Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Allan Rock Rightly Pilloried

Generally I am not a fan of Denis Rancourt, but his analysis of Allan Rock's work as University of Ottawa president related to Ann Coulter's failed attempt to speak on campus (on a tour where she sucessfully spoke at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Calgary) is magnificent and has a good laugh every couple of paragraphs.
The first thing (40 minutes after the Wolfe email was sent) Allan Rock does (rec-2) is ask his executive officers and his communications staff for their advice in which he states “In my opinion, respect for free expression must be maintained … but I am sensitive to these concerns.” The operative word here is “respect”, as in “appear not to interfere with,” as opposed to “unconditionally defend.”
I love that explication of the word 'respect' as used by Rock.
Another lovely analogy later:
As Allan puts it (rec-21) “there are important principles at stake and we must keep them in mind.”
Can we kill that dude and how would we reconcile that with the law against murder? Can we claim self-defence if the dude can be argued to have had criminal behaviour in the past? This is a former Minister of Justice at work – You can hear the gears turning.
Later Rock sends a note that starts with this:
Ann Coulter is a mean-spirited, small-minded, foul-mouthed poltroon. She is “the loud mouth that bespeaks the vacant mind". She is an ill-informed and deeply offensive shill for a profoundly shallow and ignorant view of the world. She is a malignancy on-the-body politic. She it a disgrace to the broadcasting industry and a leading example of the dramatic decline in the quality of public discourse in recent times.
I think of her as a pretty good stand-up comic; Rock seems really obsessed with her. She is fairly attractive so I can vaguely get an idea of why he is obsessed.
And of course the truly sleazy behavior:
In point-5 Rock does not only instruct Houle to write the now infamous letter; he actually dictates word for word content of the letter. Rock wrote the March 19th Houle letter. And then let Houle take all the heat for it for weeks before sheepishly stating that he had “approved” the letter and “shared responsibility” for it. Rock entertained numerous calls that Houle be demoted, saw Houle being publicly ridiculed in the national media and received comments in confidence about what an obvious error the Houle letter was but never responded that he had written the letter or came to Houle’s defence - honourable behaviour for any academic to say the least. (Many academics have been turfed for far more tenuous academic fraud misrepresentations or misattributions.)
How that man is still president of anything is beyond my understanding.
And Rancourt is spot on:
It is beyond this observer to understand how a seasoned federal politician could not see in this letter exactly what Coulter saw immediately and what all the local, national, and international media saw? I will venture that most other university presidents in Canada would have seen this letter for the harmful idiocy that is was. As soon as I saw the letter on Coulter’s web site I was stunned that anything like this could be produced by a VP-Academic (LINK), let alone a “star” president. This continues to baffle me.
Wonderfully, but no surprise, one of those hideous Axworthys appears in the story. Rock asks him:
Question: is it a derogation from the principle of free speech for a university, while expressing to a mindless poltroon the willingness to receive her, to issue as well a plea that she be civil and respect the legislative limits of free speech?
Axworthy actually responds with the right answer:
I think it is. Because it always plays as this one has - that tlre university doesn’t really believe deeply in these fundamental freedoms.
The cops and immigration officials can enforce our laws on speech. You should and no doubt did as AG [Attorney General] but not as President.
University's (sic) have a unique role and the President has to not only uphold it but be seen to. That means nuance, subtlety and balance need to be put aside. Unequivocal defense of the freedoms is where the President should stand at Canada's university.
What baffles me how this answer is not obvious to Rock, as it clearly was to other University presidents.
Then a real blow:
Suffice it to say I am very disappointed in how the University of Ottawa handled the visit of Ann Coulter.
Disappointed enough too actually send an email.
Surely someone as erudite and politically educated as yourself realizes the University of Ottawa gave Mrs. Coulter exactly what she wanted - the role of pariah.
When did my alma matter turn its back on free speech?
