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Margin Notes

Call for a national forum on academic freedom

A Christian higher-education group wants a “national dialogue” in Canada on the issue.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | JUN 07 2010

A group called Christian Higher Education Canada would like to see a national conference to bring together “all stakeholders within higher education” to discuss academic freedom.

CHEC represents 33 evangelical postsecondary institutions across Canada. Many of these institutions are small bible colleges with enrolments in the hundreds, but there are also nine university members, including Trinity Western University, Redeemer University College, Canadian Mennonite University and King’s University College in Edmonton (not to be confused with the institution of the same name affiliated with University of Western Ontario). All four of these institutions are members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

The call for a national dialogue on academic freedom came following the annual general meeting of the group, held in Toronto on June 1. The members held discussions during the meeting on the recent visits and reports by delegations of the Canadian Association of University Teachers to three CHEC institutions (including TWU and CMU) and “the fact there are hints of future visits to other institutions.”

CAUT was investigating whether the requirement that professors at these institutions adhere to an “ideological or faith test as a condition of employment” violated academic freedom. University Affairs ran an opinion piece earlier this year on the TWU controversy.

Here is more from the CHEC press release (no link available):

CHEC as an organization recognizes the autonomy of its member institutions to each develop its own statement on academic freedom, but notes with concern the accusation by CAUT against some of its member institutions suggesting they do not practice academic freedom. The concern raised by CHEC is based on the seemingly arbitrary attitude of CAUT that it alone has authority to define the meaning of “university” and “academic freedom” within Canada and that those who do not accept its definitions are in some manner deficient.

Whereas academic freedom itself implies a basic respect for diversity of views and willingness to debate different positions without threat of reprisal, the Board of CHEC encourages the holding of a national conference to dialogue on the meaning of “university and “academic freedom” within the Canadian context, and in relation to global understandings of these terms. It recommends that such a conference include all stakeholders within higher education. The Board would be pleased to arrange representative voices to make presentation on behalf of the confessional position of its members in an effort to create a climate of dialogue.

ABOUT LÉO CHARBONNEAU
Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Holly / June 8, 2010 at 12:19

    Unless professors at TWU have the right, without fear of reprisal from their employer, to engage in teaching or research that contradicts the Statement of Faith they are required to espouse, I don’t see how they can be said to enjoy academic freedom. This statement includes fairy tale language such as:

    “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.”

    No secular university would require its employees to be bound by such a load of nonsense. This is not a debate, it is a clash of cultures. CAUT is right to have taken the high moral road on this issue, while TWU deserves to be shoved back under the rock from which it was born.

    Where there is religious dogma, there is no academic freedom.

  2. Leo Charbonneau / June 8, 2010 at 12:31

    While people can legitimately disagree about the compatibility of “statements of faith” with academic freedom, I would remind our readers to keep their comments respectful.

  3. Charles / June 8, 2010 at 17:16

    There are always limits on academic freedom.

    At the department/course level, someone hired to teach sociology cannot turn their courses into physics or chemistry courses.

    In a secular university, an instructor hired to teach religious courses cannot use those courses as a platform to evangelize for a particular religion as that would go against the mission of being secular, or non-religious. Similarly, it would follow that in a university that has promoting a particular religion as part of its mission, instructors could not go against that mission–thus the requirement for adherence to a statement of faith.