On Nov. 23, CAUT Council delegates voted overwhelmingly to create the CAUT Academic Freedom Fund to aid CAUT and its local associations in vigorous defence of academic freedom. The fund's initial target is to raise $1 million.
"Academic freedom in under attack as never before in CAUT's 50-year history," said CAUT president Tom Booth. "We and our local associations must have the resources to defend this cornerstone of academic life."
Each member association of CAUT will be a member of the fund, with the CAUT executive serving as fund trustees. Application has been made to secure charitable status for the fund.
The fund will rely entirely on donations which will be sought from member associations, foundations, as well as individuals — both immediately and through a bequest program.
After Council's creation of the fund, Vic Catano, CAUT vice-president and president of Saint Mary's University Faculty Union, issued a challenge to other faculty associations, "Saint Mary's University Faculty Union is pledging $100 per member to the CAUT Academic Freedom Fund. That is a total of $22,000. We challenge other members of CAUT to make the same commitment." Catano said the money will be paid in equal installments over the next five years.
Allen Britten, president of the University College of Cape Breton Faculty Association, advised Council that he had taken a poll of his executive who had approved an immediate donation of $10 per member, and made a commitment to donate, in addition, whatever is recommended for all associations "This is our fire insurance," Britten added.
"CAUT will be asking all associations to consider similar support," said CAUT executive director Jim Turk. "The fund will give CAUT the ability to assure that each association has the capability to protect its members' academic freedom, no matter what."
Approval of the fund capped a Council that focussed on academic freedom. Jon Thompson, professor of mathematics at the University of New Brunswick and chair of the independent committee of inquiry into the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto summarized his committee's report for delegates.
Later that day, Council was addressed by Olivieri, and her colleagues Helen Chan, John Dick, Peter Durie and Brenda Gallie. They talked about their experiences in recent years and what the attack on their academic freedom meant to them.
Gallie, director of the retinoblastoma program at the Hospital for Sick Children and head of the division of cancer informatics at the Ontario Cancer Institute, stressed the importance of academic freedom. "The whole basis of the honest pursuit of health is under assault in the face of commercial interest," she said.
Dick, senior scientist in the program in cancer/ blood research of the Research Institute of the Hospital for Sick Children and a professor of molecular and medical genetics at the University of Toronto, said relationships between drug companies and hospitals and universities are pervasive. "To me, academic freedom means something very real: the health of all Canadians," he told delegates.
Council was also addressed by Sir David Weatherall, Emeritus Regis Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and a world authority on blood disorders of the type Olivieri studies. Weatherall stressed the importance of academic freedom in assuring the integrity of research. "We've got to get his right," he said. "It's not just for the sake of the truth and what we think the university stands for but certainly, in my view, for the sake of patients everywhere."