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Major Academic Freedom Cases

Censure against University of Toronto

The case of Dr. Valentina Azarova gained international attention when the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law abruptly ended negotiations to hire her as the Director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP). This followed immediately after concerns were raised by a major donor and sitting judge over Dr. Azarova’s academic work on human rights in Israel and Palestine. After a lengthy review of the case, CAUT Council imposed a rare censure on the University of Toronto administration, concluding that the decision to cancel Dr. Azarova’s hiring was politically motivated and as such constitutes a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom. Read more

McMaster University

CAUT provided legal support for a group of faculty at McMaster University seeking justice at the Ontario Divisional Court over an unfair internal hearing process that imposed serious -- and for three professors career-ending -- penalties for which the University provides no avenue of appeal. The case raises important questions about academic freedom, due process, and procedural fairness. Read more

Dr. Nancy Olivieri

The case of University of Toronto clinician, Dr. Nancy Olivieri, gained international attention when her research at the Hospital for Sick Children in the late 1990s led her to believe that a new drug treatment posed dangers to some patients. It was alleged that the hospital and the university failed to come to her defence when Apotex, co-sponsor of the research, objected to her publishing her findings. The case was reviewed by CAUT’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and referred to an independent committee of inquiry whose final report found serious violations of academic freedom. Read more

David Healy

When David Healy accepted the positions as clinical director of the mood and anxiety disorders program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, he had no idea that academic freedom was not part of the deal. An eminent scholar at the University of Wales College of Medicine, Healy was actively recruited by the centre and department of psychiatry starting in July of 1999, and agreed to accept their offer in September of 2000. Two months later, he was one of several distinguished researchers invited to speak at an international colloquium in Toronto on the history and future of psychiatry. Healy spoke about the interaction of new drugs and the social order and the conflicts between clinical practice, science and business. He expressed concern that large pharmaceutical companies, like big tobacco companies, may be avoiding research that reveals the hazards of their products. Before he could return home, his job offer had been rescinded.

Dr. Gabrielle Horne

Dr. Gabrielle Horne, an assistant professor of medicine, had her research interrupted in October of 2002 in a manner that has raised grave concerns. An independent committee has been asked to investigate the sequence of events leading to and subsequent to the variance of Dr. Horne's privileges at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre to determine whether there were breaches of or threats to academic freedom. They have also been asked to determine whether there were breaches of medical research ethics and clinical ethics, and whether changes to Dr. Horne's assignments and working conditions during this period impaired her ability to conduct her scientific research and treat her patients. Finally, the independent commitee has been asked to determine how universities can protect the academic freedom and other rights and privileges of university faculty who hold positions at affiliated health care centres and to make any appropriate recommendations.

David Noble

Professor David Noble contacted CAUT with concerns that his academic freedom was violated during the search process for the J.S. Woodsworth Chair in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University.  The result of CAUT's investigation appears in the Report of the CAUT Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee into complaints raised by Professor David Noble against Simon Fraser University regarding alleged infringements of academic freedom.

Mary Bryson

After having been given responsibility for developing a new online course, UBC professor Mary Bryson received an e-mail from the administrator overseeing the program asking her to sign a contract transferring rights to "course materials" to the university. The contract required that she acknowledge the university could use the materials without attributing authorship and could revise and modify them or use them in a different context, without her consent. The university, not Bryson, would decide which materials were ultimately used in the course. Bryson refused to sign the contract and was removed from the assignment to develop the course. The faculty association grieved the employer's actions under the collective agreement. The matter went to arbitration, and in an important decision arbitrator James Dorsey found that the scope of the union's exclusive bargaining authority included the right to negotiate about matters related to the copyright ownership and that the employer, by negotiating directly with members on this matter, violated this right. The arbitrator also held that "ownership of the copyright in work produced in the course of employment by an academic author, rather than the university employer is important to support, foster and preserve academic freedom." The Bryson arbitration decision is a landmark in the struggle to insure that faculty, not administrators, determine the content of courses.

Stéphane McLachlan and Ian Mauro

University of Manitoba professor Stéphane McLachlan and doctoral student Ian Mauro researched the impact of genetically modified crops on farming and compiled their findings in a documentary entitled Seeds of Change: Farmers, Biotechnology and the New Face of Agriculture. Their research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. When it was time to screen the research documentary, the University of Manitoba administration effectively blocked its release by using a long-standing policy that gives it an interest in every recording made on equipment it owns. The experience of McLachlan and Mauro is an important lesson in how a university’s claim to intellectual property ownership can interfere with academic freedom.