I wasn’t able to post all this earlier, and perhaps that was for the best, as I’ve been able to get a bit more perspective on things. Most of you heard that Somerville was getting an Honorary Doctorate at Ryerson, and that many faculty members felt that it was unfortunate that the university would want to be seen as honouring her views on gay marriage. The internal discussions between faculty on our internal email list was truly amazing. It was so clear that the issue was not one of academic freedom, and that most all agreed that she have the right to her opinion, but should we at Ryerson be seen as honouring these views. The discussion was university wide, and the position was pretty much universal. We don’t want to be seen as faculty who honour somone whose views, as reflected in her public statements, are taken to be anti-gay marriage. To me, and I’m no expert on her work, they also seem to oppose any marriage union that does not lead to children. Furthermore, to have this honouring during Pride Week in Toronto is just insensitive. The discussion left me with the feeling that I’ve come to the right place to work, and that there is a great faculty community here.
I got permission from Judy to post the following letter she sent to the Globe and Mail. I’m not sure if it got printed:
To the Editor,
Ryerson awarding an honourary degree to Dr. Margaret Somerville has nothing to do with academic freedom. If Dr. Somerville had been invited to speak at Ryerson, there would have been no protest. The uproar among a large part of the faculty and students is that Ryerson is honouring an active opponent of same sex marriage just at the moment that Stephen Harper proposes to reopen the debate. The courts have declared that gays and lesbians have the right to marry and to adopt children. Dr. Somerville seeks to have those rights taken away. Freedom of speech is a right and so is freedom from discrimination. There is no right to get an honourary degree.
Dr. Somerville is a master of using academic language to cover what are very traditional views in favour of heterosexual reproduction and marriage. She is an active campaigner against same sex marriage and gay adoption. Ryerson’s original decision to honour her and its reaffirmation, however lame, is a slap in the face not only to gay and lesbian students and faculty but to the community in which we live.
I have worked at Ryerson for four years and have never before seen this degree of agreement among the faculty. The Ryerson community does not want to honour Margaret Somerville.
CAW Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy
Printed with permission.
Here are some links posted related to the issue:
For what it is worth here is a link where you can find an audio interview with Somerville conducted by CBC in Montreal. Direct Link to the audio file:
The following link provides another editorial from Globe and Mail on the issue.
And here are some pictures of the protest
And from the Star: Honouree faces down heckler:
Some faculty members wore rainbow-coloured buttons, others unfurled banners as she began speaking.