Tenure and Academic Freedom

There is a continuous misunderstanding at university campuses, amongst some tenured faculty and staff of the university administration but also in the public at large, about the meaning, purpose, and scope of tenure and academic freedom. In our collective agreement they are defined in article 6 Academic Freedom, and article 15.2 Purpose of Tenure

As academics, we are intellectuals with specializations. We do not exist detached and separate from the communities and nations in which we live and work. With tenure comes a responsibility to communicate with the public, and with the university, about issues within our areas of expertise, or what’s happening at our academic institutions. The nature of this communication includes criticism of politicians and public figures, other academics, university leaders, corporations, and governments. 

The perimeter and limitations on academic freedom provided with tenure have been the subject of many books, articles, arbitrations, and case law that we will not repeat. However, all USFA members have the right to academic freedom, which includes “freedom to criticize the University and the Association without suffering censorship or discipline” (article 6.1). You can and should, particularly if you have tenure, remind academic administrators, whether Deans or Vice Presidents, they are out of bounds when seeking to quiet criticism from faculty exercising their granted right to question management decisions or performance, or suggesting the exercise of that right is inappropriate behaviour. Similarly, the employer is out of bounds when it intervenes to prevent criticism of private or corporate donors. The employer is also out of bounds threatening discipline when tenured faculty engage the public within their area of expertise. 

Although there is a difference between speaking for the university (article 6.2) and speaking as a faculty member, you have a right to speak, and it is therefore necessary and correct to present yourself as a university faculty member by name and rank, and with a university logo. Insisting on faculty dissimulating their university credentials and affiliation in blogs, social media, and in other correspondence, on “sensitive” issues is an insult to a free society in a democracy. 

The issue of Academic Freedom in the classroom is another place for administration interference. Faculty have been scolded for insensitivity to potential sensitivities. Some faculty have simply removed content to avoid annoying students and the university. This form of censorship does not benefit the quality of programs. 

Last, with tenure in a publicly funded university comes a responsibility to the public, as academics with a specialisation and with opinions on various issues. Similarly, we have a responsibility through College and University Councils to hold the university administration accountable regarding university affairs and university management of the (our) budget. A judge or arbitrator will hold you to account for not having stepped-up when you should have, if you have tenure, and will not be sympathetic to the plight of a tenured faculty member who did not exercise the rights and responsibilities that come with tenure.