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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2005

McMaster Policy Revisited

I think David Hitchcock ("CAUT Committee Calls for End to McMaster Policy," Bulletin, April 2005) erred in using his professional status on a letter to fellow constituents in the matter of an upcoming ward election. At the very least, I do not think the matter is quite so clear as the ad hoc investigatory committee report, authored by William Bruneau and Ted Hannah, would have us believe.

Dr. Hitchcock's letter was about campaign financing in a local election. His expertise on this matter came primarily from his role as a member of one candidate's fundraising team, and as a concerned local citizen, both of which he makes clear in the letter. But Hitchcock's academic title of Professor of Philosophy does not represent any special expertise relevant to the matter he was writing about.

What might make Hitchcock's professional role relevant to his letter would be if his intent was to indicate he was a local employee, in the same manner that he gave his home address in order to indicate he was a resident of the ward he was discussing. This would be relevant if we presume that, had he been a mill worker for Stelco, he would have indicated this in his letter.

The report states that none of the people interviewed for this report could think of situations to which the revised guidelines might apply. I can. I am an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Lakehead University. The local school board has been discussing closing a large number of high schools and building a large central school. This is, to say the least, very controversial in the community.

I believe the smaller schools do not need to be more expensive to run, and that the needs of many students are better met in smaller schools. But these are administrative, financial, and perhaps psychological questions - as a philosopher of education I do not have any special knowledge or research on which to base such claims.

As a concerned local citizen I have every right to raise these questions. But if I were to do this in a forum like our local paper - and to make clear my role as professor of education - I could not help but suggest an expertise on matters upon which I have no such expertise.

Bruneau and Hannah are wrong to say "professors should be able to identify themselves as members of the academy/intelligentsia or as persons of stature when speaking to the media about matters of general public concern." Our expertise on important questions comes from the knowledge we have, not from any perceived "stature." We should work to share this knowledge, and show how it illuminates pressing problems we face, rather than simply referencing this with the title of "Professor." Doing the latter leads to the kind of abuse I have suggested.

What seems to be at the heart of much of the concern reflected in the CAUT report is a concern that professors be muzzled in speaking out against their employer. Of course, in this case, it is relevant to make our professional position clear, not because most of us have any special knowledge of labour law, or academic freedom or rights, but as employees, and affected parties. But that is a different matter, and not adequately distinguished in the report.

Donald Kerr
Education, Lakehead University