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The Conservative Party is distributing flyers that suggest university professors are agents of left-wing indoctrination.

The party flyers were spotted on the York University campus in Toronto this week. The flyers bear an image of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the words, “Because you can only hear the same left-wing talking points from your professors so many times.”

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Students enter the Ryerson Student Learning Centre in Toronto on May 6, 2019. Controversies over freedom of speech and cultures of political correctness have made universities a site of political conflict in recent years.Fred Lum

The flyers direct the reader to contact an e-mail address if they’d like to volunteer.

Academics and faculty representatives said the message paints an inaccurate portrait of universities that maligns the work of educators.

“Commentaries like this are insidious and have a really insulting underlying premise, that we don't care about what the facts are, what the rigorous arguments are, but the agenda is actually to indoctrinate students,” said Michael Conlon, executive director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

“You have this insulting insinuation that faculty are really not attached to or bound by disciplinary or academic standards, but rather political beliefs and views. And there's absolutely no evidence that that's true. What makes the university is the robust exchange of intellectual ideas.”

A Conservative spokesman said the advertisement was made at Conservative Party headquarters and distributed to campus clubs “as a way to reach conservatives on campus.”

University campuses have become a site of political conflict in recent years. Controversies have tended to focus on whether speech on campus is truly free or stifled by a culture of political correctness.

The Ontario government last year mandated that all universities and colleges must publish statements guaranteeing free speech. More recently, the Doug Ford government has required universities make a large portion of ancillary student fees voluntary, which student unions, threatened by a drop in funding, have described as an attempt to silence political opposition.

James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University in Toronto, said it was Mr. Scheer who first introduced the campus free speech debate to the mainstream of Canadian politics during his run for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Mr. Scheer said at the time that federal funding for universities should be cut if universities fail to protect free speech. It was a policy that had proved popular in U.S. Republican circles.

“It’s a way of playing to the party base that is anti-university, anti-intellectual, anti-elite,” Prof. Turk said. “If the universities are places of left-wing indoctrination, they’re doing a bad job of it. ... No professor on the left or right sees their purpose as being to indoctrinate students.”

David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said the ad seems to suggest that Canadian universities are overrun by leftists when that is far from the case.

“I think they have some image of campuses as they were in 1968 as opposed to 2019,” Mr. Robinson said. “I think people will find it quite funny.”

There is some truth, however, to the notion that professors are more likely to hold left-wing views than the general population. Reza Nakhaie, a sociologist at the University of Windsor, has studied the political views of Canadian professors. He found that professors tend to fall “to the left of the political spectrum but are not hugely different in this respect from the Canadian university-educated population,” as he put it in a journal abstract.

“There’s no question that on average university professors are left-leaning,” Prof. Nakhaie said. “There is some truth to it, but one has to ask why that is the case.”

He said his research showed there is a diverse range of political viewpoints among professors but, over all, those in the humanities and social sciences were more likely to hold views closer to the left, and those in engineering, science and business were more likely to hold views closer to the right.

Jody Berland, a York professor in media and cultural studies, described the Conservative advertisement as an attempt to awaken a “red scare” about left-wing faculty.

“Faculty at York represent a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives just as we represent a diversity of fields and disciplines, from arts to administration, ballet to business,” Prof. Berland said.

“Do they think we all think the same way? I really don’t like it when people try to incite students to be hostile or suspicious of their faculty."

With a report from Janice Dickson

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