Friday Reading List. 2/3/ 2023.

Academic Freedom

Attempted Cancelation of a Canadian Scholar

Modjeski, Morgan. “Academic, 2SLGBTQ+ community claim UWinnipeg professor spreading transphobic rhetoric,” CityNews, Winnipeg, Feb 28, 2023,, accessed March 2, 2023.

  • Dr. Joanne Boucher, a professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Winnipeg is scheduled to give a talk on campus entitled, “The Commodification of the Human Body: The Case of Transgender Identities,” March 3, 2023.
  • Advocates, including some academics, are calling for the event to be cancelled on the grounds that Boucher’s talk is “a platform for harmful, hateful and false information.” None have heard her talk.
  • “According to the event poster, Boucher is expected to focus on the ‘economic interests involved in transgenderism’ and the role of ‘government, corporate-funded lobby groups, the medical industry’ to ‘illustrate the ways the human body itself is increasingly becoming commodified for profit.'”
  • A screen shot of a “Tweet” which has been embedded in this article illustrates a typical Twitter missive, an ad hominem abusive, or perhaps an ad hominem circumstantial, directed at Dr. Boucher: “This is the same prof who donated to the convoy last year from her U of W email.”
    • An ad hominem abusive is is an attack on a person rather than on her argument. This attack is completely irrelevant to the argument she is making. In this case, the presupposition is that the convoy is morally bad, and Dr. Boucher’s character is therefore bad in virtue of her donation to the convoy. P1)Boucher argues the human body is increasingly commodified for profit; P2) Boucher donated to the convoy last year from her U of W email; P3) Therefore it’s false that the human body is increasingly commodified for profit. ?!
    • An ad hominem circumstantial suggests that a person has some interest or gain in holding a position, therefore that position is necessarily false. So, something along the lines of: P1) The convoy has a political agenda; P2) Dr. Boucher donated to the convoy via her U of W account; P3) Therefore, Dr. Boucher’s argument that the human body is increasingly commodified for profit is necessarily false. ?!
    • At the time the screenshot of this Tweet was taken, 8 people responded to it with a heart. Do the hearts mean these respondents love logical fallacies?
    • I worry that this kind of fatuous argumentation isn’t confined to the social-media sphere. I worry that it is not only permeating university discourse, both scholarly and generally (e.g. in the coffee room, habitually), but also it is too often not being corrected for by scholars because to do so is to reveal one’s “x”phobia or racism.
    • “Alyson Brickey, assistant professor in the English department… [co-host of a simultaneous counter-event to Boucher’s lecture, “a Trans Love Cupcake Hour,” says,] We are not allowed to say and do anything we want as professors, and then use academic freedom in bad faith as a cloak for intolerant behaviour.”[1] Brickey has not [at the time off this publication] heard Boucher’s argument. And she apparently doesn’t want to hear Boucher’s lecture, which is her prerogative. Perhaps some people will swing by Brickey’s Cupcake event before attending Boucher’s lecture; hence, have their cake and eat it, too.
    • Brickey might learn of the contents of Boucher’s lecture via 1) hearsay, e.g. an interpretation of the lecture relayed to her by an attendee. Or, 2) she might watch a recording of the lecture later on. In both cases, she will have more information about the lecture than she possessed before her protests against it. (1) However, this information will only be as reliable as the reporter(s) and will be necessarily incomplete as the reports will be selective, decontextualised, and paraphrased. Hence, one possibility is that Brickey will be not simply be ignorant about Boucher’s argument but rather be misinformed or disinformed about it. She might even be rendered more ignorant of Boucher’s argument, yet more certain of her understanding! How would she know? (2) If Brickey watched a recording of Boucher’s argument, she is more reliably informed of its contents than by merely listening to hearsay. What she misses by not attending the lecture is the opportunity to ask Boucher for clarification, to challenge any premises she disagrees with, and to consider points and questions raised by other attendees. Brickey might also discover her own points of agreement with Boucher’s argument. How would she know?

[1] Hoye, Bryce. “Academics, 2SLGBTQ students highlight potential ‘transphobic undertones’ in U of Winnipeg lecture,” CBC News, March 01, 2023,, accessed March 3, 2023.

  • “Elliott Long, 36, a third-year U of W English student…wants the event cancelled.”
  • “Fourth-year U of W student Emma Joyal started a petition calling on administration to cancel the lecture…’Cancelling the talk is a way to show that this type of rhetoric toward the trans community, toward the queer community, isn’t acceptable and it’s not going to be tolerated,” she said.'” Joyal can’t know what she finds disagreeable about Boucher’s argument since she hasn’t [at the time of publication] heard Boucher make it: “Though little else [beyond the abstract] is known about what the lecture will include [bolding mine], professors, students and some in the 2SLGBTQ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community said the event description hints [bolding mine] at transphobic themes.” [A photo of the abstract is embedded in this article.]
  • Both ignorance (e.g. of the substantive arguments held by a speaker) and associative reasoning seem commonplace stand-ins for argumentation among those attempting to cancel an academic event.

Abas, Malak. “U of W lets lecture go ahead despite opposition,” Winnipeg Free Press, March 2, 2023 [Updated March 3, 2023],, accessed March 4, 2023.

  • “The University of Winnipeg will not prevent a tenured professor from giving a lecture Friday that students and some faculty claim is based on a transphobic premise.”
  • “Alyson Brickey, an assistant professor in the English department” calls the universities decision to allow the event to proceed “‘an institutional failure.'” She says, “‘When academic freedom is invoked to kind of cover up one’s ability to potentially engage in intolerant behaviour, then that really weakens the principles of what academic freedom is.'” At the least, this is an awkward statement. And its meaning isn’t clear. E.g What is intolerant behaviour? As a professor, Brickey has likely failed some students. Brickey is intolerant of (what she evaluates as) substandard work. This intolerance is her job.
  • Brickey continues, “‘Because in all of those collective agreements (between the U of W and faculty), you will also find a sentence that talks about, with this privilege that you get as an academic, you have a duty to uphold, which is to use that privilege responsibly. Are we being responsible when so many of our most vulnerable members are saying, ‘We are feeling hurt by this?’” Brickey has a duty to be intolerant of substandard work. Some of the students she fails are feeling hurt as a result. A failure might lower a student’s GPA such that she is no longer eligible for funding or may be ineligible for further education. This failure might detrimentally alter the student’s life. Sometimes, in the pursuit of truth, academics hurt people’s feelings. A philosophy professor who presses on a student’s cherished religious belief may not only hurt her feelings but throw her into an identity crisis. The student might then alter her belief in light of this new evidence, which might in turn separate her from her family and community — all of whom may suffer hurt feelings over the matter. What does Brickey mean by “responsibly”?
  • “A rally has been scheduled on campus grounds, also at the same time as the lecture. A petition started by a U of W student to cancel the talk had reached in excess of 1,300 signatures by Thursday.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s