Removing video of U of Manitoba valedictory speech calling for Gaza ceasefire ‘not productive’: expert

A speech to a graduating class of doctors that led to tension between the University of Manitoba’s medical school and the person behind the university’s largest-ever private donation has sparked debate about how much influence donors should have over the institutions.

In his valedictory address at the May 16 convocation for students from the U of M’s Max Rady College of Medicine, Dr. Gem Newman told fellow graduates to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and called out medical associations for “deafening silence” on the humanitarian crisis there .

Ernest Rady — a U of M grad and businessman whose $30 million donation led to the medical school being named for his father — wrote a letter to the university denouncing the speech as “hateful” and disparaging of Jewish people, and demanding the university take down a video that included the speech.

Doug White, an American philanthropy adviser who has written about the non-profit sector, says both the valedictorian and the donor have the right to express their views.

“Now, the donor and others could be very upset, but to demand that the university take down the video, I feel like that’s not productive,” he told CBC on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it should have been taken down, period.”

College of medicine dean Dr. Peter Nickerson, who called Newman’s remarks “divisive and inflammatory,” confirmed to CBC Wednesday that the video that included the speech was taken down, saying Rady was “far from the first person” to ask for that.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, dean of the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine, is seen reciting the physician’s pledge for graduates at their May 16 convocation.

Dr. Peter Nickerson, dean of the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine, is seen reciting the physician’s pledge for graduates at the May 16 convocation. He says Rady was ‘far from the first person’ to ask for video of Newman’s speech to be taken down. (Radio-Canada)

The school’s website includes a “donor bill of rights,” which says U of M benefactors are entitled to know what their contributions are being used for and can “expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature “

The question becomes whether Rady’s opinion should hold any influence over how the University of Manitoba operates, White said.

“It sounds like this is an opportunity for universities to re-examine their missions and … their communications with their donors.”

He says as valedictorian, Newman was asked to make a speech and had the right to share his opinion.

“If (the university) doesn’t otherwise vet a valedictorian’s speech, it shouldn’t be done now.”

Students should be raising questions: prof

The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, which began after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israel led by Hamas, killed roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 250 others hostage.

Israel launched an offensive in response that has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to the latest estimates by Gaza health officials. The Israeli military operation has also triggered a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, displacing roughly 80 per cent of the population and leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the wake of starvation, according to UN officials.

The conflict has also led to numerous protests on school campuses across the globe, including at the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg.

Roberta Lexier, an associate professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary whose research focuses on social movements, protest and academia, says it’s not unusual to see political statements at graduation, but they don’t often make it into valedictory speeches.

University administrators have been concerned about the prospect of pro-Palestinian protests bleeding into graduation season, but “I think they shouldn’t be,” said Lexier.

“I think this shows their students are learning what they’re supposed to be learning about — challenging … and questioning the world that they live in.”

The University of Manitoba Rady Faculty of Health Sciences has received more than $735,000 to help 400 – 500 foreign trained health professionals find work in their fields.

A video on the University of Manitoba’s YouTube channel that included a medical graduate’s valedictory speech last week has since been taken down after criticism of the valedictorian’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Lexier says while universities are embedded into society, they are also “purposefully meant to be somewhat separate” so academics can question societal structures.

“I think we get into a different conversation when we’re talking about professional schools, like medicine and others, but I think what’s really important is that universities need to allow their students, their faculty, their staff and others to participate in these discussions “

She says people need to accept that Canadians have the right to freedom of expression, so long as they do not see into hate speech.

“We have the right to say what we want to say, whether people like that or not, and the idea of ​​an institution, especially a university, censoring someone’s speech … seems incredibly inappropriate.”

‘Tension’ between donors, universities: CAUT president

Peter McInnis, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says private donors make positive contributions but have grown increasingly important as universities face more public funding cuts, and there’s “always a tension” in that relationship.

“Universities and colleges (have to be) very mindful that they don’t accept money with too many strings attached,” he said.

“You can get into some really deep waters at times, but I think that as long as the lines are clear, these controversies can be dealt with in a reasonable way.”

While tensions are high right now, universities are supposed to be a forum for difficult discussions, McInnis said.

“We’re usually better (off) if we allow them to take place, rather than attempting to suppress them.”

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