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Margin Notes

Christian higher-ed and academic freedom: an update

The call from a Christian higher education group for a forum on academic freedom in Canada has gotten attention.


The press release from Christian Higher Education Canada that I referenced in my blog post on Monday has generated additional coverage. In the release, the group calls for a national conference to bring together “all stakeholders within higher education” to discuss academic freedom.

The issue was picked up by the U.S.-based Inside Higher Ed, which published an article today on what it termed a “major debate [in Canada] over what academic freedom is and who should define it.”

The article quotes Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers: “We don’t believe that a person’s ideology or faith should be a condition of hiring or of continuing appointment — whether it is Marxism or fundamentalist Protestantism. … Nothing that calls itself a university should have a faith test. That’s just not acceptable.”

Al Heibert, executive director of CHEC, was also interviewed. “Our concern is that it is irresponsible for any one organization to define academic freedom for all of Canada,” he said. “And it is irresponsible for any one organization to define the meaning of a university for all of Canada.”

Just a note of correction to the Inside Higher Ed article: it says the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is now revising its statement on academic freedom, “prompted in part by the debate.” However, Christine Tausig Ford, corporate secretary at AUCC, points out (in the comments section following the article) that AUCC’s discussions on its Statement on Academic Freedom and Institutional Autonomy are not connected in any way to CAUT’s investigations. Those discussions in fact predate the CAUT investigations.

The debate was also picked up by Carson Jerema at Maclean’s On Campus. Here is part of his article, which was entitled “Christian universities fight back”:

Faced with the possibility of further rebukes against Christian schools, CHEC’s board of directors has decided to invite other groups from the post-secondary sector to participate in a “national conference to dialogue on the meaning of ‘university’ and ‘academic freedom.’” However, planning for the conference is still in the preliminary stages, and a date and venue have yet to be set.

Just one additional note: in my previous post, I did not yet have a link for the CHEC press release. That release is now online here. We’d certainly like to hear your views on this thorny issue.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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