While taxpayer funding remains the primary source of revenue for Canadian public universities, these institutions also depend on the contributions of thousands of individual alumni and donors. Colin Campbell is one such donor. He gave to his alma mater, McGill University, for 35 years, until he discovered JCCF’s Campus Freedom Index. The report measures and grades universities on their support (or lack thereof) for free expression on campus.
McGill University earned a dismal ‘D’ average in the Campus Freedom Index. McGill allows student speech to be shut down if it “affects the dignity, psychological or physical integrity of a Member of the University Community,” or creates a “harmful environment”. In 2012, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) told a student group (McGill Friends of Israel) that they had to change the name of their planned event “Israel-a-Party” because SSMU executives felt it made “a mockery and/or trivialization of various oppressions some people of the world are subject to on a day-to-day basis”.
Upon discovering that his alma mater was failing in its own obligation to protect free expression and academic freedom on campus, Colin chose to cease his giving to McGill until the university improved its grade. He has applied the same standard to his giving habits at other universities, having cut off the University of Calgary after it allowed the obstruction of organized displays of its campus pro-life club, and disciplined students for refusing to turn their signs inwards when displaying unpopular images on campus. In 2010, the University of Calgary found eight students guilty of non-academic misconduct for having peacefully expressed their opinions on campus.
Thoughtful donors like Colin Campbell expect universities to uphold the free exchange of ideas on campus. When they fail to live up to this purpose, alumni must hold them to account.
Through its annual Campus Freedom Index, JCCF is giving university donors the tools they need to make informed choices about their giving. By giving universities more incentive to protect free expression rights, donors can make a difference in the fight for free speech on campus.