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Response to the Bastarache Report on Academic Freedom

Dear members,

On November 4, the Central Administration published the final Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom. The APUO welcomes the report’s recognition of the importance of protecting academic freedom as essential to our university’s pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. We note, however, that in doing so, its authors fail to seriously take into account that members of our campus community are subject to different definitions of academic freedom. For APUO members, the definition of academic freedom that is set out in Article 9 of our Collective Agreementis the only one that is binding. It reads:

Academic freedom is the right of reasonable exercise of civil liberties and responsibilities in an academic setting. As such it protects each Member’s freedom to disseminate her opinions both inside and outside the classroom, to practice her profession as teacher and scholar, Librarian, or Counsellor, to carry out such scholarly and teaching activities as she believes will contribute to and disseminate knowledge, and to express and disseminate the results of her scholarly activities in a reasonable manner, to select, acquire, disseminate and use documents in the exercise of her professional responsibilities, without interference from the Employer, its agents, or any outside bodies. All the above-mentioned activities are to be conducted with due and proper regard for the academic freedom of others and without contravening the provisions of this agreement. Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the Member, but rather makes commitment possible. However, academic freedom does not confer legal immunity, nor does it diminish the obligations of Members to meet their duties and responsibilities.

Not surprisingly, the recommendations advanced in this much anticipated document have generated divergent reactions, underscoring a lack of consensus across our campus. The ongoing debate also reflects, in part, the report’s failure to adequately acknowledge the intersections between academic freedom and racism, and, especially, how the former can contribute to the latter. Left unaddressed, this blindspot can function as a barrier to our collective capacity to challenge the remaining colonial and racist legacies that continue to permeate academia. The Committee’s narrow mandate constituted a missed opportunity to address existing governance deficiencies at the University of Ottawa that impact upon the protection of academic freedom and the capacity to foster a more equitable, diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist campus community. As we articulated last spring in our written submission to the Committee on Academic Freedom: “collegial governance and equity do not limit academic freedom or impose censure; they foster inclusive learning environments that nourish, promote, and sustain it.” The absence of any substantive engagement with the issue of students’ academic freedom and freedom of expression marks another notable omission in the report. 

In overlooking the processes and procedures set out in existing campus Collective Agreements, the report shields the Central Administration from being held accountable for both its failure to follow due process in its handling of the events of last autumn, and its failure to ensure a safe working environment free of discrimination, harassment, and cyber-bullying for all members of our university community. The Central Administration’s mishandling of the events precipitating the commissioning of the Bastarache report demonstrates that it is not equipped to simultaneously implement the report’s recommendations and meet the needs of members of equity-seeking groups within our community. 

Given the fundamental principles at play and our long-standing championing of collegial governance, procedural fairness, and transparency, the APUO reiterates its calls for:  

  1. the dissolution and replacing of the current Human Rights Office (which operates under the authority of the University of Ottawa’s Central Administration) with independent specialized equity offices, including an anti-racism office; 
  2. the Central Administration to recognize its occupational health and safety obligations and to protect all members of our community against bullying and cyber-bullying;
  3. a third-party independent inquiry into the Central Administration’s management of the events that transpired last autumn.