Academic Freedom Policy (DRAFT)

Number & Title       

J-XXX: Academic Freedom

Effective Date: TBD

Approval Date: TBD

Review Date:

This policy shall be reviewed two (2) years after approval and thereafter as deemed necessary by the responsible committee.

Responsible Committee:

Okanagan and Vancouver Senate Academic Policy Committees


The University’s institutional autonomy to adopt its own policies and standards without governmental interference is established by its authority under the University Act.  Academic governance is vested exclusively in its Senate.

University Act, S. 37

“(1) The academic governance of the university is vested in the senate and it has the following powers:

…(c) to determine all questions relating to the academic and other qualifications required of applicants for admission as students to the university or to any faculty, and to determine in which faculty the students pursuing a course of study must register;

(d) to determine the conditions under which candidates must be received for examination, to appoint examiners and to determine the conduct and results of all examinations;…

(f) to consider, approve and recommend to the board the revision of courses of study, instruction and education in all faculties and departments of the university;…

(k) to determine the members of the teaching and administrative staffs who are to be members of each faculty;…

(n) to provide for the preparation and publication of a university calendar;”

  1. 48

“(1) The minister must not interfere in the exercise of powers conferred on a university, its board, senate and other constituent bodies by this Act respecting any of the following:

  • the formulation and adoption of academic policies and standards;
  • the establishment of standards for admission and graduation;
  • the selection and appointment of staff.”

“(2) Despite subsection (1), a university must not establish a new degree program without the approval of the minister.”

  1. 66

“(1) A university must be non-sectarian and non-political in principle.”

Purpose and Goals:

This policy sets out the principle of academic freedom as it is enjoyed by members of the University and the obligations of the University to protect those rights. It is an update of the 1977 policy presented in the standard format for Senate policies (Okanagan Senate Policy O-1/Vancouver Senate Policy V-1). Because limits to academic freedom can prove subtle or difficult to anticipate, academic freedom will thrive only if the University and all its members shoulder the responsibility to support and safeguard its manifestations. This policy is intended to provide the common framework that will allow that to happen.


This policy applies to the entire University and is applicable to all members of the University.


There are no exclusions.


For the purposes of this policy:

members shall mean the chancellor, president, members of senate, faculty, teaching assistants and other instructional staff, students, researchers (e.g., postdoctoral research fellows, research associates, and clinical fellows), staff while engaged in scholarly and research activities for the University, and alumni and emeriti as it relates to scholarly work they conduct while actively engaged with the University before or after they graduate or retire.

within the law shall mean that the exercise of academic freedom by members may be limited by applicable provisions of the laws of Canada and British Columbia, including the Criminal Code and laws relating to human rights and discrimination.

guided by scholarly integrity shall mean that those who enjoy academic freedom are expected to make objective assessments in their pursuit of knowledge and in their assessment of the pursuit by other members who may use avenues of inquiry that follow other traditions or are controversial, and not to rely on personal opinion, ideology or financial considerations. Expectations with respect to scholarly integrity are contextual depending on the person involved; for example, a student versus a member of faculty.

non-academic constraints shall mean limits on the topics that members may pursue in their research and scholarship, in their teaching and learning and in the dissemination of ideas that are based on political, religious or philosophical beliefs or on financial considerations rather than on an objective assessment of the academic merit of the research and scholarly pursuits, learning or teaching conducted by the member. Such constraints might be imposed by other members of the University or by members of the Board of Governors or the University administration, or by governments, members of the public, or representatives of corporate entities. Valid constraints do exist and include, for example, the collegial process for review of proposals for new course offerings, the coordination of course topics within a cohesive academic program in an academic unit and the accreditation standards imposed by external bodies and accepted by the University.

unrestricted consideration of any viewpoint shall mean that beyond the requirements that academic pursuits abide by the law and be guided by scholarly integrity, members are free to explore, develop, propose, hear and comment on any viewpoint, including through the exchange of ideas with other members and with non-members, and without fear of reprisals such as denial of employment or of advancement in a job or academic program.

