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Academic Freedom: Why Should You Care?

Fred Koch1)

Fred is playing a major role in researching the Local’s initiatives to achieve Academic Freedom. Below is a summary of his much more comprehensive report to the Local Executive Committee.

Academic freedom is a recognized right applicable to Ontario university professors, counsellors and librarians (“academic staff”)2). The right enables academic staff to fulfill their central role of seeking intellectual truth in research, teaching, and public speaking and is “arguably the central value, of university life.”3) As such, when it applies, it overrides the legal duties of loyalty and obedience normally owed by an employee to their employer (including senior management).4)

Traditionally, this right has been unfamiliar to Ontario college academic staff and management because the primary mandate of the community colleges, unlike degree-granting institutions, was vocational training not intellectual knowledge seeking. However, some have argued that by embarking upon baccalaureate education, colleges should now recognize the application of academic freedom to their academic staff as they have moved into the traditional realm of universities.5) Despite this argument, the Ontario College Employer Council has so far been unwilling to recognize the right’s application to its academic staff by including language recognizing it in the Collective Agreement with OPSEU in the same way universities do in their collective agreements.

With this background, let us turn to the basic parameters of the right. The most widely accepted (although not unanimous) rendition is that of the Canadian University Teachers Association6), which asserts that academic freedom includes:

  1. The freedom to pursue truth in research and to publish the results thereof;
  2. The freedom to teach and discuss (which includes grading the students), “without restriction by prescribed doctrine;”7)
  3. The “freedom to produce and perform creative works” even if distasteful to the institution;
  4. The “freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and system in which one works;”
  5. The “freedom to acquire, preserve, and provide access to documentary material;” and
  6. The right “to play a major role in the governance of the” academic side of the “institution” involving matters such as determination of “curriculum, assessment procedures and standards, appointment, tenure and promotion.”8)

Limited space in this article prevents a detailed discussion of the scope of these items, but in terms of teaching it has been recognized as including a significant role in determining curriculum, the predominant role in determining methods of teaching and evaluation, and full ownership of all course materials even if prepared on employer time.

Hopefully, this very basic introduction to Academic Freedom will inspire serious attention and discussion by faculty about the need for and the scope of this right as we move forward on Sheridan’s journey to seek university status.

Information contained in this article is intended as general information and not legal advice. Anyone with specific issues around academic freedom should consult OPSEU and legal counsel for advice.
See paras. 37, 89 and 91 in University of Ottawa v. Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) (27 January 2014), Arb. Foisy, online:
H. Arthurs, “Academic Freedom: When and Where.” Notes for a Panel Discussion. Annual Conference of AUCC, Halifax, NS, October 5, 1995, p.1, cited in J.L. Turk. (25 August 2010), “Academic Freedom for Librarians: What is it, and why does it matter?” online:
J. Turk. (29 May 2014). “Open Letter on Academic Freedom.” Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians. online:
B. Hogan & L. Trotter. (2013). “Academic freedom in Canadian higher education: Universities, colleges, and institutes are not created equal.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 43(2): 68-84, 69.
Turk, supra n. 3 at 2.
All quotations refer to the CAUT Policy Statement in n. 7.
wildcaat/winter2016/wildcaat6.txt · Last modified: 2017/09/05 20:36 (external edit)