You may remember hearing about Lindsay Shepherd, a former Master’s student and teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Well, she’s been back in the headlines this month after filing a lawsuit of $3.6 million against Nathan Rambukkana, Herbert Pimlott, Adria Joel, and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Shepherd came to international attention in November 2017 after she was interrogated by the aforementioned Laurier panel for showing her class a TV clip of a Jordan Peterson debate, as part of a discussion on grammar in Canadian society.
In the course of the interrogation — which Shepherd had the foresight to record and make public — Rambukkana likened Peterson to Hitler, lied by saying that a student complaint had been filed, and further suggested that Shepherd had violated Canada’s human-rights code. The incident became a global free-speech scandal. The university released several official statements, including open apologies to Shepherd.
The president of Wilfrid Laurier wrote, “Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter.”
Rambukkana also admitted wrongdoing. He wrote, “I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university.” (Even essential!) He also wrote, “Maybe we ought to strive to reach across all of our multiple divisions to find points where we can discuss such issues, air multiple perspectives, and embrace the diversity of thought.” Maybe indeed.
But despite these statements, the university seemed not to have learned its lesson. Writing about Shepherd’s lawsuit in the Toronto Star, David Haskell, also a professor at the university who has defended Shepherd throughout her ordeal, explained:
Why then did Lindsay finally feel pushed to take legal action? Because the university allowed an internal action to proceed against her. And, upon threat of severe academic penalty, they forbade her to discuss the details publicly.
What can be said is that the action is a harassment complaint filed by a grad student in her program with ties to the faculty who have opposed her. Lindsay’s lawyer calls the claims in the suit “inherently incoherent” and suggests the university itself is acting in “bad faith,” given that it allowed the complaint to proceed even though coursework in the MA program has ended and Lindsay and the complainant are no longer on campus together.
Through this entire affair, Lindsay has tried to play by the “old” rules of the dignity culture. She bore the insults of others with a thick skin and was willing to fight her own battles. But with this last straw, she’s realized that to survive a contest with the university she must play by its rules, the new rules.
Jordan Peterson also thinks the university needs to be held accountable. With the same lawyer as Shepherd, Howard Levitt, he’s adding his own $1.5 million defamation lawsuit.
Levitt told National Review that “the University accepted a frivolous complaint against [Shepherd] by a student from the ‘rainbow coalition’ and advised her that she would be in trouble if she spoke about that complaint to others or tweeted it, etc.” Shepherd herself cannot discuss the grad student’s harassment claim for legal reasons. However, she told NR, “I didn’t want to [sue]. I really didn’t want to. I thought it’s going to look like I’m out for vengeance which I’m not. And I also don’t really care about the money.”
Shepherd says that if her suit is successful, she will donate money to the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship and to Heterodox Academy.
And here’s what’s so chilling about the entire affair: This was not some conservative student on her soapbox. Shepherd’s politics, such as they are, remain largely unknown. This was a moderate student who simply tried to live out the university’s objects according to its own mandates. She tried to practice academic freedom only to find out it didn’t apply to her.
It’s hard to decide which is worse about the ugly ideology so hell-bent on pursuing her — its viciousness or its hypocrisy.