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Report finds Brock U failed on academic freedom

An investigation into Brock University’s handling of complaints under its Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy says the University President should publicly apologize to professors whose academic freedom was violated.

The report, prepared by a committee appointed by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, examined events that occurred after a number of faculty and graduate students protested the University’s involvement in Solidarity Experiences Abroad, a program conducted in South America and administered by the Brock University Roman Catholic chaplaincy. In response to the protests, the Roman Catholic Chaplain and acting Chaplain at the University filed complaints of alleged bullying and harassing behaviour against five faculty and students.

The report notes that academic freedom must include “the right of all faculty members to play an active role in reviewing and challenging university programs and policies,” and that Brock University violated this principle when it launched an investigation into complaints that criticisms of Solidarity Experiences Abroad were “disrespectful.”

The University’s investigation, the report concludes, “not only failed to comply with the principles of natural justice, but also infringed the academic freedom and free speech rights of the respondents.”

The report recognizes that respectful workplace policies have proliferated across North American campuses in recent years, and these policies can often pose risks to academic freedom and free expression.

“The goal of respectful workplace policies is to regulate expression,” the report states. “As such, they risk undercutting the principles of academic freedom and free expression…. If there are to be such respectful workplace policies, then they must put respect for academic freedom and freedom of expression front and centre.”

The members of the investigatory committee were: Dr. John A. Baker, Chair (University of Calgary); Dr. Mark Gabbert (University of Manitoba); and Dr. Penni Stewart (York University).

Download the full report