Hear a recording of the disciplinary meeting of Lindsay Shepherd:
When a teaching assistant at a Canadian university sought to engage in a robust debate over the hot-button issue of government-compelled speech, she thought she was doing a great service to her students, helping them, in the great liberal arts tradition, to think for themselves.
Officials at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, however, claimed a student was offended that the assistant, Lindsay Shepherd, believed the views of University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson, who has become a global phenomenon, were worth hearing.
They called Shepherd to a meeting in which she was disciplined for showing students a TV clip of Peterson explaining why it’s a bad idea for government to force people to use “gender-neutral” pronouns.
Shepherd filed a $3.6-million lawsuit against the university. Her lawyer, Howard Levitt, said she was “castigated to tears” by the “political correctness police” for showing two sides of a debate in a neutral fashion.
A recording of the November disciplinary meeting was posted on YouTube, and the descriptions of Peterson by two professors and a former gender and equity manager – suggesting he was “analogous to Adolf Hitler” – now have led to a $1.5 million defamation suit against the university by Peterson, reports Canada’s National Post.
The claim says Peterson was falsely labeled in the meeting as incompetent, sexist, misogynist, dangerous and racist.
The university, after a report by an independent fact-finder, apologized for the remarks and admitted no formal complaint or informal concern was ever raised about the class taught by Shepherd. But Peterson told the Toronto Sun newspaper Wednesday he believes the university failed to properly respond to the incident.
“So I think this is a warning, let’s say, to other careless administrators and professors who allow their ideological presuppositions to get the best of them to be a bit more careful with what they say and do,” he said.
Levitt, who also represents Peterson, argued the professor has spent his life and career teaching against the evils of the Holocaust and of tyrants.
“The politically correct on campus should not think that they can defame people, slander people and bully people implicitly and explicitly with impunity,” Levitt said. “This isn’t just some internet troll mouthing off in a way that no one pays attention to and doesn’t give any credence to. These are professors and head of gender equity studies making comments that are atrocious about Dr. Peterson who is one of if not Canada’s most prominent intellectual.”
Wilfrid Laurier University said in a statement it will defend itself vigorously against the legal action, insisting it “remains committed to intellectual inquiry, critical reflection, scholarly integrity, academic freedom and freedom of expression while striving to be a supportive and inclusive community.”
‘Can you shield people from those ideas?’
The disciplinary meeting took place last November with Professors Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott along with Adria Joel, then the acting manager of gendered violence prevention and support, who is no longer with the university.
Several times during the meeting, Shepherd insisted her beliefs about gender had no bearing on her decision to screen the video.
“I disagree with Jordan Peterson, but you people seem to think I’m pro-Jordan Peterson,” she says at one point.
Rambukkana complains that Peterson “lectures about critiquing feminism, critiquing trans rights.”
“I’m familiar. I follow him,” Shepherd says. “But can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this? Like, is that what the point of this is? Because to me, that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides. I was presenting both arguments.”
Rambukkana replies: “So the thing about this is, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating. And this is actually, these arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code. Even since … C-16, ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression.”
Peterson, a psychology professor, rose to prominence in 2016 when he opposed Canadian Parliament bill C-16 requiring the use of “gender-neutral” pronouns. The legislation, which passed in 2017, added “gender expression” and “gender identity” to Canada’s Human Rights Code and to the Criminal Code’s hate crime section.
Peterson argued the issue was not showing respect to transgendered individuals – he says he personally refers to them as they wish – but the act of government compelling certain speech, which he argues is a form of tyranny.
Peterson is on a world speaking tour, where his events typically sell out, promoting his “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” which is the “No. 1 Most Read” book on Amazon.com. Some videos on his YouTube channel, including lectures of more than two and a half hours in a series called “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories,” have more than 2 million views.
A feature on Peterson published Friday by the London Guardian observes that videos posted on YouTube by his fans give the false impression that most of them “are attracted to his attacks on political correctness.”
“They’re not. If anything, Peterson’s penchant for polarizing political claims distracts from his core message. In his lectures – freewheeling mixtures of self-help counsel, pop philosophy and Jungian theory – Peterson emphasizes self-worth, responsibility, and a Christian-ish notion of man as fallen but redeemable.”
Many young men are drawn to his message, and one who attended a recent Peterson appearance in Indianapolis credits the Canadian professor for saving his life. In the Q&A segment of his talk there, Peterson responded to a question the young man submitted: “I plan on taking my life very soon. Why shouldn’t I?”
Jordan Peterson comments on the Shepherd case in this June 20 video: