Report Faults ‘Conditional’ Academic Freedom at McGill

December 3, 2018

An investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that McGill University failed to protect the academic freedom of an institute director who resigned in 2017 following the publication of a controversial op-ed. Further, the report found fault with what it described as McGill’s position in the wake of the resignation that academic freedom protections do not extend fully to academic administrators.

The report from CAUT concerns the resignation of Andrew Potter from his position as director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada after an op-ed he published on “social malaise” in Quebec caused widespread outrage (Potter retained his associate professorship for the remainder of a three-year term).

The CAUT report finds no conclusive evidence regarding whether Potter was pressured to resign. But the report takes issue with various public statements by McGill principal and vice chancellor Suzanne Fortier about the resignation that it says suggested the McGill administration viewed the academic freedom of administrators as “conditional upon its exercise not undercutting their efficacy as administrators or stirring public controversy.”

“The Fortier doctrine has a profoundly negative impact on the academic freedom of administrators, on those currently outside the current body of administrators who might be interested in making contributions to administrative work, and by implication on faculty members who participate in the work of units bound by such a doctrine,” says the report, which was authored by Mark Gabbert, an associate professor of history at the University of Manitoba.

Fortier issued a one-sentence statement in response to the CAUT report. “We disagree with the report’s conclusions with respect to academic freedom at McGill University,” she said.

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