A Brock University professor is calling out his school’s president, Lesley Rigg, over her “Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization” hosting an anti-Israel panel on campus with controversial figures.

Prof. John Bonnett, a historian at the St. Catharines, Ont. school, told True North he does not believe the panel should be shut down, but does want the university to disassociate itself to preserve neutrality.

SCREENSHOT: Brock University

The panel, titled “Decolonization, International Law, Gender, Media and Solidarity,” is taking place Monday night. It is hosted by the university president’s “Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity, and Decolonization” and co-sponsored by a social justice and equity studies program and the school’s Social Justice Research Institute and Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies. 

“Starting with our commitment to decolonization, this panel presents experts working in a variety of areas to analyze the roots of the current crisis,” says the university.

Among the panelists is Toronto Star race and culture writer Shree Paradkar, who came under fire earlier this month for an X post questioning reports on the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 – a post she later clarified. Paradkar also shared a post describing the Jewish community’s fears amid a rise in antisemitism as “hypothetical.” 

Other panellists include University of Western Ontario law professor Michael Lynk, University of Toronto social justice professor Abigail Bakan, and Indigenous author and activist Patty Krawec.

In an interview with True North, Bonnett criticized the university for putting on the “one-sided” panel, saying “there’s no attempt here to present Israel’s side. This is an exercise in indoctrination.” 

Bonnett added that he “believes deeply that universities should be neutral” and that they “shouldn’t have stated positions on pretty well anything, much less on something as fraught as the Palestinian conflict.

“I believe that institutional neutrality is at the central ground for maintenance and exercise of free speech. If we lose that, the likelihood of free speech being able to continue unhindered is undercut.” 

Bonnett is not the only Brock faculty member to have concerns about the panel. He and others who are part of the university’s Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship chapter wrote to Rigg asking her to reconsider her involvement committee’s involvement in hosting the event.

In response, Rigg said that while she appreciated the concerns, “Brock is committed to upholding its Freedom of Expression policy and respecting the academic freedom of its faculty members.” 

However, Bonnett questions that commitment, given cases of academic censorship that have taken place over the last three years 

“It’s rather ironic that universities now are talking about freedom of speech, when they’re being pressed on an event that they like… but they seemed much less interested in those topics, say in 2020, when diversity, equity and inclusion issues were emerging to the fore.”

In 2020, amid the Black Lives Matter movement, Brock University took part in the cancelling of one of its professors, Tomas Hudlicky, after he criticized DEI hiring practices in a scholarly article. 

“He was one of our most distinguished researchers, who had brought in more revenue than I think any other researcher had to Brock University, and all of a sudden, he became persona non grata,” said Bonnett. “His career was basically destroyed.”

Hudlicky died suddenly on May 10, 2022 while visiting the Czech Republic. 

Brock University did not respond to a request for comment.