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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2002

CAUT Issues Statement on Recent Threats to Freedom of Speech

The complex and bitter divide in the Middle East is flaring up on campuses across North America - raising serious questions about academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Angry pro-Palestinian protestors prevented former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Concordia University on Sept. 9. Subsequently, the president of the university declared a moratorium which will mean there can be no events related to the Middle East on campus.

In August, pro-Israeli groups demanded the University of Toronto discipline a faculty member for circulating an email petition critical of the government of Israel, and described the university's refusal to do so as hiding behind academic freedom.

Last month, the University of Colorado and Colorado College came under fierce attack from politicians, evangelical religious leaders and pro-Israeli groups for inviting Dr. Hanan Ashrawi to be a principal speaker at a symposium on the global challenges in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Dr. Ashrawi was the minister of higher education for the Palestinian Authority until she resigned in 1998 to found the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy where she currently serves as secretary general.

Less dramatic and less publicized events have happened at numerous campuses.

In the face of such events, CAUT feels it imperative to reaffirm certain basic principles:

  • Academic freedom is essential for universities to fulfill their public responsibility to promote the unfettered search for knowledge and truth.
  • Academic freedom means the right to freedom of speech and discussion, regardless of prescribed doctrine, political convention, or administrative convenience.
  • Suppression of speech through violence, the threat of violence, or political intimidation is not acceptable.
  • Academic institutions have an obligation to defend academic freedom and not allow open discussion to be suppressed.

However irreconcilable the differences over the Middle East may be, no resolution is possible in the absence of an opportunity for all points of view to be heard and all arguments debated. We deplore any actions that suppress, or attempt to suppress, free speech.

Victor Catano
President, CAUT