Canadian Faculty Defend Academic Freedom

Last weekend I had the honor and privilege of attending the annual Council meeting of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) in Ottawa, where I spoke on academic freedom issues in the U.S. and the work of AAUP’s Committee A. Canadian law is far more favorable to higher education faculty collective bargaining rights than is U.S. law. CAUT, therefore, unlike the AAUP, is almost solely a federation of faculty unions representing teachers at the great majority of Canadian colleges and universities. One of its principal activities, however, remains the protection of academic freedom for its members and all Canadian university scholars. Indeed, if anyone reading this blog still believes the tired canard that unionization undermines rather than defends academic freedom, CAUT’s experience provides a clear refutation of that erroneous view. CAUT devotes considerable time and resources to defending both academic freedom and shared governance, including by launching thorough investigations of potential violations and maintaining a censure list.

As I learned in Ottawa from CAUT Executive Director David Robinson’s informative report to the Council on academic freedom, the concerns of our Canadian colleagues are not surprisingly quite similar to ours. Here are some of the cases they are dealing with:

University of Ottawa. This case concerns the selection of a chair for the School of Political Studies. In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, in July a selection committee nominated Professor Christian Rouillard, and the Dean consulted with the faculty in the school via a secret ballot in which 83% of professors participated, with more than 90% supporting Rouillard’s nomination. However, the Dean instead appointed an interim chair through the end of the current academic year. Faced with grievances filed by Rouillard and other faculty, he then named Rouillard interim director and sought a revote. The CAUT-affiliated Associated Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) filed multiple grievances against apparent violation of the collective agreement and of the normal collegial governance practices in the selection of departmental chairs in universities. However, as an October 27 letter from Robinson to university president and vice-chancellor Allan Rock noted, “information I have gathered from faculty members in the School, also point to another troubling conclusion – that Professor Rouillard’s nomination as chair is being thwarted because of his previous role as president of APUO.”

Robinson continued,

If the Administration is blocking Professor Rouillard’s appointment because of his involvement with the APUO, then you are also breaching his academic freedom. As you know, academic freedom includes the right of academic staff to engage in service to the institution and the community, including service to their academic staff associations, and the freedom to express opinions about the institution and its administration without reprisal or institutional censorship.

Brock University. In a case with important echoes of American controversies over “collegiality” and “civility,” a 178-page (including appendixes) investigatory report prepared by a three-member investigating team and presented to the CAUT Council found that Brock University in Ontario should publicly apologize to professors whose academic freedom was violated when they were charged under the university’s “respectful workplace” policy.

According to a press release from CAUT issued November 19, the report,

examined events that occurred after a number of faculty and graduate students protested the University’s involvement in Solidarity Experiences Abroad, a program conducted in South America and administered by the Brock University Roman Catholic chaplaincy. In response to the protests, the Roman Catholic Chaplain and acting Chaplain at the University filed complaints of alleged bullying and harassing behaviour against five faculty and students.

The report notes that academic freedom must include “the right of all faculty members to play an active role in reviewing and challenging university programs and policies,” and that Brock University violated this principle when it launched an investigation into complaints that criticisms of Solidarity Experiences Abroad were “disrespectful.”

The University’s investigation, the report concludes, “not only failed to comply with the principles of natural justice, but also infringed the academic freedom and free speech rights of the respondents.”

The report recognizes that respectful workplace policies have proliferated across North American campuses in recent years, and these policies can often pose risks to academic freedom and free expression.

“The goal of respectful workplace policies is to regulate expression,” the report states. “As such, they risk undercutting the principles of academic freedom and free expression…. If there are to be such respectful workplace policies, then they must put respect for academic freedom and freedom of expression front and centre.”

Carleton University. Here the issues are shared governance and transparency. (For media coverage go here). Professor Root Gorelick, a faculty representative to Carleton’s board of governors and an inveterate blogger, has drawn the ire of university officials by taking issue with board decisions in his public blog posts. The university maintains Gorelick can argue all he wants during board meetings, but that he’s duty bound to publicly support board decisions after they’ve been cast. Gorelick’s posts, the university claims, make inaccurate comments about board members, discussions and decisions, and do not reflect the minutes, which are supposed to be the official account of their meetings.

Such posts,” the university said in a statement, “stifle the freedom of speech of all other members of the board.” Gorelick, however, argues that those who sit on the university board should not be subject to the kind of “cabinet solidarity” that binds corporate boards and government decision-makers, and, I might add, members of “democratic centralist” communist political groupings.

“The board should have the right to have both open and closed sessions, I agree, but the open sessions should really mean open,” he argues. “If it’s an open session, that should mean public and that should be protected by free speech. As with anything to do with free speech, the way we counter it is with more speech rather than to silence the debate.”

Gorelick is the only member of Carleton’s 33-person board who has refused to sign a revised code of conduct that sets out the duties and responsibilities of its governors. Like the previous policy, the new one requires board members to “publicly support” all board decisions, and to maintain the confidentiality of all discussions, even after leaving the board. The new code of conduct, adopted by the board in late September, sharpens some language and deems it “inappropriate and not in the best interests of the university” for any board member to comment on board discussions in print, electronic or social media.

Gorelick said he signed the old conduct statement because he considered it pro-forma, but he balked at the new one. “Neither of the them looks particularly good,” he said. “They’re both truly meant to stifle dissent.” Gorelick defended his blog as a means of communicating directly with the university professors and librarians who elected him to the board: “I blog to improve the university. These blog posts are not meant as a fight against an enemy, but as constructive criticism of allies.”

