Consultation: Policy on Academic Freedom

Overview

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Academic freedom is one of the five core values of UBC. The current UBC Senate policy on academic freedom was endorsed in 1977 and adopted by the Okanagan Senate in 2005 when UBC Okanagan was established. While the policy has served UBC well in general, the way that the University and its members support the academic freedom rights of individuals has been questioned in recent years.

There have been calls to consider whether the current policy continues to meet current needs and whether it aligns with the University’s values, including inclusivity and respect. In the summer and fall of 2019, several speeches on the Vancouver campus by individuals who are not members of the UBC community raised concerns that the speakers are likely to convey messages that are not in keeping with the institution’s core value of respect towards different people, ideas and actions. One clause in the policy attracted particular attention in relation to controversial speakers: “This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum”.

In 2019, a request was made that the Senate policy be reviewed.  The Vancouver Senate Academic Policy Committee struck the Academic Freedom Working Group. In its report to the Committee, the working group identified the need to at least rewrite the policy in the official format of Senate policies which requires definitions of terms to avoid ambiguities. That exercise further supported the need to reconsider several parts of the policy. In the interim, the UBC administration has instituted a new, more rigorous process for assessing requests for the booking of UBC spaces that should preclude the most egregious cases of ideologically driven individuals being given a forum at UBC independent of a connection to the academic pursuits of members (https://academic.ubc.ca/academic-freedom/controversial-speakers), so the draft policy seeks to clarify what constitutes an “invited” speaker. The Academic Policy Committees of both campuses have reviewed the latest draft policy and supported its distribution for wide consultation.

1977 Policy on Academic Freedom (bolding added to identify terms that have been defined, revised, or struck in the draft revised policy that follows):

“The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions. All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University’s forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM POLICY (DRAFT)

Please follow this link to provide your feedback no later than 11:59 p.m. on 31 October 2022.

NB: Feedback deadline has been extended from 24 to 31 October.