Students defend controversial UBC professor

Published in The Martlet | October 4, 2001 | Circulation: 17,000

Students at the University of Victoria are defending a UBC professor’s right to make anti-U.S. statements in the wake of the September 11 attacks, even if they do not agree with her.

Some students interviewed also saw a connection to the quality of their education.

At a conference last Monday, Sunera Thobani, a Womens’ Studies professor at the University of British Columbia, sparked controversy when she criticized the United States in her speech.

“The path of U.S. foreign policy is soaked in blood,” she said, adding that she sympathized with victims of the attacks in New York. Thobani’s comments have been criticized by sources in the media as “hateful,” and UBC has come under pressure to discipline her.

Students at the University of Victoria said UBC should not punish Thobani for her comments, although some said she should support her statement with evidence.

“UBC should give her more of a chance to explain what she meant,” said Rebecca Halls. “If she can justify what she’s saying, then she’s entitled to her opinion.”

Other students thought the university should take an active role in supporting Thobani. Chad Eliason, a humanities student, was angered by the controversy.

“Aren’t they paying her to be an educated mind?” Eliason said. “They should back up the professor for her thoughts. I would assume she’s making an educated opinion.”

Some students saw this as an important issue for the quality of their education. Over half of the students interviewed made this connection, saying that freedom of speech and diversity of opinions were very important for a university education.

“If we only teach in a liberal democratic point of view, we’re not able to understand the full perspective in foreign politics,” said Maurita Prato. “There are many truths.”

Other students, however, did not see any connection to the quality of their education, although they defended Thobani’s right to make the statements. Several of these students said that professors should keep opinions to themselves and teach mainly from a textbook or set curriculum.

The University of British Columbia, where Thobani teaches, believes this issue is an educational issue. UBC has publicly defended Sunera Thobani against calls to have her disciplined, arguing that diversity and dialogue are vital to a university environment.

Chad Eliason shares this opinion, and agrees with UBC’s support for professor Thobani.

“It’s very important to the quality of education,” he said. “If you’re not allowed to say what you think, then what good is free speech?”

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