The University of Toronto says a psychology professor is entitled to his own opinion when asked about where the school stands on a pair of online lectures that have ignited controversy with some individuals in the school community.
"His views are his own and universities are places where people can express opinions that are controversial. This happens all the time at universities," U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church said in reference to the backlash around YouTube lectures by Professor Jordan Peterson.
The videos, posted on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3, have Peterson questioning political correctness around Bill C-16, which proposes changes to Canadian law around gender identity and gender expression as well as mandatory training for U of T human resources staff that focuses on racial discrimination.
Peterson's comments in the videos prompted groups at U of T's Mississauga campus (UTM) to send a letter to university administration, alleging that he's racist and transphobic.
"Peterson has abused his position of power as a tenured professor and has tried to use academic freedom to disguise his bigotry and prejudice as an intellectual disagreement," the Oct. 6 letter, signed by a number of UTM student groups, including Denio Lourenco, the UTM student union's LGBTQ co-ordinator, and Marise Hopkins, UTM student union's Black Liberation Collective organizer.
A list of demands in the Oct. 6 letter call for the videos to be removed and an apology from Peterson.
Church said U of T has received complaints about the videos, including the Oct. 6 letter.
"They're in the process of looking at what we've received and determining how to proceed with them," she said.
Peterson's comments in the Sept. 27 video, entitled, "Professor Against Political Correctness," question the "messy terminology" when describing proposed changes to the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.
"The changes of the law scare me because they put into the legal substructure of the culture certain assumptions about basic human nature that, not only I believe to be untrue, but they're also dangerous and ideologically motivated," Peterson said in the video.
The Oct. 6 letter took exception when Peterson said in the video, "I don't recognize a person's right to determine what pronoun I use to address them."
Peterson's Oct. 3 video questions the qualifications and motivations of the consultants carrying out mandatory training at U of T, the need for the racial bias training and the validity of the Black Liberation Collective, an activist group, being consulted on school policy.
"The fact that a tenured professor employed with the University of Toronto refuses to acknowledge the use of personal pronouns, and has the audacity to rationalize and quantify racism as something subjective, not only discredits the loved experiences of students who have dealt with their reality, but silences them," the Oct. 6 letter stated.
Refusing to comment on whether Peterson's opinions are aligned with the school's own policies, Church said, "We expect all members of our community to comply with our policies. We have a number of policies and guidelines around teaching and the learning environment that's free from intimidation and harassment. Those policies are in place and we'll look at the communications that have come to us."
The videos sparked a small protest last week at the St. George campus where Peterson teaches. As well, Peterson spoke at a free speech rally Tuesday at U of T that was organized by students.
Peterson released an online video about the Oct. 6 letter this week. He said he will not apologize or remove the lectures.
Correction: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. at Oct. 15. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Professor Jordan Peterson organized the free speech rally on Tuesday at U of T. Peterson spoke at the rally, but it was organized by students.