Fall 2021 Speaker Series: Dax D'Orazio

2021 Fall Speaker Series: Dax D'Orazio

Event Details:

  • Thursday, December 2, 2021
  • 2:30 - 4:00 PM
  • Zoom (link will be emailed to registrants the day of the event; please register)


Dax D'Orazio, Skelton-Clark Postdoctoral Fellow in Canadian Democracy

Brief Biography:

Dax D'Orazio is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Studies at Queen's University. His research is primarily focused on the philosophy, politics, and policy of free expression. His doctoral dissertation was an analysis of the alleged 'crisis' of free expression on Canadian university campuses. A multidimensional approach to the politics of free expression, his project included theoretical understandings of free expression and harm, the theory and practice of ‘deplatforming,’ the history of free expression on campus in a comparative context, and analysis of provincial higher education policy. As a qualitative researcher, his mixed-method approach typically includes literature reviews, case studies, semi-structured interviews, and freedom of information requests. His doctoral dissertation research was recently the subject of a National Post article written by Joseph Brean ("The 'feedback loop' that pits students against politicians in the campus free speech crisis").

His current research project examines the law and politics of extending constitutional protections for expression (i.e. the Charter) to university campuses, which responds to some developments in law and policy that occurred during the course of his doctoral research. Additional research projects include the history of stand up comedy in battles over free expression and a book about the politics of free expression on campus (under contract with the University of Toronto Press). His research and writing can also be found in various non-academic and current affairs venues, including blogs, newspapers, and websites. He blogs at the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University and is a member of its Working Group on Academic Freedom. Passionate about free expression, academic freedom, and the public's right to know, he is a tireless advocate for robust public discourse and public intellectualism. You can learn more about his research, teaching, and writing here: www.daxdorazio.com

Title & Abstract:

"Free Expression on Campus: The Alleged Crisis and the Conceptual Elasticity of Harm"

The past few years have been marked by significant controversies related to free expression on North American university campuses, leading some to believe that there is now a 'crisis.' No longer just an academic and public debate, the 'crisis' now underpins higher education policies in Alberta and Ontario, with other legislative proposals looming in other Canadian jurisdictions and abroad. This presentation offers an introduction to an upcoming book that examines the 'crisis' specifically on Canadian university campuses.

I will argue that there are three different interpretive frameworks that have emerged from debates about the contemporary state of free expression on campus (or three 'theses'). First, the 'snowflake' thesis explains campus controversies by pointing to the alleged fragility and intolerance of contemporary student populations. Second, the 'diversity backlash' thesis explains campus controversies by pointing to the ways in which the advancement of diversity and equity on campus is facing increased opposition grounded in parallel (or opposing) commitments to free expression. Third, the 'academic freedom distinction' thesis explains campus controversies as a conflation between free expression (a negative right of non-interference) and academic freedom (a professional right bound by scholarly merit).

I will then argue that while each of these interpretive frameworks provide partial clarity, they fail in providing us with a full understanding of the politics of free expression on campus. Instead, I argue that two phenomena underpin almost all recent campus controversies related to free expression: 1) a disjuncture between public expressive limits and institutional expressive limits (and a university's corresponding additional latitude to restrict expression); and 2) competing theories of harm that are marshalled as justifications for expressive injunctions or restrictions. On the latter point, I argue that the concept of harm often features some conceptual elasticity, in the sense that overly expansive conceptualizations of harm pose some difficulties for academic environments premised upon ample latitude for expression.

Register on Eventbrite to receive the access link. Please direct any questions about the event to polscomms@queensu.ca.

Event Poster - Dax D'Orazio