On Campus

Queen's cans dialogue facilitator program

Students and faculty felt the university atmosphere was "poisoned," says committee

After outcry from students and faculty, and on recommendations made by an advisory panel,  Queen’s University is cancelling its dialogue facilitator program.

In an announcement made Feb. 11, Patrick Deane, vice-president academic for the university said the Intergroup Dialogue Pilot Program in Residences will be terminated, although its six trained facilitators will complete their year’s engagement by assisting “generally” with diversity issues.

The program was introduced in response to a series of racist incidents at the school, including derogatory vandalism on university and student property and an attack on a faculty member.

It drew immediate attention from the media and in December, the university assembled an advisory panel made up of a student representative, a former political science professor, and a law school alumnus who is also a former Ontario Cabinet minister and former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In their final report, the group stated that while they found no evidence of unwarranted intrusion into students’ privacy in residence, the impression conveyed by the media and shared by faculty and graduates was that the program invited it.

“Many members of the university community found that this possibility made them feel very uncomfortable and that it poisoned the university atmosphere,” said the group’s report. “The adverse reaction to [the program] on campus and outside has damaged its credibility so severely that even the pilot stage should be discontinued.”

When the program was first announced, some public officials publicly supported it, although with various caveats

Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission said it sounded like an “innovative tool” that could be effective if done well by well-trained people. However, she said students were going to have to feel comfortable with the initiative.

In its final conclusions, the panel said alternative means of confronting diversity issues in residences should be explored. However, the report’s final statement warns against initiating programs that appear to threaten full expression and exchange of ideas on campus, which should never be implemented at the expense of the university’s academic mission.