Ontario College Faculty One-day Symposium: Academic Freedom in Ontario Colleges

Ontario College Faculty One-day Symposium:  Academic Freedom in Ontario Colleges

On June 7, 2013, the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Union, made up of teachers, counsellors, librarians (CAAT-A) organized its second annual one-day symposium on the subject of “Quality Education and Academic Freedom in Ontario Colleges.”  The keynote speaker was James Turk, Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

Professor Turk outlined the nature of academic freedom:  the security of tenure, the clear ownership of intellectual property, and in particular “the custody and control of the records that teachers create.”  Any lecture notes, e-mail or paper mail conversations, student grades and communications, or any other documents are off-limits to administrators.  These are the conditions that university professors expect and enjoy.

However, Professor Turk stated that in Ontario universities, while teachers have “100% academic freedom,” the opposite is true in Ontario colleges, where college teachers have “0% academic freedom.”  The reason for this, speaker Turk explained, is the “Oxford and Cambridge” model and tradition in Canadian universities.  All Canadian universities have some form of “senate” governance which allows faculty control over teaching – related concerns.

In Ontario colleges, Turk argued, the structure is what he called the “Walmart” model.  Those in senior management take a business, not an educational approach, and as a result, Ontario colleges don’t have the culture of education-first institutions.  Employees tend to be treated as interchangeable, and all documents and information produced tend to be seen as “owned” by the college.

Turk also noted that universities in Ontario are now having their academic freedom come under attack.  University professors’ response has been to pursue collective bargaining protections through their unions and faculty associations. 

Fundamentally, Turk concluded, collective bargaining protection is the ONLY WAY to protect academic freedom.  Even the best academic freedom policies are not worth the paper they are written on if they do not have any means of enforcement.

For Turk, academic freedom has four elements:

First, control over what is taught and how, including assessing student marks;

Second, control over and ownership of scholarly work including class notes, lesson plans, tests and assignments, etc.;

Third, “Intramural”:  by this, he meant the right to speak within – and be critical of – the institution/college without fear of discipline;

Fourth, “Extramural”:  the right to participate fully in society without penalty.

Discussion following the presentation included the difficulty of attaining academic freedom protection through the collective bargaining process.  It was noted that in past negotiations, the Ontario colleges’ designated negotiators have adamantly refused to enter into this discussion.  It was noted that it might not be possible to have academic freedom language added to our collective agreement, except through extremely focused and determined work on the part of the CAAT, perhaps through a one-issue round of negotiating.

For further information, you can access the following link on CAUT policy regarding academic freedom:   http://www.caut.ca/about-us/caut-policy/lists/general-caut-policies/policy-statement-on-academic-freedom