Why can latent anti-Semitism fester on campus (as an ex student I have seen it) in the name of Palestinian rights but a right wing blowhard cannot?
I do not like Mrs. Coulter, she is a sensationalist and in my opinion a media-whore. That does not condone the actions of Mr. Houle.
Mr. Houle allowed his personal politics to cloud his judgment and should be punished for harming the character and image of the University as it is now, a laughingstock.
The student council should be ashamed of themselves as well.
Going forward, my father, my wife (alumni as well) and I, will no longer be donating to an institute that allows anyone to be silenced in this matter (sic).
I have taken off my school ring.
I would appreciate any thoughts you may want to share on the matter
In that pretty much the sole job of a University president is to raise money, this probably hurt a bit.
And then the hideous Amir Attaran shows up with an intelligent suggestion:
At 3:16pm (rec-72) Associate Professor of law Amir Attaran offers his legal services to Houle and Rock and disparages Levant (Coulter’s lawyer) in the process:
“[..] My condolences - nobody deserves this. If you end up being sued, as seems likely, [...] Litigating against Ezra Levant, no excellent lawyer, on a sell-evidently specious claim would be none too taxing of the grey matter. [...]”
Are there any Ottawa scoundrels not involved in this? Earnscliffe (Elly Alboim) offers advice as Rock considers compounding his errors by re-inviting Coulter after the cancellation:
Remember as well that part of the controversy unfortunately is attributable to Francois' email. Your statement today does not address that, nor does the proposed invitation. Obviously without distancing yourself from what he wrote, the impression will stand that the university made some sort of presumptive judgment about her and her motivation in an attempt to moderate the way she expressed her views. I'm not sure we can underestimate the importance of that email and the way it is being perceived. The university cannot credibly position itself as a wholly innocent victim of a drive by.
As Ranscourt points out, good advice.
In this mess Rock ducks out of the big Liberal gabfest in Montreal, but Herb Dhaliwal has some fun:
We are all wondering why you are not in Montreal, even your friend Anne Coulter asking about you.
Give me a call.
Why am I not surprised that is the Dean of Engineering who speaks clearly, and not the Dean of Arts or the Dean of Social Sciences or the like?
On March 29th a single brave and clear thinking dean speaks out to Rock. Claude Lague, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, reminds Rock about the university’s founding mission statement regarding free speech (rec-122). Lague points out that U of O is the only university in the Coulter tour where she was not able to speak. Lague states that “if the university is not prepared to do everything in its power to ensure that all opinions, in all their diversity and complexity, can be heard and debated on campus, then we have a serious problem with our mission statement” (translated from the French) and ends:
“Bottom line: We need to learn the lessons from this unfortunate incident and make sure that it never, ever happens again.”

Rock responds with a terse “OK” (rec-122).
I know how to parse those OKs.
Rancourt's summary is great:
A definition of poltroon is “a base coward; an abject coward; an abject or contemptible coward” (web free dictionary). Using my own web research, I fail to see on what basis Ann Coulter can be considered a coward, in particular. On the question cowardice, however, I believe that - even just based on the present ATI disclosures - there is significantly more evidence that Allan Rock is a coward. For example, his overreaction to a misguided student request to censor a controversial speaker, his overreaction to the remote possibility of a lawsuit, his “hiding under a rock,” and his refusal to own up (even in private) to his idiotic letter while letting Houle take the heat for weeks, might all be interpreted when taken together as evidence for cowardice.
I guess there is no point having or attempting to understand principles if one is too cowardly to stand for principles? And deficient judgment would certainly increase one’s fear factor.
In my opinion, if the University of Ottawa is to evolve, either Allan Rock is going to have to start acting out of character or more BOG members, Senators, and other members of the university community are going to have to stand up and keep Mr. Rock and others in line; help them grow so to speak.
Thanks Denis Rancourt - that was a lot of work and well done. Unfortunately it tends to confirm what I have always thought about the quality of the University of Ottawa.


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