2019 Essay Contest: Should Universities Police Student Behaviour At Private Events?

The question for the Justice Centre’s 2019 Essay Contest:

Should universities police student behaviour at private events?


2019 Essay Contest Winners

We received many thoughtful, well-written arguments, addressing the question, “Should universities police student behaviour at private events?,” from a variety of viewpoints. Winners were chosen based on the quality of their writing and persuasiveness of argument, and opinions and concepts expressed by the winners selected by our judging panel do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Justice Centre.

FIRST PRIZE – Vivian Sim
“Institutional Vigilantism in the Academy: The Policing of Private Activities by Universities”
Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, Faculty of Law

Read the essay here

Judge’s Comments:
“This essay passionately and eloquently makes the case that the expansion of university policy enforcement to off-campus situations is a further creep of cancel culture — and therefore must be fought.” – Andrew Lawton

“When I first read this essay, I knew I was reading the winner. The writing and the argument had a natural flow.”  – Sam Goldstein

“An incisive attack on cancel culture that draws a clear and appropriate line between criminal wrongdoing and nonconformism.” – John Robson

“Should Universities Police Student Behaviour at Private Events? An Unregulated, Unconstitutional and Ineffective Approach”
McMaster University, Faculty of Medicine

Read the essay here

Judge’s Comments:

“A thoughtful, balanced and well-written analysis of universities’ behaviour enforcement policies that explores the legal and cultural ramifications of the trend.” – Andrew Lawton

“Well-researched with a lot of examples to bring home the points.” – Sam Goldstein

“A strong analysis of contemporary misapplication of the legitimate principle that universities have reputations to protect.” – John Robson

THIRD PRIZE – Brayden Whitlock
“If we’re being honest, universities need to police culture off-campus”
University of Alberta, Faculty of Law

Read the essay here

Judge’s Comments:

“The author of this essay invoked a unique approach to illustrate the problems facing the academy. It ultimately drew attention to off-campus policy enforcement being a symptom of a broader problem, and the logical end of post-secondary institutions’ current directions.” – Andrew Lawton

“This essay had a novel approach to the topic.” – Sam Goldstein 

“A pointed call for modern universities either to live up to their misguided modern self-image as activist organizations or get back to their roots as places of free inquiry.” – John Robson

Essay Topic

“There will be blood on all of our hands” were the words of London, Ont., Mayor Ed Holder at a city council meeting earlier this year, manifesting his desire to put an end to “Fake Homecoming” or “FOCO” — an unsanctioned annual street party tied to Western University. Mayor Holder wants Western to impose “extremely clear, extremely strong academic sanctions” on students who partake in dangerous or illegal behaviour at FOCO, even up to suspension or expulsion, by expanding the reach of its student code of conduct.

This is not the first time a university has been tempted to expand its student code to include off-campus behaviour at private events. In 2008, twin brothers Keith and Steven Pridgen were reprimanded under the University of Calgary’s student code for creating a Facebook group about their legal studies professor, a group entitled “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra.” The university found the Pridgen brothers to be guilty of “non-academic misconduct,” placed them on probation for six months and accused them of defaming Mitra. Steven Pridgen had called Mitra “lazy,” and Keith Pridgen wrote a celebratory post after finding out Mitra wouldn’t be teaching again at the university. In the end, an Alberta judge ruled that the university had violated the Pridgens’ Charter right to free expression, notably declaring that “the University is not a Charter-free zone.”

In another case, Masuma Khan, a student executive at Dalhousie University who in late 2017 was accused of discrimination for posting anti-white remarks on her personal Facebook page. The posts prompted the university to open a disciplinary investigation, though Dalhousie ultimately bowed to public pressure and reversed this decision.

Other universities believe that off-campus student behaviour at private events unaffiliated with the school, is not within the jurisdiction of the university. In 2011, a University of British Columbia (UBC) student was caught on video at the infamous Vancouver Stanley Cup riot stealing two pairs of pants from a formalwear store. After being named and shamed on social media, many called on UBC to expel her. The university however, declined to expel her or to impose any disciplinary action, stating it was leaving the consequences of her looting to the police and the courts.

1st – $2,000
2nd – $1,000
3rd – $500

This contest is open to students enrolled at a Canadian post-secondary institution as of September 15, 2019.

Length, format, and evaluation criteria
The essay must include no more than 2,500 words, and should be submitted in PDF or Word format using the form below, or emailed to essaycontest@jccf.ca. Judges will be drawn from among the members of the Justice Centre’s Advisory Council, Board of Directors and legal network. The quality of the writing, and persuasiveness of argument, will be the central criteria considered by the judges.

Deadline Extended – Essays must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

The contest submission deadline has passed. Thank you for your interest. Please try again next year.

2018 Essay Contest Winners

1st Prize – Edward Strahlendorf
Queen’s University BA Honours, (Philosophy)

2nd Prize – Hudi Krauss
University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

3rd Prize – Tina Praass
Wilfrid Laurier University, Faculty of Social Work