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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2015

Inquiry finds academic freedom violated at uManitoba

CAUT executive director David Robinson says the ‘investigatory committee report exposes some deeply  troubling issues in the department of economics.’
CAUT executive director David Robinson says the ‘investigatory committee report exposes some deeply troubling issues in the department of economics.’
An investigation into the University of Manitoba’s economics department has found serious violations of academic freedom and a workplace climate that has become “corrosive and dysfunctional to the point of crisis.”

CAUT’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee set up a committee of inquiry last year in response to allegations of efforts in the department to reduce or eliminate approaches and views outside of mainstream economics. The economics department traditionally had a reputation of making room for both mainstream and heterodox views in hiring and in its curriculum.

“A change of direction or emphasis within an academic unit does not intrinsically implicate academic freedom,” the investigators note in their report released last month. “How­ever, it is our conclusion that decisions and actions within the department cumulatively constituted violations of academic freedom by producing an environment within which the scholarship of heterodox colleagues was undermined.”

The committee found evidence heterodox faculty and graduate students were poorly treated and undermined and attempts were made to reassign courses to orthodox proponents.

“It was a violation of academic freedom when orthodox members of the department behaved in ways that discriminated against doctoral students being supervised by het­erodox economists,” the report said. “This included treatment at oral examinations, advice about potential areas of study, funding decisions, and advice that their choice of heterodox supervisors was unwise in terms of their future careers.”

The university administration was quick to denounce the findings of the report, accusing the inves­tigating committee of “bias” by not hearing from everyone in the department.

David Robinson, CAUT’s executive director, said the committee provided numerous opportunities for all parties to participate, but the administration urged economics faculty members not to meet with investigators.

At a meeting of the university senate on Feb. 4, U of M president David Barnard dismissed the findings that academic freedom had been violated, suggesting the committee had misused the term.

“I have stated on other occasions that I believe the greatest threat to academic freedom in Canada is stretching the definition so that the concept becomes so attenuated as to lack meaning and relevance,” he asserted.

Len Findlay, chair of CAUT’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, said Barnard’s statement to senate is “deeply hypocritical.”

“The greatest threat to academic freedom in Canada comes from senior managers’ attempts to reduce its scope and discourage its exercise,” he noted. “The reckless endangerment of academic freedom derives from administrative preference for a cowed collegium, not from academic staff and their local and national associations.”

The report recommends a search be held for a new head of the department, that an external review of the graduate and undergraduate programs in economics be conducted and that university officials commit to ensuring both heterodox and mainstream traditions remain viable in the department.

“The atmosphere and relations within the department of economics remain divided and embittered,” said the report. “The status quo cannot be maintained.”

Robinson has written to Barnard asking for a meeting to discuss the committee’s findings and recommendations.

“The investigatory committee report exposes some deeply troubling issues in the department,” Robinson said. “It is in everyone’s interest for the situation to be resolved as quickly as possible.”

Members of the investigatory committee were Queen’s University law professor Allan Manson, University of Calgary English professor Pamela McCallum, and Larry Haiven of the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University.