Academic freedom, Quebec style


On June 3, the National Assembly of Quebec, Canada, passed a law that respects academic freedom in the university sector.

The purpose of the law is stated in the law as follows: “To recognize, promote and protect the academic freedom of the university to support the mission of the university-level educational institution. Service to the community.” This is “… allowed to confer a degree … Or other proof of university research and applies to corporations or organizations that offer university-level educational programs.

“Academic freedom” is described as “the right of all to engage freely in activities that contribute to the fulfillment of an educational institution’s mission, without doctrinal, ideological, or moral restrictions such as institutional censorship.” I am.

Importantly, this right extends to the freedom of scholars to “express their opinions about society, about institutions, including their respective institutions, and about the doctrines and opinions of the doctrine.” Therefore, in this section, “academic freedom” is not limited to the particular discipline or expertise of the scholar, but extends to “about society” and the expression of opinion about the institution, including the institution that employs them. confirm.

The explanation of the scope of “academic freedom” seems commendable, but a closer analysis of the law reveals that it simply consists of lofty and meaningless statements. Indeed, the influence of law is that academic freedom must be exercised in accordance with the standards of ethical and scientific rigor generally accepted by the university sector, taking into account the rights of other members of the university. Is made clear by that claim. community. “

Restricted language code

This qualification, routinely found in university “speech code,” can severely limit the extent to which academic freedom exists on campus. In other words, the Freedom of Speech Code in the College Department can be used as a sword to ban and punish speech that can hurt the “sensitivity” of staff, students, and, in fact, members of the wider community. There is sex.

Breaking news is full of articles about college scholars that college considers disgusting. The well-documented case of Peter Lid helps explain this point.

Lid, an Australian professor of physics, was fired by James Cook University in 2018 for criticizing a colleague’s work on the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Specifically, he condemned the work of his colleagues who linked climate change to coral bleaching.

Collect georeference data for the Great Barrier Reef
Alexandra Ordonez Alvarez of the University of Queensland will collect georeference data at the Ashmore Bank of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia in December 2019. (Chris Roelfsema / Allen Coral Atlas via AP)

In the case of the lid, the reef was not significantly reduced and the deterioration could be undone. However, the High Court of Australia ruled that Lid’s academic freedom was “subject to restrictions” and that these restrictions included “respect for the legal rights of others.”

Australian universities have adopted a language code based on Secretary Robert French’s model code for freedom of speech and academic freedom. These norms prohibit speeches in situations that “may humiliate or intimidate others and are intended to bring about one or both of these effects.” In practice, this ban is equivalent to the implementation of the “Neutral Principle” and penalizes opinions that the recipient deems unpleasant.

Neutral Principles in Quebec Act

But in Quebec language, the principle of neutrality is a classic example of “doctrinal, ideological, or moral constraints.” Still, it is routinely practiced in modern universities. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how this principle can be taught and harmonize with the notion of academic freedom to study without fear or favor.

Given the validity of this point, academic freedom granted by Quebec law is in fact merely a pointless maternal statement that does not limit the censorship authority of the university.

Quebec law also imposes obligations on universities to develop academic freedom policies. This policy is expected to stipulate the establishment of a committee, the main function of which is to “supervise the implementation of the policy and investigate complaints about academic freedom of the university … such complaints or of the university. To make recommendations on other academic matters. Freedom. “

However, implementing the policy should not prevent even the unpleasant thoughts discussed during the “Activities that Contribute to the University Mission”.

The law also requires the appointment of persons responsible for implementing the policy. If this policy is interpreted by the emperor of freedom of speech as requiring the implementation of the principle of neutrality, they will limit academic freedom, but will not expand.

Do you need academic freedom?

Surprisingly, legislators may feel that they need to adopt a law on “academic freedom.” This surprise stems from the fact that universities have had social expectations to promote uncensored research and educational efforts since at least the 17th century.

And, as recognized by the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation on the status of higher education teachers, “the principles of academic freedom should be closely adhered to.”

Terence Karran discusses this recommendation in the British Journal of Educational Studies and claims that higher education scholars have the following rights:

“Freedom of education and debate, freedom to conduct research, disseminate and publish its results, freedom to express opinions about the system or system in which they work, from institutional censorship, without restrictions by prescribed doctrine. Right to freedom. Freedom to participate in professionals or representative academic institutions. “

Overall, Quebec law is a sincere attempt to protect academic freedom, but it is doubtful that it will achieve its intended purpose. This is because the university is on the road to neutrality.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriel Moens


GabriĆ«l A. MoensAM is an emeritus professor at the University of Queensland and vice president and dean of Murdoch University. In 2003, Mornes was awarded the Australian Centennial Medal by the Prime Minister for her service to education. He has taught extensively in Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens recently published two novels, “ATwisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).