Christian universities fight back -

Christian universities fight back

Updated: secular definition of academic freedom should not rule in Canada


Under attack for allegedly violating academic freedom, Christian universities in Canada are fighting back in a decidedly academic way. They are planning to hold a conference. Last week, delegates from faith-based schools across the country were in Toronto for the annual meeting of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC), an advocacy group.

At the top of the agenda was the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) into whether Christian institutions respect accepted rules of academic freedom.

For background click here.

The national professors union has already completed a report on Trinity Western University that concluded that due to the existence of a Statement of Faith affirming Christian beliefs, that all professors must sign, the school places “unwarranted and unacceptable constraints on academic freedom.” Canadian Mennonite University and Crandall University have also been visited by CAUT investigators.

Faced with the possibility of further rebukes against Christian schools, CHEC’s board of directors has decided to invite other groups from the post-secondary sector to participate in a “national conference to dialogue on the meaning of ‘university’ and ‘academic freedom.’” However, planning for the conference is still in the preliminary stages, and a date and venue have yet to be set. CAUT told Maclean’s it is reserving comment until a formal request to participate in the conference is made. (Update: CAUT executive director James Turk told Inside Higher Education that they would probably accept an invitation to participate in the conference.)

Al Hiebert, CHEC’s executive director, said the dispute stems from two competing definitions of academic freedom. On one side is CAUT’s position that Hiebert said represents an “unqualified academic freedom” for “every individual professor at a university.” On the other side is a view that holds institutional autonomy from outside influence above faculty independence. The latter definition is clearly favoured by faith based universities.

For example, Trinity’s statement on academic freedom protects scholarly inquiry only when it stems  “from a stated perspective, i.e., within parameters consistent with the confessional basis of the constituency to which the University is responsible.”

While CAUT argues such qualifications do “not ensure genuine academic freedom,” Hiebert said respecting an institution’s autonomy to develop its own approach to scholarship, including the right to limit inquiry on faith-based grounds, is consistent with the idea of a university. “Our posture is that this CAUT position does not rule in Canada [and] should not be allowed to rule in Canada,” he said. Despite CHEC’s apparent hostility towards a principle that privileges faculty autonomy, Hiebert said he hopes that the conference can help foster “mutual understanding.”

“If some consensus position were drafted, that would be wonderful,” he said.


Christian universities fight back

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  2. If this was an arguement over any other special interest group, the CAUT would celebrating as a victory. The main thing here is that being Christian is not respected and even held in contempt by smaller groups who completely ignore a Christian person or organizations right to beleive or express their faith. It comes down to the fact if you attend a faith based institution one can expect that expressions of faith will be a reality and if you dont like it dont go there.I would no sooner walk into a mosque and denigrate their faith than i would expect them to do the same. Treat each other as you would wish to be treated, and that goes with respecting each others belief system. CAUT is demanding everyone else be respected expect Christians. wow one sided approach or what?

  3. Any curtailment on ‘thinking’ is retrogressive. A friend of mine who was in a graduate program at Trinity Western University was told by her psychology professor that she could not get an A grade on a paper on suicide unless she referenced God. The Taliban and Christian fundamentalist groups have much in common: they try to impose irrational belief systems on students. Academic freedom should mean just that, and to compromise a search for truth by limiting it to ideas that are consistent with religious bias is unworthy of a university.
    By the way, how is it that a group that attempts to restrict academic freedom gets a “charity” status? Why are Canadian taxpayers supporting narrowed thinking?

  4. I can hardly wait until Islamic universities are in the argument. And they will be, soon.

  5. If a segment of society wishes to name its educational component a university, but proscribes its particular parameters on academic expression, it should neither receive public funding nor accreditation beyond its own constituency. Academic freedom is not freedom if constrained by other than public safety and certainly not private religious beliefs. The private school/university of a faith community may undertake to restrict what it will within, but should not expect “the public” to subsidize or accredit it, regardless of past incursions. This is not a matter for consensus; it is a matter of allowing academics the freedom to raise questions beyond all preconceptions even if we might not welcome what they find!

  6. “Two competing definitions of academic freedom”?

    That’s a good one.

    Does the Chinese Communist Party–which also prioritizes the autonomy of the whole over the autonomy of the individual–just have a “competing definition of freedom of the press.”

    Does the Iranian government just have a “competing definition of freedom of speech?”

    Come on.

    Freedom is freedom. Limits limit freedom.

    One can put forth many good arguments for limiting freedoms in different ways.

    However, this notion that limiting freedom merely constitutes “a different definition of freedom” is utterly absurd and most certainly intellectualy dishonest.

    If this is the kind of warped logic produced at Christian Universities, then they genuinely ought not to be allowed to exist.

  7. Arnie (above) said it vey clearly: Academic freedom should mean just that, and to compromise a search for truth by limiting it to ideas that are consistent with religious bias is unworthy of a university.
    By the way, how is it that a group that attempts to restrict academic freedom gets a “charity” status? Why are Canadian taxpayers supporting narrowed thinking? reponse to the option of limiting freedom of —

    Freedom, of any sort, is Freedom. We have to defend it and can do so through the ballot box. Protect our Freedom!

  8. On April 12, 2010 Christian Higher Education Canada announced that they have just received charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency. “The designation is based on CHEC’s benefit to the community by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of other registered charities within it’s organization, and because it advances the Christian faith by increasing the public’s knowledge of Christian post-secondary education programs.”

    Is this another example of creeping Christian fundamentalism promoted by the Harper government? How about charitable status for organizations that combat irrationality, superstition, dogmatism and restrictions in thought? One can hold humanistic values (i.e., kind and helpful) better outside of such constraints. Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s writings.

  9. Dont these professors have the freedom to not sign this document? Dont they have the freedom to not teach at these institutions?
    dont the students have the freedom to go elsewhere?
    Anyone commenting actually know what freedom is and how quickly it is disappearing in Canada because of the “politically correct”?

  10. You can’t convince me that most universities do not promote the religion of secular humanism and you have to agree with their world view if you wish to complete a degree with them. I still remember the professor announcing at the beginning of her Sociology course that if you were a devote Christian you would not do well in her class. At least there was no second guessing with her agenda. If I recall I dropped the course and opted for one on Canadian Lit. instead. Then there was the Geology professor explaining how they date rock strata, by the fossils found in them. How do you date the fossils, I asked? By the strata they are found in of course, and if you hold to the theory of evolution as gospel you have to allow millions of years. oops I guess I revealed my own bias. I have learned that you can grow in wisdom even by listening to those with whom you strongly disagree, if your are an honest student of truth.

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  12. Christian schools are not the only close minded post secondary institutions. I attended the University of Saskatchewan in the sixties, a very open minded institution. In an essay on improving the delivery of education I advance the notion of private for profit schools competing for students. A very left leaning professor gave it a D. The D would have been fine had he pointed out my errors in judgment, my lack of appropriate research, lack of footnoted documentation or any other flaws of which there likely were many. But he noted on red ink that I earned the D because he didn’t agree with me. Just like in Bible schools, to get the mark you had to write what the teacher wanted to see. I have no problem with Bible schools, but don’t like to see them called Universities.