Thanks for bringing Ozlem Sensoy's opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun to our
attention. I was a member of the Faculty of Education before I retired, so
I thought I would take up your invitation to comment on her opinion piece.
First, her claim that Coulter's speech acts are not individual acts, but are
necessarily part of what Prof. Sensoy claims to be a "system of privilege"
places her argument into a framework that I cannot accept. Basically Prof.
Sensoy is saying that we do not act as individuals when we speak, but merely
as cogs in a system. In other words, it is irrelevant if I personally do
not use so-called hate language, for whenever I speak, because I am a white
female person of European ancestry, I necessarily am privileged and my talk
must always be viewed as the talk of a privileged class.
Whenever someone claims that there are really no individuals, but only
members of classes, I can only assume that they have accepted a Marxist
Prof. Sensoy also claims that the power relationships upon which these class
distinctions are based do not change--"these relationships do not flip back
and forth." From her perspective then, our society is in a state of
permanent stasis. Factually, this is obviously a false claim. Not only do
(a) people move from one social class to another, but also (b) social
classes change in their number and composition. Examples: (a) I happen to
have originated in a social class where nobody in my immediate or extended
family had ever graduated from high school. I not only graduated from high
school, but went on to university and even ended up with a Ph.D. Clearly I
belong to a different social class than my parents did. (b) Back in the
1970s when I did educational consulting with native people on the prairies,
only 4% completed high school. Today, over 60% of native people complete
high school and there is now also a significant percentage who acquire
university degrees. Clearly, what used to be an underclass of people who
could be defined by locale (rural) and ethnicity (native) have changed; a
significant percentage of native people are now members of a rural working
or middle class that did not exist before. So I think these kinds of
changes in Canada argue against accepting Prof. Sensoy's Marxist framework
Second, moving away from Marxism to a consideration of language, Prof.
Sensoy's analysis of language is uninformed. Referring to the author (James
Frey) of an autobiography that was initially widely touted as wonderful and
then denounced as a pack of lies by the same reviewers, Prof. Sensoy asks,
why did the reviewers denounce the work as a lie, rather than saying nothing
and allowing it to exist as an exemplar of free speech. I can only say that
it is unfortunate that an SFU professor does not know the difference between
biography and fiction, between claiming something is historically factual
versus producing a novel. We ask the historian who labels a work
"autobiographical" to be true to the facts; the novelist creating a work of
art is under no such constraint. An historian is distinguished from a
Third, Prof. Sensoy points out that we live with various types of speech
limitations every day. She claims that one of these includes some people
forcing others to shut up--"You can't just say whatever the hell you want."
I think Prof. Sensoy here is extending the elementary school classroom to
the entire country. While it is appropriate for a teacher in a classroom to
limit the speech of children--they should not swear at one another, call one
another names, etc.--the world outside the classroom contains people who
have grown up. Some grownups present arguments, produce satire, challenge
mundane thinking, challenge political correctness. In a democracy, there is
no Big Teacher supervising the dialogues of grownups. The closest analogue
in the past to Ann Coulter is the French satirist Voltaire--his wit was
sharp, piercing, acerbic, unpleasant, and made others uncomfortable. Today
Voltaire's work belongs to the canon of great French literature precisely
because of these characteristics that disturbed so many in his time.
Should the university lecture hall be subject to the same constraints as the
elementary school classroom? Well, the university is no longer either in
law or in fact acting as a parent (no longer in loco parentis). From our
students we can and should expect grownup behavior. That normally has meant
exhibiting what you, Dan, have called polite behavior. And you have provided
a range of choices as to what a grownup does. I think you've given us a
Finally, Prof. Sensoy's justifications for preventing certain persons from
speaking to university students demonstrate a problem that has arisen in
educational circles. Political correctness has become an area of expertise
for a large group of academics in Faculties of Education. Certain groups
have been singled out as recipients of special, even reverent, treatment.
These academics are the specialists who tell us who we are to revere, and
how we are to revere these special groups. PUBLIC POLICY HAS BECOME THE
CAPTIVE OF THIS ACADEMIC ELITE. This elite now tells us who can speak in
public and who cannot speak. The students who carried sticks and threatened
violence at the University of Ottawa "embody the spirit of student activism"
and, according to Prof. Sensoy are to be thanked.
This politically correct elite is allied with government. This elite get
grants to support their publications. This elite provides input to the
provincial educational system. This elite trains the teachers who serve in
the provincial educational system. This elite explicitly pushes their
particular notion of "social justice" in the provincial educational system.
Now this elite wishes to silence anyone who wishes to present ideas that the
elite does not like. A few years ago, who would have thought that the
greatest danger to free speech and free thought in our society would be
housed in the university?
Gloria Sampson, Retired Prof., Faculty of Education
> politeness. ..............................
On 3/25/10 9:25 PM, "Dan McDonald" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> March 25, 2010
> free speech, politeness, Coulter, Ozlem Sensoy
> Hi retirees,
> Today's Vancouver Sun devoted 20 column inches to an opinion piece:
> "Ann Coulter and free speech? Hardly"
> By OZlem Sensoy, of SFU
> When someone identifies themselves with a university affiliation I like
> to think they have a justifiable pride in their subject expertise. He is
> with the Faculty of Education at SFU. I accept that he has a reasonable
> level of expertise on students and their behavior and perhaps even on
> free speech.
> To say that I was merely disappointed at the lack of comprehensible
> substance is to stretch my politeness to the limit.
> Here I wish to avoid the subject of free speech and focus simply on
> Now, I hope that other retirees will discuss freedom of speech.
> It would be a bonus if someone from the Education Faculty would
> enlighten us as to what is now considered the norm that is to be
> expected from students in an educational institution.
> Daniel McDonald
> 32502 Best Ave.
> Mission B.C. V2V 2S6