CAUT has established a committee that will investigate recent changes to McMaster University senate guidelines on what academic staff may say to the media.
Concern arose last spring after press reports that the university senate adopted a policy prohibiting faculty from referring to McMaster University in interacting with the media if their statement expresses a personal opinion, "and that opinion is unrelated to the area of academic or professional expertise of that member."
The ad hoc investigatory committee members are William Bruneau, professor emeritus of educational theory at the University of British Columbia and Ted Hannah, a professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. The committee's terms of reference are to examine the senate's "Guidelines for Members of the McMaster University Community Regarding Interactions with the Media," to determine whether the guidelines constitute a threat to academic freedom, and to make any appropriate recommendations in their report to CAUT.
"The concern is whether such a policy means, for example, academics in chemistry or classics cannot acknowledge their university affiliation if they are expressing their views on peace or the upcoming federal election," said CAUT executive director James Turk.
"We are heartened that McMaster University Faculty Association president Ken Cruikshank stresses the intent of the policy was not to restrict academic freedom," he added.
In an article published in the faculty association's newsletter, Cruikshank argues that "as a member of the academic community, I enjoy the security of tenure, which enables me to speak out as a public intellectual.
"Recent changes in university statements, and recent clarifications regarding insurance coverage do not change anything. They only advise me to think about and be reasonable about how I use my affiliation to McMaster in talking to the media."
Cruikshank also noted that the final clause in the senate policy states: "However, this in no way is meant to restrict the academic freedom or freedom of speech of any member of the university community."
Turk said the committee will begin its work in the next few weeks and its report is expected in the fall.