Setting New Limits on Academic Freedom?

Greetings to our members. The StFXAUT Executive hopes to post regular blogs on matters that concern our Association directly and issues of broader concern in post-secondary eduction. We hope to elicit comment and debate, and therefore, encourage your responses.


As many of our members are no doubt aware, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada released a statement on academic freedom that has elicited much controversy (

The StFXAUT Executive is concerned over the implications of this statement, which has a broadly restrictive understanding of academic freedom, and further, represents a considerable retreat from AUCC’s previous 1988 statement. The October 2011 statement, for example, does not protect the freedom of academic staff to criticize one’s own institution or to make “extramural utterances,” that is, comment of broader social issues or issues outside of one’s discipline, without official censure. Fortunately, these rights are protected in the current Collective Agreement entered by the StFX Board of Governors, and the StFXAUT.


The AUCC document has drawn considerable criticism from Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), of which the StFXAUT is a member.

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The AUCC stance conflicts with CAUT policy on academic freedom:



The AUCC response to CAUT objections fails to rebut the substantive issues raised therein. It is notable that University of Toronto president Dr. David Naylor has distanced himself from the AUCC statement, and in a strongly-worded statement, resigned from the AUCC Board. Naylor points out that the University of Toronto is governed by its own exemplary statement on academic freedom (see Article 5.1 of the U of T Memorandum of Understanding):



At the November 2011 meeting of the CAUT Council, faculty associations were asked to revisit the language of their Collective Agreements on academic freedom to assure that it guaranteed academic freedom in the three areas of teaching, research and service, as well as the freedom to criticize one’s own institution and to speak freely about issues outside of the university or one’s narrowly defined disciplinary expertise. The Executive notes that our own contract language (see below) was clear on all of these questions. In the opinion of the AUT, the statement on academic freedom adopted by StFX is superior to that issued by the AUCC. We should make every effort to maintain a robust definition of academic freedom for the benefit of our University.


From the StFX Collective Agreement, 2009-2012 Article 1.5:

ACADEMIC FREEDOM 1.0 Academic Freedom is essential in the teaching, scholarship, and research functions of the University. 1.1 Academic Freedom ensures that: a) Members are entitled to freedom in carrying out research and in publishing the results thereof; and, b) Members have the freedom to teach, to discuss, and to criticize without institutional censorship. 1.2 Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual Member; rather it imposes the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge. 1.3 Members shall not be hindered or impeded in any way by the University from exercising their legal rights as citizens; neither shall they suffer any penalties because of the exercise of such legal rights. 1.4 The University agrees that it will not infringe or abridge the academic freedom of any member of the academic community. 1.5 Nothing in this provision is intended to conflict with duties spelled out elsewhere in this agreement. In the delivery of courses, the academic freedom of members with primary responsibility for teaching the course takes precedence over those assisting in the teaching of that course.