University of Ottawa president Allan Rock has finally addressed that itchy little PR debacle that stung the university a few weeks ago.
In an address to the university senate, Rock discussed the cancellation of right-wing commenter Ann Coulter’s speech on March 23. Coulter’s talk was called off after student protests prompted security concerns.
“From the moment we learned about Ms. Coulter’s intended presentation, there were groups and individuals who insisted that we prohibit her from speaking on campus,” Rock said. “We rejected those demands, asserting that Ms. Coulter had every right to appear and to speak.” Coulter has been criticized as being overly inflammatory and offensive.
“Freedom of expression applies,” he said later. “Even when it’s painful.”
And for Rock, it seems it was pretty painful. He said he turned to the Internet to learn more about Coulter and admitted to “using intemperate language in exchanges with colleagues” in her regard.
And then there was the infamous email from Provost François Houle–the one sent a few days before Coulter’s visit, essentially warning her to watch her mouth. “I share responsibility for the letter from the Provost to Ms. Coulter,” Rock said. He explained that the letter was sent with his knowledge on behalf of the administration.
Rock later added: “I acknowledge that there are other, and indeed better ways, of achieving the letter’s stated purpose.” He also confirmed that the university did not cancel the event; it was indeed Coulter’s representatives.
So what have we learned? Well, it seems the administration champions freedom of expression. That’s a good start! Even though they paradoxically encouraged self-censorship and incited uproar with a preemptive cautionary email (not so good), which culminated to a hostile situation beyond their control—a situation of which they really haven’t yet taken ownership. But hey, at least we know Rock did some solid Googling before that “welcome basket” popped up in Coulter’s inbox.