Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, has ditched its controversial "dialogue facilitator" program after protests from Queen’s alumni spurred a three-member panel investigation.
In the fall of 2008, Queens hired six graduate students from diverse backgrounds to encourage campus discussions on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and other social issues. The students were advised to step-in whenever they heard conversations that could be deemed "offensive," or that involved "hate speech."
The program barely lasted a semester, however, before the press and Queen’s alumni became privy to the "speech police" initiative and, following a public outcry, a panel was hired to investigate.
The panel sided with critics of the program, finding that, "The proposed method of intervention has the potential of making students feel unsafe or under surveillance because of their opinions.
"It is incompatible with the atmosphere required for free speech everywhere, but particularly in a university, to make anyone feel that their thoughts and words are monitored so that they can later be discussed, used toward some social end and perhaps even ‘corrected.’"
The panel reiterated the concerns of many commentators who suggested that the program would amount to censorship, saying, "The question arises of who has the power to decide what remark is ‘offending.’ "
The panel’s review also condemned the hasty and seemingly underhanded manner in which the program was developed.
They found that, "An insufficient number, if any, of knowledgeable and experienced Queen’s academics, students, administrators or personnel" were consulted with before establishing the program.
Queens University vice-principal academic, Patrick Deane, said in a statement that Queen’s University will still be taking steps in the future to eradicate "intolerance" and advance a "climate of inclusiveness," reported the Globe and Mail.