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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2003

Academic Freedom Distorted

I was distressed by the article on Cynthia Maughan's lawsuit ("CAUT Defends Academics Named in Major Lawsuit," Bulletin, Sept. 2003). I do not know whether Ms. Maughan's claim of discrimination has validity or not - and, indeed, after reading the Bulletin's article I am as ill-informed about the case as I was before. But it was clear to me the biased reporting given to the story here showed less journalistic integrity than one could expect to find in the average issue of the National Enquirer.

The article was dominated by pious pronouncements about the need to protect academic freedom in the face of a lawsuit claiming discrimination. Excuse me, but is the real issue here not one of whether or not an act of discrimination took place?

How is a charge of discrimination a threat to academic freedom? Am I to understand that my tenure gives me a "freedom" to discriminate against certain students? My understanding of academic freedom and the need for tenure is that professors need protection against unjust dismissal when they express opinions which dissent from the hegemony which the administration may represent.

What I see in this article is a concept of academic freedom which protects the professor from having to put up with a student's expression of opinions which dissent from the hegemony which the professor may represent. How is a student's claim that her freedom to dissent was violated to be understood as a threat to the principle of academic freedom?

A newspaper article which issues to the collective professoriate the rallying cry of "academic freedom" in response to a student's claim of "discrimination" reduces the concept of "academic freedom" to something base and hypocritical.

What was even more offensive, however, was the conclusion of the article which highlights the fact that the Maughan story has been picked up by the National Post, the (Alberta) Report, and the Ku Klux Klan website.

Of what possible relevance is this? Does the fact that certain news services found the story interesting help us to judge the facts of the case? Does this help us to determine whether an act of discrimination actually took place? Or are we to understand that this reflects poorly upon Ms. Maughan, as if she were responsible for the fact that such groups showed interest in her story?

I can only conclude that your reporter is attempting to persuade your readers to judge Ms. Maughan by association: we will silence this woman by insinuating she is the moral equivalent of an Albertan redneck Klan member.

This is journalism of the trashiest sort. This is reportage which does not seek to inform but to do damage, and in the most McCarthyist of fashions. Shame on you.

Stephen R. ReimerM
English, University of Alberta

While Professor Reimer does "not know whether Ms. Maughan's claim of discrimination has validity or not," CAUT is confident it does not. Before CAUT makes a statement on a case or agrees to provide legal assistance, it investigates the matter carefully - as was done in this instance. Also, as the article noted, three separate formal reviews at the University of British Columbia came to the same conclusion that Ms. Maughan's claims of discrimination were without merit. - ed.