The Contemporary State of Free Expression on Canadian University Campuses: Responding to the Alleged ‘Crisis’

  • Author / Creator
    Dax D'Orazio
  • This dissertation (by publication) is a response to the alleged ‘crisis’ of free expression on Canadian university campuses. Although concerns about campus expression have been a routine feature of North American culture war conflagrations since at least the early 1990s, the past half-decade has been marked by a noticeable intensification. A raft of controversies across the Canada and the United States, beginning roughly in 2015, led a variety of commentators to lament a stark decline in support and protections for expression. Following the election of Conservative provincial governments in Ontario (2018) and Alberta (2019), post-secondary institutions in these respective provinces were compelled to create explicit policy statements demonstrating their commitment to free expression. In light of new public and academic debates, in addition to an unprecedented public policy response, this dissertation focuses on understanding the political contours of free expression on campus and how and why free expression has become one of the most noticeable fractures in contemporary campus politics (and in academia more broadly). To do this, the research uses a qualitative, mixed-methods approach that includes: reviews of relevant literature, legal analysis, media analysis, semi-structured personal interviews, and freedom of information (FOI) requests. The analysis is structured around three different publications that address contemporary campus expression from different vantage points: 1) how philosophical conceptualizations of harm serve as justifications for expressive restrictions on campus; 2) the theory, practice, and strategy of expressive restrictions on campus (i.e. ‘deplatforming’); and 3) historical, comparative, and policy-orientated analysis of the campus ‘crisis.’ The publications conclude, respectively, that elastic conceptualizations of harm are untenable in academic environments, that expressive restrictions on campus are laden with unintended and counterintuitive consequences, and that the idea of a campus ‘crisis’ is both a feature of previously successful conservative political messaging and the basis for poor public policy development and implementation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.