Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

The Bog-Like Ground on Which We Tread: Arbitrating Academic Freedom in Canada *

Academic journal article The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

The Bog-Like Ground on Which We Tread: Arbitrating Academic Freedom in Canada *

Article excerpt

ACADEMIC FREEDOM IS "the key legitimating concept of the university" (Menand, 1996: 4); yet, its future is far from secure. By its very nature, academic freedom is a threat to those who hold power; just as surely, its liberty is valued most by those who are critical of mainstream assumptions and practices. In Canada, academic freedom was forged pragmatically, set forth as a reasoned and moderate effort to give university faculty members appropriate salaries and benefits, a voice in the conduct of university affairs, and the conditions of intellectual and moral freedom to think critically It succeeded in part because it was a necessary condition for the development of scientific discoveries valued by society (Cameron, 1996). In some ways, the reach of academic freedom exceeds its modest origins. Today, it protects a wider range of expression and behaviour than in the past; at the same time, it remains assailable on a number of fronts (Shils, 1993).

An elemental sociological presupposition is that social reality is socially constructed, legitimated and changed (Berger and Luckmann, 1967). In everyday apprehension and experience, social life appears real. Legal institutions and processes are part of this social construction (Kahn, 1999). Everyday reality tends to be taken for granted until a problem arises. At arbitration, academic freedom is no longer taken for granted; and its social construction becomes more apparent. This article analyses academic freedom as it is socially constructed through arbitration; thus, it examines a particular subset of academic freedom cases. Arbitration awards provide applied meaning to the professional practice of academic freedom; (1) the awards help define the work conditions, the institutional context, and the academic culture within which university professors live and work. The article addresses two basic questions: What do the arbitration cases tell us about the applied meaning of academic freedom? And how do the con ceptual and social conditions of arbitration reveal the manufacture of this meaning?

The Development of Academic Freedom

Joan Scott (1996) argues that academic freedom is neither a philosophical absolute, nor a tangible entity, but rather, a social practice with ethical implications. Professional definitions of academic freedom offer general principles that academics presume in their everyday actions and, sometimes, become contested at arbitration. In 1940, after a series of conferences, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges agreed upon a Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The statement emphasized, "The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition." In defining academic freedom, the AAUP focussed on three elements. Teachers and researchers are entitled to freedom: 1) "in research and in the publication of the results"; 2) "in the classroom in discussing their subject"; and 3) from institutional censorship or discipline "when they speak as citizens" (AAUP, 1970). Tenure is the means to protect these freedoms with suffic ient economic security to attract and hold talented individuals. Academic freedom and tenure are inseparable because, as a practical matter, one cannot speak freely when one's job is at risk (Finkin, 1996; Perley, 1997).

Within the American context, academic freedom is not an absolute value. As explained by the AAUP, each of its three elements implies responsibilities and limitations. The freedom to research and publish is subject to "adequate performance." The freedom to teach is specific to the subject matter in which the teacher has expertise, and may be restricted at certain religious institutions. The freedom to speak or write as citizens is restrained by college and university teachers' "special position in the community which imposes special obligations," in particular, accuracy, appropriate restraint, and respect (AAUP, 1970; see also AAUP, 1987). …

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