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CAUT critical of Ontario colleges’ free speech policy

(Ottawa – December 17, 2018) The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is giving a failing grade to a free speech policy developed by Ontario’s colleges without any consultation with faculty.

“The colleges’ so-called free speech statement is a classic example of what you get when you exclude the experts on the matter – the faculty. You get a simplistic and poorly thought-out policy,” says CAUT’s executive director David Robinson.

Robinson says the statement takes an overly punitive approach to campus demonstrations and protests, failing to recognize that the right to free expression is complemented by the rights of freedom of association and assembly.

“Ironically, the statement may have the effect of actually curtailing free expression on campus,” adds Robinson.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford directed universities and colleges in the province to establish free speech policies by January 2019, and threatened to cut funding for institutions that did not comply with the government’s diktat.

CAUT says the Ford government’s heavy-handed approach is a solution in search of a problem.

“The idea that free speech is being squelched on campuses across the province or across the country is grossly exaggerated and masks a thinly veiled political agenda,” says Robinson. “There’s absolutely no need for these policies, but at the very least colleges and universities should ensure that their statements don’t make matters worse. Including all stakeholders in the process of developing these statements is essential to meeting that goal.”

Robinson says the college statement, developed by 12 administrators and just one student, is symptomatic of a deeper problem in Ontario’s college system – the lack of collegial governance.

“The Ford government unilaterally cancelled a task force established to explore ways that colleges could be better governed to allow faculty a role in academic decision-making. To make the right decisions, and to avoid the problems we see with this free speech statement, you need the right people involved,” Robinson adds.

CAUT is the national voice of more than 72,000 academic and professional staff in 125 colleges and universities, colleges, and institutes across the country.