CHEC Calls for Dialogue on the Meaning of "University" and "Academic Freedom" in Canada

Is it possible for a bone fide "university" in Canada today to have an "academic freedom" policy that respects its community's faith-based standards? Some Canadian educators say yes; some say no. Before about 1950 most educators said yes; and today outside Canada most educators say yes; but today in Canada and the world many say no.

This tension was discussed on June 1, 2010 at the Annual General Meeting of Christian Higher Education Canada, Inc. (CHEC) in Toronto with 37 delegates representing 19 evangelical post-secondary institutions from across Canada. The issue came out of recent visits and reports by delegations of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) to three CHEC institutions and the CAUT hints of future visits to other CHEC institutions. The membership referred its concerns to the Board of Directors which met the following day.

CHEC as an organization recognizes the autonomy of its member institutions to each develop its own statement on academic freedom (as does the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada), but notes with concern the accusation by CAUT against some of its member institutions suggesting they do not practice bone fide academic freedom. The concern raised by CHEC is based on the seemingly arbitrary attitude of CAUT that it alone has authority to define the meaning of "university" and "academic freedom" within Canada and that those who do not accept its definitions are in some manner deficient.

Whereas academic freedom itself implies a basic respect for diversity of views and willingness to debate different positions without threat of reprisal, the Board of CHEC encourages the holding of a national conference to dialogue on the meaning of "university and "academic freedom" within the Canadian context, and in relation to global understandings of these terms. It recommends that such a conference include all stakeholders within higher education. The Board would be pleased to arrange representative voices to make presentation on behalf of the confessional position of its members in an effort to create a climate of dialogue.