I’ve always said that anniversaries and milestones in an organization’s life are worth celebrating. In February we moved into our new office building, situated within a stone’s throw of our former building, which had housed our operations since 1994. This is a good occasion to look back at the progress we’ve made in little more than a decade. In my April column, I highlighted the various factors behind the remarkable growth in our membership, which increased by 42 per cent over that short period. Our activities and services also expanded significantly and in my last column, I looked at collective bargaining. Now, I’d like to examine our growth in another area, namely the defense of academic freedom.
CAUT has been an ardent defender of academic freedom ever since its creation in 1951, and in particular since the famous Harry Crowe case in 1958, when CAUT set up its first committee of inquiry consisting of illustrious members Vernon Fowke and Bora Laskin. But our work in this area expanded significantly as a result of the momentous Olivieri case, that emerged in the late-1990s and quickly became an international cause célèbre, and justifiably so. This unparalleled attack against academic freedom in a medical setting prompted the creation of CAUT’s first independent committee of inquiry, which worked for several years on this incredibly difficult and complex case. The committee’s voluminous report was issued in 2001 and was published with James Lorimer & Company as part of CAUT’s book series. This book was the third of eight titles so far, and our “bestseller,” with demands for it coming from all over the world.
Other major academic freedom cases emerged in the ensuing years, those for instance of David Healy, Gabrielle Horne, David Noble, Mary Bryson, Kin-Yip Chun, Stéphane McLachlan, Anne Duffy and Paul Grof. Again, many of these happened in medical settings involving the complex interplay of universities, schools of medicine, hospitals and regional health authorities, alternative funding plans and practice plans and pharmaceutical companies sponsoring health research.
The increasing threat to the academic freedom of university-associated clinicians and researchers was not a coincidence: most schools of medicine have rigid and hierarchical structures and a poor tradition of collegial governance. This is why CAUT established a task force on academic freedom for faculty at university-affiliated healthcare institutions (whose work produced a 2004 report titled “Defending Medicine: Clinical Faculty and Academic Freedom”) as well as appointed a new advisory committee to the executive on academic concerns of clinical faculty.
CAUT currently has three cases involving clinical faculty at Memorial and Dalhousie Universities and the University of Ottawa before independent committees of inquiry.
CAUT also has another tool to deal with attacks on academic freedom: ad hoc investigatory committees, which report to CAUT’s academic freedom and tenure committee and give CAUT a chance to negotiate a remedy to any problem found before (or instead of) publicly releasing the report. At present, CAUT is awaiting reports from two ad hoc committees. The three most recent reports of cases investigated by these committees were on Eileen Hogan (Acadia) and Laurent Leduc (Toronto), both published in 2006, and George Nader (Trent), published in last month’s Bulletin.
Of course, increased reliance on committees of inquiry brought about a change in the mandate of our Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, which no longer investigates denial of academic freedom in individual cases as before. In its present form, policymaking is a central focus and in that capacity the committee has produced a number of policy statements, model clauses and discussion papers.
The lessons from the Olivieri case also led to the creation in 2001 of the Academic Freedom Fund, a “catastrophic insurance” plan to ensure that no local association will ever have to abandon an academic freedom case because of costs. The initial goal was to raise $1 million for the fund. Local associations across Canada have contributed very generously, and as of last month about $840,000 has been donated or pledged. The fund has recently provided $250,000 to our member associations at the University of British Columbia, the University of Regina and Laurentian University to assist with particularly long and costly struggles to protect members, so the fund is down to about $600,000.
In this context, I’d like to ask associations that have not donated to seriously consider doing so and those that have already donated to think about giving again, either in a lump sum or on an annual basis. If this sounds like a sales pitch, it is one! Academic freedom is the cornerstone of our profession, and both our member associations and CAUT are committed to defending it energetically. Of course there is a cost to this. But keep in mind, as the ads would say, you could be the next victim…
Another instrument that was created to promote awareness around academic freedom issues is the Harry Crowe Foundation, set up in 2003 to support education and research initiatives in this area. It is a registered charity that can give individual donors official income tax receipts for financial support of its work. Its first major enterprise was a highly successful 2005 conference on “Academic Freedom Post-9/ll,” which attracted participants from across the country and around the world. Articles based on presentations at the conference were published last month in the CAUT series as Free Speech in Fearful Times: After 9/11 in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Europe, edited by CAUT executive director James Turk and Allan Manson of Queen’s University. Another foundation conference on protecting the integrity of academic work is planned for this fall (see Conference to Address Academic Integrity
Academic freedom is essential today to post-secondary education and to all of us in the work we do every day in teaching, research and service. CAUT is playing a more proactive role than ever before in this key area, spurred on by the many serious cases arising over the past decade, and in particular, those of our colleagues in medical schools.
CAUT has also expanded its operations and services in many other areas since 1994, with the introduction of new courses and workshops, the addition of new publications, enhanced communication activities, a growing emphasis on occupational health and safety, increased legal staff, and through membership in a number of progressive coalitions, creating new awards to recognize outstanding contributions in specific areas and developing a strong presence on the international scene. More on this in my June column!