By Jason Menard
The old adage states that if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. Yet, now that the meal’s on the stove, the University of Western Ontario has decided to change the recipe, leaving many with the anticipation of a bitter aftertaste.
Western courted this drama by deciding to bestow upon Dr. Henry Morgentaler — a man who led the charge for legal abortions in this country, and the operator of six abortion clinics – an honourary degree at this year’s convocation ceremony. However, now that the moment of truth is almost upon us, Western’s decided to change the rules for the people that truly matter at this ceremony – the students and their families.
To accommodate an individual upon whom an honourary degree is being bestowed, we are inconveniencing a group of individuals who have legitimately earned their degrees from this institution. They have spent their years, attending classes, receiving good grades, and filling the university’s coffers with their tuition and ancillary fees. And now that it’s time to celebrate their achievement, to share with friends and family the fruits of their labours, the university is pulling the rug out from under them – for security reasons.
Convocation ceremonies are not about the glitz and glamour. Dr. Morgentaler, whether you agree with his stance or not, has made his mark in life. The students, upon whom this ceremony should focus, have yet to carve their place in the world.
In the past, students have been given two tickets, to whom they could distribute as they pleased. If they needed more, they were there for the asking. Now, the university has asked for those tickets back, planning to re-issue two new tickets that will be strictly controlled, requiring names of the intended recipients and photo ID verification upon arrival at the ceremonies.
In the grand scheme of things, this only affects 518 students. However, they are 518 students who should have the same rights as everyone else on campus. The other graduates aren’t subject to this type of restriction, so why inconvenience a certain group just because of an honourary degree recipient?
The convocation date is June 16 th. Does the university not think that people have already made travel plans? Booked hotels? Made whatever arrangement necessary to share in the student’s special day? Does offering a closed-circuit feed for the ceremony really count as an alternative?
Every experience at university is an opportunity for education. The university environment is one where open discussion, freedom of speech, and challenging convention should be the norm, not the exception. Making an exception for one ceremony based upon concerns about disruptions runs counter to everything higher education should be about.
If the intention of the honourary degree is to be provocative, then you have to accept what your provocation has wrought. You can’t walk on the knife’s edge and not think you might get cut along the way. As such, if the university has deemed it appropriate to give Dr. Morgentaler an honourary degree, then it should stand behind its decision and let the chips fall where they may. After all, university education is all about learning how to learn, and discovering how to stand behind your convictions.
These students have worked hard to develop their critical thinking, their ability to learn, and their ability to form their own opinions. And if a protester sneaks into the convocation ceremony who better to engage this person than a group of well-educated, independent thinkers? However, by restricting this particular ceremony, Western is shying away from the very controversy and discussion it invited by making such a bold decision in the first place.
Whether you believe Dr. Morgentaler’s honourary degree is a recognition of remarkable achievements in the promotion of women’s rights or an abominable affront to the concept of humanity, that’s totally up to your perspective. And our universities are there to ensure that whatever your opinion is, it is based upon fact, reflection, rational thought, and introspection. These are formed through an open expression of thoughts and ideals, not by sweeping controversy under the carpet.
So, if a degree is a recognition of achievement in higher learning, what kind of value does it have if Western doesn’t embrace higher learning’s very precepts?
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