Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wear it with pride, CUSA

The National Post has attacked the Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) for passing a motion denying funds, recognition and subsidized space to groups seeking to criminalize abortion. The article is a handy compendium of every untruth that has been circulated about the CUSA action. It also exposes a radical inconsistency in conservative thinking, but more on that in a moment.

Here is the list of claims by the anonymous writer, with my responses:

The Carleton University Students' Association (CUSA) has decided that pro-life groups on campus are not entitled to student-club status, will not receive student-union funding, nor be able to use CUSA-administered meeting rooms.

Not so. Denial of resources and recognition applies only to groups that engage in anti-choice activity as their primary purpose, such activity being defined as "campaigns, distributions, solicitations, lobbying efforts, displays, events, etc. that seek to limit or remove a woman's options in the event of pregnancy."

CUSA's policy is aimed at what it calls the "anti-choice" agenda. Their anti-anti-choice solution is to do what they can to penalize students who argue for a different choice. The new policy at least clarifies that CUSA is not "pro-choice" at all, but flat-out pro-abortion.

Nonsense. Note the playing with words that seems to be the stock-in-trade of those without arguments. "Anti-choice" refers to activities that are effectively aimed at making women criminals for choosing abortion. Opposition to this discriminatory position does not make one "pro-abortion," whatever that means. It is a logical extension of an anti-discrimination policy that is already in place. The writer might just as well argue that opposition to racist activities makes one "pro-Black" -- whatever that might mean.

The other issue here is the notion of "penalizing" students who argue for criminalization. Precisely how are they being penalized? They are simply being denied resources from an organization that stands for human rights, including the rights of women. I don't agree with the NP writer--must I therefore send him a cheque so he doesn't feel "penalized?"

To the extent that pro-life students want to organize themselves, it is mark of civic engagement, a willingness to question campus orthodoxies, and of no little courage, given the hostile environment on campus. A vibrant campus should welcome such students. To set them aside for special, punitive treatment fails even the basic test of courtesy, to say nothing of fairness.

"Special, punitive treatment" means not giving anti-choice activists money and student-subsidized space. Other non-recipients might be those who want to recriminalize homosexuality, or promote white supremacy. Must CUSA fund every single group that comes along, no matter how intolerant, how bigoted, when its own anti-discimination policies run completely counter to the values such groups might promote? A chapter of the now-defunct neo-Nazi group Heritage Front was denied club status at Carleton back in the 'nineties -- would our intrepid writer demand that a group like that be funded?

[W]hat added advantage is to be gained from this policy, at a serious cost in terms of the university's reputation as a place of debate and free speech?

Of all the falsehoods circulated about the CUSA motion, this seems to be the one with the longest legs. There is nothing, repeat, nothing, in the CUSA motion that shuts down debate or free speech. The motion isn't about free speech. It's about spending student resources on activities that aim at removing the rights of women, including Carleton students who would, in effect, be forced not only to put up with discriminatory actions, but to pay for them as well.

A member of the Carleton University Debating Society asked point-blank at the meeting on December 4 whether a debate on abortion would be proscribed by the motion. The answer, on the record, was "No." And indeed it would be hard to see how a debate could be considered an anti-choice activity.

On campus it is an open secret that diversity usually means everyone sharing the same opinion.

We have a here a classic case of the fallacy of converse accident. The denial of recognition and resources to a group that promotes discrimination does not, of course, mean that only one opinion on anything is permitted. In fact, in this case, there is no ban, no shutting down of debate, no abolition of freedom of speech. CUSA simply won't spend its fairly meagre resources to promote anti-choice activities on campus.

The larger question, though, is one of conservative inconsistency, as noted at the start. Normally strong opponents of using tax dollars to promote "liberal" agendas, in this case they are, unthinkingly and unreflectively, quite cheerfully taking the opposite view: "liberals" should be forced to subsidize illiberal activities. Odd, that. I would suggest that, until a campus referendum abolishes the human rights guidelines that govern CUSA, the latter are acting well within their area of responsibility to defend the rights of women on campus. Good on them, in fact, and shame on those who continue to falsify the debate that actually took place for their own ideological purposes.

In any case, an attack from the National Post is nothing less than a badge of honour. Congratulations, CUSA -- looks like you've made the big leagues.

No comments: