Laurier professor, president apologize to TA over video sanction

Wilfrid Laurier University president and vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy issued an apology to teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd on Tuesday afternoon. Shepherd was sanctioned after showing a debate featuring controversial U of T professor Jordan Peterson in her class.

'The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires'

Lindsay Shepherd was sanctioned by officials at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., for showing a video of a debate in her classroom. (Twitter)

The president of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., has apologized for how faculty handled complaints made against teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd after she showed a controversial video in a communications tutorial class.

Laurier president and vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy apologized to Shepherd on Tuesday after media outlets carried the full audio of a conversation between her, her supervising professor Dr. Nathan Rambukkana as well as another professor, Herbert Pimlott, and the manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, Adria Joel. Shepherd recorded the conversation in secret. 

"After listening to this recording, an apology is in order," MacLatchy wrote.

"The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd."

MacLatchy said she also planned to apologize to Shepherd in person.

Sanctioned for video

Shepherd was sanctioned by Rambukkana after screening an episode of the TVOntario current affairs program The Agenda, which showed a debate between two University of Toronto instructors — controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in the sexual diversity studies program.

Peterson is known for being outspoken on issues, including his views on genderless pronouns.

Rambukkana told Shepherd showing the video without denouncing Peterson's views was like "neutrally playing a speech by Hitler."

Deborah MacLatchy is the president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Shepherd was told one or more students complained about the video. Shepherd told CBC News she told students it's important to listen to all sides before you form an opinion on any issue.

"I very clearly stated, watching debates like these are so important for getting yourself out of speech bubbles," Shepherd told CBC News last week.

"This was on TVO," she added; a public broadcaster known for educational programming. "It's crazy to me that it can't be shown in a classroom with adults."

Professor apologizes

MacLatchy said Laurier has called in an independent party to "assess the facts of the matter, including a review of related processes going forward."

Rambukkana also issued a written apology Tuesday.

"While I still cannot discuss the student concerns raised about the tutorial, everything that has happened since the meeting has given me occasion to rethink not only my approach to discussing the concerns that day, but many of the things I said in our meeting as well," he wrote.

In a tweet after the apologies were released by Laurier, Shepherd said, "Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force and investigation). Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won't take you seriously."

Apology from Laurier President and Vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy

Nov. 21, 2017

I'm writing to make an apology on behalf of the university.

Through the media, we have now had the opportunity to hear the full recording of the meeting that took place at Wilfrid Laurier University.

After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd. I will convey my apology to her directly. Professor Rambukkana has also chosen to apologize to Lindsay Shepherd about the way the meeting was conducted.

I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.

The university has engaged an independent party to assess the facts of the matter including a review of related processes going forward. The review is intended to support improvement in our processes. The university is committed to ensuring that the vitally important role of Teaching Assistant supports an enriched learning environment for all students.     

Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.

Laurier is prepared to engage with these important discussions in a thoughtful and determined way. I have announced a task force to delve into these issues. Further details will be announced in the days ahead. I look forward to the process and I am confident that the outcome will contribute to a better understating of these issues for Laurier and the broader community.