Statement from the Provost regarding June 23rd event at UBC

June 14, 2019

A number of concerns have been expressed regarding the June 23rd talk, booked and to be presented by Jenn Smith. To be clear, this is not an event sponsored by anyone at the University of British Columbia, but is a booking by an external party.

On behalf of the University, I want to assure all in the UBC community that the university is deeply committed to the principles of equity, diversity, inclusion and maintaining a respectful environment, both among students, faculty and staff and in our commitment to educating future leaders. Indeed, Inclusion is a key theme called out in our strategic plan: Shaping UBC’s Next Century. Given the expectations for the June 23rd event, it is important to state unequivocally that the university values and celebrates our transgender and nonbinary students, faculty and staff, and stands behind their work in advancing safety and inclusion.

The university, through its strategic commitment to inclusion, is also working to build the capacity of faculty, students and staff through opportunities for dialogue and education so that we all respect the rights and dignities of others, while we exercise our freedom of expression. Some of the programming and resources available are detailed below:

In addition, the Faculty of Education is leading an initiative dedicated to sexual orientation and gender-identity (SOGI) inclusive education. More information can be found on the Faculty of Education’s website.

This support for members of our own community, and work in education and research, can be regarded in balance with the institution’s commitment to freedom of expression. As a public academic institution, UBC also places a paramount value on the free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints. The 1976 Senate's Statement on Academic Freedom reads as follows:

The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions. All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University's forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

This article has more information about our approach to matters of freedom of expression on campus.

A second important point concerning free expression is outlined in UBC Board of Governor’s Policy 107: Booking and Rental of UBC Space. UBC’s commitment to freedom of expression includes speakers who book UBC space for events independently, as is the case in this instance. This policy is followed even where some members of the university community may consider a guest speaker’s ideas, or the way in which they are expressed, to be controversial or offensive. 

With respect to concerns regarding the safety of students, staff, faculty, and members of the public, UBC Campus Security advises the administration on best practices to follow regarding events on campus. In the coming days, we will be collaborating with the RCMP and other campus service providers, as we would be doing for any event with a controversial speaker, to ensure we have measures in place to ensure that our students, faculty and staff are kept safe and are supported.

If you are, or if someone you know is, negatively impacted by this event, UBC has a number of resources available to students, faculty, and staff if support is needed. Support services are available for students at UBC Counselling Services and UBC Health Services and to faculty and staff through the UBC Employee & Family Assistance Program.

Andrew Szeri
Provost and Vice-President, Academic
UBC Vancouver

  • From the Provost