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Statement concerning threatened legal action against OISE faculty

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is the national voice of 68,000 academic staff at universities and colleges across Canada, including the University of Toronto. CAUT is proud of its tradition of defending and promoting the principles of collegial governance and academic freedom.

Academic freedom requires that academic staff play a major role in the institutional governance of universities, and it enables and even requires academic staff to criticize the institution, including the institution’s administrators in relation to the performance of their professional duties. Indeed, the University of Toronto statement of purpose includes the following: “Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.”

The exercise of academic freedom includes the right to move and support a motion of non-confidence in university administrators. Accordingly, CAUT regards actions which were recently taken by faculty members at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto as consistent with and protected by these long standing and fundamental rights.

In view of this, CAUT is surprised and profoundly disappointed in statements by the outgoing Dean at OISE and her counsel recently published in the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Those statements suggest that the actions of the faculty members in this case are unusual and may result in legal action against them. These threats are not only unfair and unwarranted, but they suggest that the Dean and her counsel do not understand the unique character of governance in academic institutions. Academic staff associations and their members have often spoken out about these types of issues in the past, without public threats of reprisal.

In view of this aggressive attack, CAUT encourages the University of Toronto Administration to publicly defend the rights of OISE’s faculty to exercise their academic freedom. We hope and expect that the University of Toronto will take necessary steps to protect the rights of its faculty members if the threatened legal action proceeds.