The board is also considering proposals to remove all faculty, staff, and student representatives from the board and has decided that its next meeting will be held without public access. In an October 27 letter to Carleton president and vice-chancellor Roseann O’Reilly Runte, Robinson wrote on behalf of CAUT:

All publicly funded institutions have an obligation to be responsive to the communities they serve by being transparent in their policies, administration, and decision-making processes. The principle of collegial governance in universities and colleges further requires nothing less than full openness and transparency on the part of our governing boards, senates, and constituent bodies. That is why the long-standing tradition in our institutions has been that meetings of such bodies may be closed only temporarily to deal with confidential personnel matters, individual student issues, or the negotiation of contracts.

I therefore find it very troubling to learn that the next meeting of Carleton’s Board of Governors in early November will be held entirely in camera and under a veil of strict secrecy. With the exception of dealing with a very narrowly defined set of confidential matters, there is absolutely no justification for holding Board meetings in camera. Secrecy undermines fundamental principles of democratic accountability and collegial governance, and runs contrary to the values of open debate, academic freedom, and freedom of expression that should lie at the very heart of our universities and colleges.

At last weekend’s meeting the CAUT Council approved a resolution condemning the university’s actions in this case.

University of Calgary. This case involves charges of conflict of interest, violations of academic freedom, and donor interference surrounding the establishment and operation of the university’s Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability. When it was established in 2012 the Enbridge Centre looked like a coup for the university, its business school and university president Elizabeth Cannon. To establish the center, Enbridge Corporation, a pipeline operator and one of Canada’s biggest companies, pledged $2.25 million over a 10-year period, with potential for more funding down the road. The pairing, however, was fraught from the start, and one who thought that way was Joe Arvai, who was brought in to head the new venture. He was on Barack Obama’s energy advisory group during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Stanford named him a Leopold Leadership fellow, and he also worked for international agencies such as NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board and the International Energy Agency.

From the outset, though, Enbridge’s hands-on approach to the new center troubled Arvai. Beyond naming rights, Enbridge sought to influence board memberships, staffing and the type of students that would be considered for awards, emails acquired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation revealed. The company also wanted “customized opportunities” for Enbridge executives and clients to meet with researchers at the business school and expected Calgary to partner with a university in Michigan in what some suggested was an attempt to help restore its battered reputation in that state after a broken pipeline spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River.

“I have the impression that Enbridge sees the center as a PR machine for themselves, whereas I see it as an academic research center,” said Arvai, who claims he was dismissed from his position shortly thereafter. He is now at the University of Michigan.

As the CBC documents revealed, the relationship was riddled with conflicts of interest. Enbridge’s chief executive Al Monaco is a Calgary alumnus who has sat on the university’s Board of Governor’s Investment Committee as well as the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Faculty of Medicine. Bonnie DuPont, who was a member of center’s board and currently chairs the university’s board of governors, is a former Enbridge vice president.

Most importantly, Cannon, the university president, has been on Enbridge Income Fund’s board since 2004 and security filings show she was paid $130,500 last year for her work as an independent director. Enbridge holds approximately 90 per cent economic interest in Enbridge Income Fund. Company documents also show that at the end of 2014 Cannon was owner of 25,300 shares in the income fund with market worth of approximately $810,000.

David Keith, a prominent scholar in his own right who left Calgary for Harvard in 2011, has been highly skeptical of the school’s relationships with Enbridge. “If Elizabeth was a board member and was receiving money from Enbridge, and the same time wrote an email about that without clearly disclosing her conflict of interest without discussing it — that’s ugly,” Keith told the CBC. “From my conversations with many people who were involved, including Joe, but several others, and not just conversations, but detailed notes and emails, my understanding is that Joe Arvai was removed as director of the centre before its formation at the specific request of Enbridge,” he added.

According to one leading Canadian advocate of academic freedom, the fact that Cannon sits on the board of Enbridge Income Fund Holdings and is simultaneously university president raises serious questions. “A president of a university, wherever she is, is still president of the university,” said James Turk, a professor at Ryerson University and former executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, who also serves as a consultant to AAUP Committee A. “To try to pretend that you can separate the two is simply untenable.”

Announcing that CAUT would launch an investigation of the Enbridge issue, Robinson said, “The allegations concerning the University of Calgary are of national concern to the profession and to the public. The purpose of the investigation will be to uncover the facts and, if problems are discovered, make recommendations about how universities and colleges can better manage donor agreements.”

As I noted in my own remarks to the CAUT Council, “In the course of its initial century the AAUP has forged alliances and made friends across the higher education spectrum and around the world. Of those friendships, that with the Canadian Association of University Teachers is among our most treasured. We share not only a common continent and similar political traditions, but higher education systems that build on a common heritage and a common mission. So, as the AAUP enters its second century and as CAUT is in its 65th year, we are joined as friends and partners in the struggle for educational excellence, for the professional rights and privileges of all those who teach in higher education, for academic freedom and shared governance, and for the common good of the citizenries of our allied democracies.”

CAUT’s work on behalf of academic freedom and shared governance and on behalf of the professional rights and interests of Canadian faculty members deserves our support and encouragement. I want to conclude by thanking David Robinson, CAUT President Robin Vose, and other members of the CAUT leadership and staff for their kind invitation and gracious hospitality during my visit.

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