POSTED ON November 22, 2023
An Update on Academic Freedom

Dear CUPE 2626 members,

At the Regular General Assembly on November 8th, you overwhelmingly passed a motion affirming CUPE 2626’s commitment to protecting academic freedom, which you can read here.

The current situation in Palestine/Israel is having notable repercussions within the public debate and, more specifically, within our academic community. We have seen colleagues at other universities doxxed in the legislative assembly and the media, disciplined for conducting their research and pedagogy, and censored for expressing their individual and collective voices. It is not only us who see these issues. We are not alone in our concerns – APUO has also highlighted the dangers of censorship in the recent political context.

On our own campus, our local has been made aware of several instances of censorship and retaliation against colleagues for expressing personal or collective opinions, or for teaching course material which touches on the ongoing situation. In particular, the sanctions against Dr. Yipeng Ge strikes us as a grave violation of academic freedom, and as a breach of employment equity. The fact that Dr. Ge has no plans to return to the university demonstrates the lasting harm that censorship does to individuals, and highlights that many do not feel that the University of Ottawa is a place for the free expression of ideas. In another instance, professors in the Faculty of Law were publicly shamed for discussing scheduled course content about Palestine. Finally, an educational event hosted by INSAF was unilaterally cancelled for “promoting violence,” yet other similar events on different sides of this conflict have gone ahead unabated. The senate committee on acdemic freedom refuses to discuss this. This double standard is highly problematic and perpetuates the normalization of censorship. All educational events hosted in good faith on campus should be allowed to take place without suspicion of violence.

Such acts demonstrate a willingness from the University to punish students and employees for their opinions and pedagogy. They are contradictory to the valuation of academic freedom and freedom of expression that the University is committed to. In addition, instances in which personal opinions are taken as factors to favour or dismiss an employee on our campus are a failure to uphold the recommendations of the Bastarache Report on Academic Freedom.

We believe and stand for our campus to be a community space for open inquiry in an honest search for knowledge. This means that each one of us should thrive on a campus free from censorship, be it from peers, supervisors, colleagues, media, or governments. The freedom from political and institutional censorship is especially critical at times of war and conflict, when scholarly voices are vital for confronting and combating widespread disinformation campaigns. While accountability is necessary in regards to hate speech and discrimination, we believe disagreement and contrasting opinions are what drives the emergence of new ideas and thus the advancement of knowledge. As such, we cannot condone the vilification of opinions expressed in our shared academic environment.

CUPE 2626 unequivocally condemns all forms of harassment, violence, and discrimination, especially directed at the Palestinian and Jewish communities. These members of our community are particularly vulnerable to harmful mischaracterizations at this time, and we reiterate that critiquing a political system or a government does not constitute a form of discrimination, nor is it a direct attack on a person or a group.

If you have or are experiencing discrimination, censorship, or isolation due to opinions you have manifested on or off campus, please reach out to us at the following address: CUPE 2626 is committed to protecting and defending the academic freedom and right to freedom of expression of all its members who are targeted because of their scholarship and political work.