbridge has become aware of a guest speaker, invited by one of our faculty members, whose views are in conflict with a number of the values held by the University—including the University’s stated commitment to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. We strongly disagree with assertions that seek to minimise the significant and detrimental impact of Canada’s residential school system.”
Crow also emphasised the effect this would have on the children and grandchildren of the survivors of the residential school systems.
Mahon has also stated, “Freedom of speech is inextricably associated with freedom of expression and is afforded the same commitments with bounds determined by the requirements of Canadian Law. Freedom of expression does not protect violence or threats of violence and examples of how it is limited include Criminal Code hate speech laws, hate and discriminatory speech provisions within provincial human rights codes, and anti-defamation laws.”
Just a few days after the Widdowson uproar, a press release from the Alberta government stated that, “Alberta’s government is working to further protect free speech and academic freedom on post-secondary campuses. Post-secondary institutions will have to report annually to the government on their efforts to protect free speech on campus.”
Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides quotes that, “It is abundantly clear that more needs to be done to ensure our institutions are adequately protecting free speech… I will continue to explore greater steps we can take to strengthen free speech on campus.”
An anonymous policy studies student who has had two classes with Widdowson at MRU shares that, “Frances is an objective professor. She tries to teach from a very objective point of view. But there have been incidents in her classes where students felt uncomfortable expressing what they had to say and they felt that they could not fully learn in an environment where someone is personally targeting them.”
When asked about their thoughts on the UofL situation, the anonymous student shares that “Universities, especially the University of Lethbridge, have to sit down with themselves and reason what is their priority…I think MRU put their priorities straight in the past few years when it comes to Frances, but it’s going to take much, much strength to uphold that set of priority and as well as the Alberta government. I think we have an upcoming election and the [Minister of Advanced Education’s] statement will appeal to a lot of people in Alberta.”
Meanwhile, signers of the petition opposing Widdowson’s presence at the university have shared their disdain online.
One petition signer comments that “it is absolutely horrid that someone who is supposed to be educated, is spreading false narratives, feeding into hate & perpetuating the ongoing systemic oppression & racism! No place that has a semblance of a conscience should allow her to speak especially since it [is] hate speech & goes against what our Human Rights are!”