(Ottawa – August 31, 2018) The government of Ontario’s plan to require the province’s universities and colleges to adopt “free speech” policies and punish those who fail to adhere to the new requirements is an unprecedented interference with institutional autonomy, warns the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).
“CAUT has long advocated that campuses must be sites where there is a free and open exchange of ideas,” says executive director David Robinson. “But universities and colleges should set their own policies, not politicians. Institutional autonomy – including the freedom from government diktat – is itself necessary to protect free expression and academic freedom.”
Robinson adds that the government’s requirements are “a solution in search of a problem”.
“The belief that free expression is being squelched on campuses across the province and across the country is grossly exaggerated and masks a thinly veiled political agenda,” says Robinson. “The difficult conversations about free speech on campus today are about reconciling unhindered debate with the need to ensure that all voices can be heard without facing discrimination and harassment. This can be a very difficult terrain to navigate, but punitive measures such as those proposed by the Ford government will create a more litigious and polarizing environment, making it more difficult to find solutions.”
The vagueness in the government’s guidelines of what constitutes an interference with free speech is also a problem, and may prohibit legitimate protests.
“Ironically, the requirements may have the effect of actually curtailing free expression on campus,” Robinson suggests.
“The real problems around free speech and academic freedom on campus today are linked to issues such as government de-funding, and the increasing precariousness of academic work,” says Robinson.
“The Ford government could better serve the people by focusing on these real problems, and not chasing after distractions.”
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