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USFA e-Letter: The Politics of Austerity and Academic Freedom: An Inevitable Collision?

“The Politics of Austerity and Academic Freedom: An Inevitable Collision?”
April 7, 4:00 to 5:45 p.m.
Neatby-Timlin Theatre (241 Arts)

Keynote: Dr. Root Gorelick, Carleton University
“Academic Freedom in University Governance: Blogging and Gagging”

Last November, just months after the University of Saskatchewan agreed to a one-time holdback of $20 million to help the provincial government balance its budget, the province cut another $9.8 million from its annual grant. The University of Regina had its 1% operating grant increase halved. Reduced operating grants and funding claw backs stand to weaken Saskatchewan’s PSE institutions and place foundational principles of advanced education, such as academic freedom, on a collision course with a financial bottom line.

With a re-elected Saskatchewan Party government whose platform included financial commitments that will only come to pass when the province is economically stable or the province’s finances strengthen, the likelihood of funds clawed back last fall being returned this spring is slim. More likely, PSE institutions in Saskatchewan will be implementing an austerity agenda: reducing spending and seeking alternative revenue sources.

“With no idea yet about what funding the U of S will receive from the provincial government for 2016-17, ramifications for the university’s operations are unknown,” says USFA Chair Larry Stewart. “What we do know is advanced education is the means through which we enable the people of Saskatchewan to be skilled participants in strengthening the economy of our province. Now is not the time to be cutting resources to universities, or to be making choices that threaten to impinge on academic freedom.” More and more, universities model themselves on corporations: they seek to maximize profitability, productivity, and marketability. As a result, many of the ideals of academic freedom – the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of threat of reprisal and discrimination, and the right to criticize the university and to participate in its governance – have been eroded, and in some circumstances extinguished, on campuses across Canada.

Last December Biology professor Root Gorelick, a faculty representative on Carleton University’s board of governors, was ordered to sign a confidentiality agreement that forbids public commentary on board business. He refused. Gorelick said the order “flies in the face of academic freedom and is the antitheses of collegial and democratic governance (and) is meant to stifle dissent, openness, accountability and transparency, all of which should be fundamental at any public university. I refuse to allow such corporatization of Carleton to proceed unimpeded.”

“The Buckingham incident was a result of austerity measures in Transform US butting heads with a corporate mentality that required secrecy of senior administrators at the expense of collegial sharing and open dialogue,” says Stewart. “This is an important issue for us and there couldn’t be a better moment to explore it.”