Editorial: UBC makes a timid decision

The decision by the University of British Columbia to drop John Furlong as a keynote speaker at a fundraising event smacks of academic cowardice.

Two months ago, UBC asked Furlong, who headed the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, to speak at a breakfast held annually to raise money for the university’s athletes. On Dec. 22, the university cancelled Furlong’s speaking engagement, citing internal controversy.

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A Georgia Straight article in 2012 contained allegations that Furlong had physically abused First Nations students while he was teaching in northern B.C. decades ago. An RCMP investigation found no basis for the allegations; three lawsuits were filed against Furlong for sexual abuse, two of which were dropped and one found to be groundless.

Furlong’s career as a speaker, brought to a stop by the allegations, was making a comeback — he had 16 speaking engagements in 2016. The university’s decision is an unwarranted slap in the face and goes against the principle of presumed innocence.

UBC’s decision, besides being unfair, is puzzling and troubling, going against the premise that a university should be place of free and open discussion, not one that shies away from controversy.

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