Freedom of Expression Statement

As an institution that was founded for women in an era when there were few doors open for women in higher education, Mount Saint Vincent University has long been dedicated to offering an accessible and inclusive environment for learning. We continue to pursue the goals of greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of university life. Freedom of expression is foundational to our commitment to academic excellence, the pursuit of knowledge, scholarship, teaching, and all intellectual endeavours. This statement reaffirms our commitment to the essential tenets of freedom of expression that will guide us in future.

The purpose of a university requires the fullest and most varied expression of intellectual life for students, faculty, and staff. Critical inquiry, discovery, exchange of diverse perspectives and ideas, and open discussion are fundamental to the intellectual and academic life of our university. Our scholarly mission is enhanced by a diversity of identities, ideas, cultures, and views.

Universities are environments where a variety of ideas, opinions, and theories are considered, assessed, criticized, adopted, and revised, including those that may challenge deeply-held beliefs and opinions. These conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, and yet it is often through engaging with and understanding different and divergent views and thoughts – including those that conflict with our values – and in examining our own attitudes and beliefs, that the greatest learning occurs.

We recognize that some forms of expression have served to silence, exclude, and harm members of some communities, particularly those from marginalized groups. We are committed both to protecting freedom of expression and creating an inclusive learning environment where all members of our community have the full opportunity to engage in free expression and inquiry.

There are limits on freedom of expression. Canada’s laws restrict illegal forms of expression such as threats, defamation, discrimination, harassment, unjustified and substantial invasion of privacy and confidentiality, and hate speech. Other limits on free expression that apply to Mount community members include adherence to the University’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy and other applicable policies, contractual employment obligations for Mount faculty and staff, and the Code of Conduct for students. Activities associated with freedom of expression must not jeopardize the physical safety of members.

Context affects how freedom of expression is practiced and upheld. In formal learning settings, diverse ideas and arguments enhance university life. All students should have the opportunity to engage in free expression and inquiry in their courses. Students have the right to learning environments characterized by the expression of ideas that support active learning and engagement, which means that they may encounter instructional material or course discussions that challenge their views.

Outside formal learning settings, Mount community members are encouraged to participate in campus events, forums, and discussions. When confronted with ideas or viewpoints with which they disagree, Mount members can choose not to participate or express their dissent through engaging in debate, hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, and/or being part of non-violent protests or similar productive forums. All forms of expression should be undertaken in a manner that recognizes the rights of others to free expression.

The Mount community has a collective responsibility to encourage the free exchange of ideas, educate others in the fundamental importance of freedom of expression in academic life, and ensure that dialogue and debate continue to flourish.

Parts of this statement have been adapted from University of Chicago’s statement on freedom of expression (2015) and Wilfrid Laurier University’s statement on freedom of expression (2018).

– Published June 2019