In late October 2015, the Globe and Mail published a substantial article by Josh O’Kane treating the major academic-freedom issues in Canada that had arisen in the first ten months of the year:
“Academic freedom has earned plenty of headlines in Canada this year. Dr. Duchesne’s case made waves in January. In May, when campus security seized an ‘unflattering’ sculpture of Capilano University’s president made by an instructor, the Canadian Association of University Teachers called it a violation of his academic freedom. And in August, the chair of the University of British Columbia’s board of governors came under scrutiny after complaining about a professor’s controversial blog post.
“Each of these cases underscore the necessity of academics’ freedom of speech, both on campus and beyond. Rarely included in such discussions, though, are students. When do they have a stake? Nearly 20 per cent of students at UNB Saint John are from abroad, a third of whom come from China. When Dr. Duchesne questions multiculturalism, or writes that a growing Chinese population has weakened the ‘character” of historically “European’ Canadian cities, his words and publications are inseparable from the learning environment he shares with students, including those of Chinese descent.
“Canadian academic groups and free-speech advocates largely suggest that’s okay–that barring sloppy research or a breach of the law, all academic speech should be protected in the name of spirited intellectual debate. It is a powerful reminder of freedom of speech in Canada: When academics like Dr. Duchesne make controversial statements, their right to say so should be defended at all costs, even if those words have the potential to affect the students they teach.”
Near the end of the article, O’Kane returns to and gives additional emphasis to the pointed contrast in the viewpoints of the groups representing faculty and representing students:
“David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, AUNBT’s parent, says comments like Dr. Duchesne’s can be ‘tricky’ for organizations committed to ensuring discrimination and harassment-free campuses. Even though he considers Dr. Duchesne’s comments offensive, he says, ‘the very nature of universities is to ensure wide open discussions . . . on all sides of the political spectrum and on all issues,’ he says.
“There are, after all, many situations that could make students uncomfortable. Mr. Robinson offers an example with the politics reversed: ‘A lot of first-year male sociology students might not like to hear about feminism, but it’s important to hear that particular point of view.’
“The Canadian Federation of Students takes a more skeptical view than its professorial counterparts. The federation has long defended the importance of free speech on campus, but argues there has to be room for nuance: For students, after all, campuses are not just places for learning, but for work and living, too. That means professors, as stewards of the academic experience, have a responsibility to the student experience—‘to provide a space that is conducive to collective learning,’ says CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte” (O’Kane).
O’Kane, Josh. “Canadian University Report 2016: Academic Freedom; Free to Speak . . . at What Cost?” Globe and Mail 23 Oct. 2015: P, 32.
Josh O’Kane, Globe and Mail
David Robinson, Canadian Association of University Teachers
Canadian Federation of Students
Previous Posts in the Series:
Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.
Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.
Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/26/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-3-of-a-series/.
Post 4. Canada—Capilano University: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/30/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-4-of-a-series/