The Interrogation of Lindsay Shepherd

Shepherd - David Bebee.jpg

For the last couple of weeks, Lindsay Shepherd has seldom been out of the headlines. Shepherd is the Wilfrid Laurier University T.A. who spent a grueling 43 minutes being interrogated by three university employees over her use of a TVO clip in a first-year communications tutorial (the recording of the Laurier meeting and the original TVO broadcast are posted below, a transcript has been posted here). The Canadian commentariat has been apoplectic—quite rightly—about Laurier's appalling treatment of one of its most junior instructors, and also about the implications of the débacle for academic freedom, free speech more generally, and the state of higher education in Canada after "five decades of tenured radicals executing their Gramscian 'long march' through the academy," as Barbara Kay puts it. Even on the progressive left, the outrage is palpable. Toronto Star columnist Shree Paradkar, for example, opens her powerful op-ed with a sobering set of statistics about the number of assaults and insults directed at trans Ontarians, but ends up deriding Laurier's "high-handed thought policing" with the same intensity as her peers at the National Post.

Shepherd has emerged as the hero of this saga, as well she should. Bullied and browbeaten by accusations that neutrality vis-à-vis Peterson is tantamount to neutrality on Adolf Hitler, she refused to budge on the importance of open debate in university classrooms and on a sometimes-forgotten truth about who is studying at our universities: "They're adults."

Shepherd's immediate supervisor has now posted a public apology to her, as has Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy. But the furor is unlikely to end here. That's because the Laurier administration, citing "the many and often-competing demands that come into play in these circumstances," originally sought to defuse the crisis by commissioning a "neutral third party" to review it, and to do so confidentially. Only the release of the recording of the Shepherd inquisition prompted the apologies. Even more astoundingly, when MacLatchy did finally issue her apology, it contained the following sentence among its many other platitudes: "I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol." She gives every impression that she does not know who the victim is here, which is precisely why Laurier found itself under the gun in the first place.

Lindsay Shepherd should be commended for having the presence of mind to record her own interrogation surreptitiously. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that other recent miscarriages of academic justice—l'Affaire Potter, for example—might have had very different outcomes if the instructors in question had had the same inkling. In the future, they will.