ideas that might prove unpopular or contentious, dubious or repugnant shall mean viewpoints that are contrary to current established “truths”, challenge the basis whereby established viewpoints are derived, or are considered by some to be incorrect or offensive.

in an environment of tolerance shall mean that members are expected to promote discourse and debate that focusses on the academic merit of ideas presented while acknowledging the diverse perspectives, ideas and experiences of others and avoiding ad hominem attacks; discriminating, bullying, harassing or disparaging behaviour; or calls to censure or sanction members through discipline, loss of employment, loss of funding, or other coercive or threatening means.

when peaceful assembly is given its fullest protection shall mean that, while it is acceptable to voice opposition to a presentation occurring inside or outside of the classroom or elsewhere, actually preventing or materially interfering with a presentation or the opportunity to attend or hear a presentation is not. The University administration shall take all steps necessary within its legal authority to stop such behaviour and apply whatever sanctions or discipline are appropriate. University officers, Governors and other individual members are expected to actively resist attempts from within or without the University to suppress the exchange of ideas.


  1. Members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, central among which is academic freedom.
  2. Academic freedom is a fundamental principle of the University without which the University cannot function with integrity. Except where otherwise stated in a Senate policy, this policy takes precedence over all other policies of the University subject only to the law and Senate’s jurisdiction.
  3. Academic freedom is the right, within the law and guided by scholarly integrity, to pursue what members deem to be fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach, to learn, to discuss, to debate, to criticize and to receive the views of others unhindered by non-academic constraints whether external or internal to the University, and to engage in the unrestricted consideration of any viewpoint, acknowledging that collegial academic decision-making processes for teaching may limit the academic freedom accorded to individual members.
  4. Academic freedom pertains not only to ideas that are established, but also to ideas that might prove unpopular or contentious, dubious or repugnant bearing in mind that discourse and debate is best conducted in an environment of tolerance where the rights to speak and to hear are respected.
  5. Where a person who is not a member has been invited to speak at the University by an academic unit or a member for a teaching or other scholarly purpose, for that engagement such person shall be afforded the same right to be heard that is enjoyed by members under this policy and their invitation may only be revoked by the University in compliance with this policy.
  6. The University as an institution has the right, under the University Act, to self-determination in adopting academic policies and standards without interference by the provincial government except as allowed by law. The University can adopt specific positions provided these pertain directly to its right to self-determination and the forging of its collective identity, provided also that such adoption does not encroach upon the academic freedom of individual members to disagree.
  7. Academic freedom manifests most strongly when peaceful assembly is given its fullest protection. Therefore, the University administration shall take all steps within its legal authority to stop any behaviour that violates this policy, including the suppression or obstruction of the free and full exchange of ideas, regardless whether caused by members, officers or Governors of the University, or extramural individuals or organizations, public or private.
  8. Senate will create a process to enable recourse to members who believe their rights under this policy have been constrained or denied.

Procedures (Draft)

  1. A member of the Faculty Association, a union or other bargaining unit who feels that their rights under the Policy are being restricted or denied may seek redress according to procedures in their collective agreement or employee agreement.
  2. Any member, including those in 1. above, who feels that their rights under the Policy are being restricted or denied may make a written submission to the Senate Academic Policy Committee of the campus with which the member is or was most closely associated. That Committee will establish a subcommittee to investigate the matter, members of which may be drawn from senators or non-Senate members of the University as appropriate. The subcommittee will report its findings to the Committee which will make a final determination on the matter. The Committee will recommend any steps it deems appropriate to address the complaint including, but not limited to, recommending the case to the Board of Governors, a University administrative unit or a bargaining unit either for consideration of the imposition of discipline or other sanction or the rescinding of any discipline or sanction that was imposed.
  3. The Senate Academic Policy Committee may also investigate instances that appear to involve breaches of this policy that come to its attention through other means.
  4. The Senate Academic Policy Committee will report to Senate at least annually with a summary of cases dealt with and may recommend that Senate consider action to further strengthen support for academic freedom.

Please follow this link to provide feedback on the draft Academic Freedom Policy.

Thank you.