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Ontario colleges urged to accept deal on academic freedom

(Ottawa – November 16, 2017) The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is urging Ontario’s colleges to return to the negotiating table with faculty in order to reach a collective agreement.

In voting held this week, 86 per cent of striking faculty rejected the employer’s contract offer.

“The recognition and protection of academic freedom is one of the key remaining issues that motivated the ‘no’ vote. The College Employer Council needs to move on this if a fair deal is to be reached,” says CAUT executive director David Robinson.

“Academic freedom in teaching is a widely-recognized professional right that allows faculty to decide on the most appropriate teaching methods and practices,” Robinson explains. “College teachers are best placed to make these decisions based on what they know about their students, the nature of the subject they are teaching, and their experience of what engages and motivates students to learn.”

Robinson adds that academic freedom for college faculty is particularly important today given that colleges and universities in Ontario are increasingly working together in close partnerships. Collaborative programs, articulated pathways, and joint research projects between universities and colleges are now commonplace.

“However, college faculty are denied the academic freedom that their university counterparts enjoy,” says Robinson.  “This exposes college faculty and their work to outside pressure and censorship, and threatens to inhibit more collaboration.” 

According to Robinson, academic freedom is essential to the provision of quality education and research.

“The purpose of teaching in a college or university is not to simply transmit information or to provide students with ready-made conclusions. It is to enable students to reason independently and to develop the skills to think critically and intelligently in all aspects of their lives. College faculty cannot fulfill this purpose unless they have the freedom to exercise their best professional judgment over their teaching and the ability to model critical thinking in their classrooms,” says Robinson.

While the College Employer Council is proposing to develop institutional policies on academic freedom, Robinson says the only way that academic freedom can be effectively enforced is if it is included in a collective agreement.

“Embedding academic freedom as a right in a contract allows faculty recourse to the grievance and arbitration process to resolve any disputes. Institutional policies simply lack the same enforcement mechanisms and can be changed unilaterally at any time by administrations,” he says.

“College administrations in Ontario would do well to recognize that when you respect academic freedom and let the professionals play a key role in academic decision-making, you improve the quality of education that students receive. It is no secret that the best colleges and universities in Canada and around the world are those that recognize the academic freedom of faculty as a foundational value,” Robinson adds.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is the national voice of 70,000 academic staff working in more than 120 universities and colleges across Canada.


Media contact:

Lisa Keller, Communications Officer, Canadian Association of University Teachers; 613-726-5186 (o); 613-222-3530 (c)