Dr. Tom Flanagan, a political scientist, best-known as one of Stephen Harper’s top campaign advisors, gave two lectures at the U of M that were met with protest from the Aboriginal community.
Flanagan’s visit was protested by a Facebook group who called for the lectures to be cancelled, or to include a roundtable discussion on Aboriginal issues.
The University of Manitoba Aboriginal Students’ Association (UMASA) wrote a letter to the head of the political studies department, Dr. George MacLean, due to comments Flanagan has made and books he has written.
The books suggest — among other things — that assimilation should be a desirable goal for Aboriginal people in Canadian society, and that First Nations people were merely the “first immigrants” of Canada.
The lectures themselves were well attended, with approximately 60 people attending the first lecture, called “Canadian Election Campaigns: do they pass the ‘smell test?’” discussing ethics in campaigning.
Roughly 100 people observed the second lecture, which discussed the effects of Canada’s “permanent campaign,” and strategies and statistics used by the Conservative Party of Canada during past campaigns,called “Moving from the Median Voter to Get Out the Vote.”
Tara Gosek, co-president of UMASA, said that, for students who feel strongly about Aboriginal issues, seeing someone like Flanagan speaking to a lecture hall “gives [them] a feeling of powerlessness.”
These feelings may prevent students concerned about aboriginal issues from asking more questions, or challenging information that they believe to be wrong, said Gosek.
Gosek indicated some “positive things” came out of Flanagan’s visit, namely that she and professor Bret Nickels were given the chance to talk to classes about Flanagan, why people were upset about his coming to campus and answer questions about Aboriginal history in Canada.
When asked about Flanagan’s guest lectures, Nickels suggested that Dr. Peter Kuchylski, another professor in the U of M’s department of native studies, would have made a worthy opponent to Flanagan in a debate or round table.
Flanagan said that he would be willing to come back to the university to participate in the event as long as it was financed specifically for that purpose.
Gosek also said that Flanagan’s visit has encouraged UMASA to work with UMSU to set up an ethics board to preview people who are asked to speak on campus.
Flanagan and Brock Campbell, co-president of UMASA, discussed the importance of keeping comments in context, and the university’s responsibilities to present information that is more than just sound-bites, and not simply allowing media to spin and distort the importance of issues in politics.
Before making his comments about context in the media during his first lecture, Flanagan digressed for a moment and spoke about the misinterpretation of the beliefs of lawyers, due to the people they defend in court.
Flanagan cited the example of Stockwell Day suggesting that a lawyer by the name of Lorne Goddard, who had defended a client accused of possessing child pornography, believed the same thing as their client — “that the lawyer himself believed that it was OK to have child pornography.”
Flanagan then continued, saying “But that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures? But I’m not here to debate that today.”
When asked about the university’s role in shaping the minds of young people in society, Flanagan said, “The university [ . . . ] can provide a venue for lots of speakers, and I think the university should invite all kinds of speakers, but mainly as a service to students. I don’t think the university has a mandate to ‘fix’ democracy,” he continued.
“I think the university’s mandate is what we’re doing today; students are being exposed to different points of view — you may think it’s crazy, you may find enlightenment in it, but that’s up to you — and tomorrow there’ll be a different speaker with different points of view.”
Flanagan indicated that it’s not the university’s responsibility to establish students’ opinion, but to show students a large pallet of viewpoints.
“You get different points of view and get to make up your own minds, and that — to me — is the mandate of the university.”