Friday, February 18, 2011

On CAUT and Academic Freedom

As you may know, I've been busy these past few weeks - along with a growing number of Canadian faculty - fending off the Canadian Association of University Teachers or CAUT. Our efforts are catalogued here, in a statement of petition requesting CAUT to cease and desist in its investigations and castigations of Christian colleges and universities which require faith statements as a condition of employment.

As I have mentioned before here, the CAUT investigation into Canadian Mennonite University concluded with a report that recommends, among other things, that institutions which "do protect academic freedom" develop policies in regards to those institions which "don't." Which of course means that CAUT wants to drive a wedge between public universities (and their supposedly ideology-free understanding of academic feedom) and private universities which have faith statements that are deemed so dangerous to academic freedom. The implications of such a wedge abound.

With this recommendation and other charges in the air, I daresay CAUT has already met its objective of tarnishing the reputation of Christian colleges and universities among those who may not have even known about these institutions' existence. (Though, I note that in the press, it has also received some very negative publicity, including from its own "members.")

But the comedown of the other day is a bit mealy-mouthed. On Wednesday, CAUT told the National Post that it will stop its practice of establishing formal investigations into institutions which require faith statements.

This is a meaningless gesture for two reasons: 1) CAUT will continue to develop its list of institutions that require a faith statement with the obvious intent of besmirching reputations. It is a contemporary version of the Index of Forbidden Books (a la Inquisition). 2) It is now clear, since Redeemer University College announced recently that they will not cooperate with any CAUT formal investigation, that the launching of formal investigations would go nowhere anyway. Another factor in all this is: CAUT may not have any other institutions to complain about - for the moment. We don't know.

The point is, of course: the Christian academies with no CAUT members are none of CAUT's business. If an institution is Christian and seeks to foster that religious identity through the sharing of a common statement of faith, than, ipso facto, in a free country, it is free to do so. And that institution should not be branded as acting contrary to the fostering of liberty for doing so. Signatures appended to faith statements are voluntary acts.

I personally do not think that faith statements are the best instrument for fostering a Christian identity in an academic setting. But, again, the point is: what do I know? Perhaps an evagelical or Mennonite (Or dare I say it, Catholic) college president and Board of Governors knows better. It's a prudential judgment, not properly subject to second guessing from national bodies that obviously do not share the aims of said institution.

And, a final point for now: one of the impressive aspects to this exercise of drawing up a statement of petition against CAUT's actions has been receiving and acknowledging the many (hundreds) of emails from faculty with PhD's conferred at secular institutions (some among them are from the world's leading universities) who now work at Canadian Christian colleges and institutions.  There are scholarly credentials worth protecting from the likes of CAUT.

And, as Alasdair McIntyre has reportedly argued in a lecture in Oxford in 2009 (during the Q&A perhaps) but published in New Blackfriars, it is probably the case in North America that academic freedom thrives to a significantly greater degree in Christian colleges and universities than it does in public universities. And CAUT and all of us who work in Canadian universities should think about that - just the very scandalous possibility!

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