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Senate motion affirming students’ right to speak freely fails

A motion to “affirm and advocate” for the right of university members to speak freely without fear of repercussions did not pass in a UNB senate meeting on Tuesday.

The motion was tabled by student senator Lee Thomas in light of several law students’ claims at the UNBSU council last Sunday that they felt pressure from the Law Students’ Society, law faculty and the university administration not to speak out about recent issues within their faculty.

“That was exactly what the motion was intended to be: about students … Senate should reflect that because senate’s about the academic mission of the university and students are a big part of that,” Thomas said in an interview after the senate meeting.

Thomas’s motion also moved “that the UNB Fredericton Senate advocate for the importance of student involvement in the resolution of these and other matters affecting student wellbeing and the quality of education delivered at UNB.”

The motion received 22 votes in favour of it and 22 votes against it. Because it was a tie, the motion failed.

“I think a lot of people supported the motion in principle but thought that it wasn’t senate’s role to make statements like that. And it’s absolutely their right to think that but I fundamentally disagree,” said Thomas.

“I think that it is senate’s role to reaffirm … that students have a right to freedom of expression without being afraid of backlash, especially from profs and admin.”

During the discussion of the motion, UNB president Eddy Campbell and vice-president academic Tony Secco both expressed concerns surrounding what students would want to speak about because it may be harmful to employees.

Thomas cited sections 4.01 and 7.01 of the University of New Brunswick Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities, which state that “every member of the university community has the right to be free of harassment when working or learning” and “enjoys freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly.”

Because there is already wording in the Declaration that deals with freedom of speech, some senators did not think the motion was necessary and chose to vote against it.

Thomas said she had concerns about the message the failed motion will give to students.

“Honestly I think it’s going to enable what’s happening and I don’t think that was the intention of people who chose to vote against it but I think it takes a look of what’s happening and this silence and culture of secrecy and it implicitly approves of it,” Thomas said.

A motion to support all law students who wished to speak publically about the issues affecting their faculty was passed in UNBSU council on Sunday. Thomas said she was disappointed with the results of the senate motion.

“I think that by passing it the senate would be giving a really clear message that they’re supporting the students in their own engagement with their academic experience and I think it would also be sending the message that student voices are important to UNB,” Thomas said.

“So I think that by not passing it that message sort of deflates.”

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