Open Letter from Jim Turk (CAUT) on Academic Freedom in Canada


In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera continued the assault on the concept of academic freedom initiated by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) in 2011. [See her article “When universities make choices, deans must fall in line”

In Samarasekera’s world (like that of her association of university presidents), academic freedom no longer protects the right to criticize the administration of your institution nor does it include your right to exercise your civil liberties as a citizen without sanction by the university. In her world, deans owe a duty of loyalty to the president rather than to their colleagues in the faculty, college or school of which they are the dean. That would the case in the corporate world, and it would be the case in the academic world in the absence of our century-old tradition of collegial governance and academic freedom. Loyalty to the president has no place in university governance. Open, vigorous critique and reasoned argument are the right of all academics. There are plenty of institutions in our society where CEO’s can command loyalty. If that is what  university presidents want, they should work in those settings rather than try to minimize the rights of genuine academic freedom and collegial governance which are the foundation of every legitimate university.

Below is a letter to the Globe and Mail that I submitted this morning in response to Samarasekera’s  article:

It is troubling when the president of one of Canada’s most respected universities does not understand that a central aspect of academic freedom is the right of all academics to speak critically about any aspect of the operation of their institution. Unlike in other organizations, no one owes a duty of loyalty to university presidents.  Rather presidents, like all academic staff, should expect their ideas, proposals and decisions to be subject to critical appraisal. The appeal to “cabinet solidarity” is simply an effort to avoid accountability.  In any case, deans are not part of the president’s cabinet.  They are the senior academics in each faculty, school or college and have an obligation to speak out for the best interests of the part of the institution they represent. Silencing them in the name of deference to the president may appeal to the president but undermines their role and diminishes the institution.

In the face of what happened at the University of Saskatchewan and the continuing efforts by AUCC to undermine academic freedom and collegial governance, we all have an obligation to speak out more than ever.



James L. Turk // Executive Director / Directeur général // Canadian Association of University Teachers / Association canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’université // 2705 promenade Queensview Drive / Ottawa, (Ontario) / K2B 8K2 // tél  613.726-5176 / téléc  613.820-7244 / mobile  613.277-0488 /  / twitter @jameslturk

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