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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2005

CAUT Commends UWO President on Degree Stance

CAUT last month commended the University of Western Ontario administration for defending academic freedom in the face of a growing controversy over plans to award an honorary degree to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

"We fully support Western president Paul Davenport for standing firm behind the decision of the university senate's honorary-degree committee," said CAUT president Loretta Czernis. "That decision was based on all the appropriate academic grounds and reached through the usual and careful process for awarding honorary degrees."

Davenport has been under pressure from some members of the university's board of governors to rescind the degree to Morgentaler, an outspoken defender of abortion rights, out of concern the recognition would hurt fundraising efforts.

In an open letter to the university community, board chairman Donald McDougall threatened to override the committee's decision.

In response, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association called on McDougall to apologize for his comments or step down as chair of the board.

"Mr. McDougall has used his position as chair of the board of governors to thwart an academic decision," said Allan Gedalof, president of the faculty association. "In his so-called open letter, Mr. McDougall displays a fundamental lack of understanding of those things that lie at the very heart of all good universities, the very things he has a duty to uphold and protect: responsible academic freedom and respect for due and fair academic processes. He should retract or resign."

Czernis noted that academic freedom is the essential ingredient of the modern university.

"It is the right to teach, learn, study, discuss and publish free of orthodoxy or institutional censorship, reprisal and discrimination," she said. "It is the very thing that makes universities the unique institutions they are. President Davenport and his administrative colleagues are to be commended for understanding this and for showing leadership in response to the controversy."

Morgentaler is one of 10 people who will receive an honorary degree at Western's spring convocation June 16.