Academic Freedom at UW

For many members of the professoriate, the academic freedom statements they are most likely to read are governance documents from their own universities. Today, I’ll start the process working through these documents — policies, guidelines, memoranda of agreement, collective agreements — at Canadian universities. I’ll focus on Canada (for now, at least) because that is the context in which I work and the context with which I’m most familiar.

I’ll start with my own university, the University of Waterloo (UW).

At UW, language about academic freedom occurs in two university policies, and in the memorandum of agreement between the Faculty Association and the University.

Let’s start with “Policy 33 — Ethical Behaviour.” That policy begins with the following preamble:

1. General principles

The University is an autonomous community which exists to further the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and understanding through scholarship and teaching. The University aims to ensure an environment of tolerance and respect and believes that the right of individuals to advance their views openly must be upheld throughout the University. The realization of these intentions requires respect for the following general principles:

The first such principles the policy lists involve justice, fairness, and equality of treatment. The fourth principle concerns academic freedom:

That the University supports academic freedom for all members of the University community. Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base teaching and research on an honest and ethical quest for knowledge. In the context of this policy, ‘academic freedom’ refers to academic activities, including teaching and scholarship, as is articulated in the principles set out in the Memorandum of Agreement between the FAUW and the University of Waterloo, 1998 (Article 6). The academic environment which fosters free debate may from time to time include the presentation or discussion of unpopular opinions or controversial material. Such material shall be dealt with as openly, respectfully and sensitively as possible.

The other UW policy that discusses academic freedom is “Policy 71 — Student Discipline.” Here’s what it says:

Communication, inquiry and the free exchange of ideas are fundamental to a university education, and require an environment of tolerance and respect. Academic freedom provides for the freedom to study, learn, publish and debate, independent of current opinion, subject to commonly accepted scholarly standards. Academic freedom is protected and carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a responsible and ethical way. A student’s academic freedom does not extend to disruption of other students, faculty or staff members, or their work/study/residence environments.

The final locus of academic freedom discussion in UW governance is Section 6 of the Memorandum of Agreement between the University and its faculty association (Faculty Association of University of Waterloo aka FAUW). This is by far UW’s most detailed account of what academic freedom is. Here is Section 6 in full:

6.1       Academic freedom provides the possibility of examining, questioning, teaching, and learning, and involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without deference to prescribed doctrine. As such, it entails the freedom of individuals to practise their professions of teacher, researcher and scholar, the freedom to publish their findings, the freedom to teach and engage in open discussion, the freedom to be creative, the freedom to select, acquire, disseminate, and use documents in the exercise of their professional activities, and the freedom to criticize the University and the Association. Academic freedom also entails freedom from institutional censorship.

6.2       The University and the Association recognize that the provision of academic freedom is particularly vital to those whose approaches to teaching, scholarship, and research result in criticism of and challenge to established, conventional beliefs and practices.

6.3       The academic freedom of any person shall not be infringed upon or abridged in any manner. As academic freedom will wither and die unless the university community as a whole is committed to it, the University and the Association agree to support and defend academic freedom at the University of Waterloo.

6.4       As the common good of society depends upon an unhampered search for knowledge and its free expression, and as academic freedom in universities is essential to the attainment of each of these purposes in the teaching function of the university as well as in the pursuit of its scholarship and research, those who are guaranteed academic freedom have also a responsibility in exercising it not to infringe upon the academic freedom and rights of other members of the university community. Indeed, academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner that is consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest and ethical quest for knowledge.

Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual; rather, academic freedom makes commitment possible.

6.5       As the censorship of information is inimical to the free pursuit of learning, the creation, collection, organization, and dissemination of knowledge shall be done freely and without bias in support of the research, teaching, and study needs of the university community. No censorship shall be exercised or allowed against any material relevant to the pursuit of learning which a faculty member desires to be placed in the library collections of the University.