Canadians feud over 'attack' on academic freedom

A row about a redefinition of academic freedom has escalated in Canada, with the head of the representative body for academics condemning the document as "a full-scale attack on academic freedom like no other we have seen".

February 23, 2012

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada redrafted its statement on academic freedom in October last year, replacing one that had been adopted by the organisation in 1988.

The statement was agreed to by the heads of all the universities within the AUCC, but the Canadian Association of University Teachers objected to the document in November.

At the heart of its protests is the fear that academics would no longer have the right to criticise their own institution as well as "the conflation of academic freedom with institutional autonomy", which, it argued, ignored any internal threats to academic freedom that may arise.

In an article for the web version of the CAUT Bulletin last week, the organisation's president Wayne Peters, who is also associate professor in engineering at the University of Prince Edward Island, writes that one of the more troubling aspects of the definition is "the position put forward that academic freedom exists to the extent that it does not interfere with the needs and mission of the institution".

"The institution's requirements, then, always trump academic freedom."

Adding that such freedom "must be seen as an essential part of our work, both in and outside the classroom", Dr Peters says that the AUCC's refusal to revisit the redefinition is a "wakeup call to all academics that academic freedom needs our full and undivided attention".

"It is a rallying point, a catalyst to be used by CAUT and its member associations to mobilize members to be proactive and vigilant in its defense.

"It is a call to each of us to renew our commitment to academic freedom and to the academy at a time when post-secondary education in Canada is in the midst of a dire transformational crisis."

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