The battle over Christian universities wages on -

The battle over Christian universities wages on

CAUT places Canadian Mennonite University on faith test list


The Canadian Association of University Teachers has officially placed Canadian Mennonite University on a list of institutions that use faith based testing as a condition of employment. The university is the third to be placed on the CAUT’s faith test list, after Trinity Western University and Crandall University.

Related: Faith tests don’t belong anywhere

The CAUT report explains that in 2004 several faculty members from Menno Simmons College (MSC) filed complaints regarding CMU’s employment conditions. The college is part of CMU but is located at the University of Winnipeg, and professors often view themselves as part of the faculty of both the U of W and CMU.

“Correspondingly, they thought of themselves as having the same academic rights and responsibilities as faculty at the University of Winnipeg and as having academic freedom in the same sense and to the same degree as University of Winnipeg faculty members,” the report stated. The report also noted that while CMU was founded primarily to provide religious education in the Anabaptist tradition, MSC was founded not as a theological institution but to teach programs in “peace and conflict resolution” and “development” studies to students who, for the most part, are registered at the U of W.

(Editor’s note, this paragraph has been updated. An earlier version had mistakenly reported that CMU had already implemented a universal hiring policy that would include MSC. Our apologies for the error.) The professors’ concerns stemmed from the adoption of a universal hiring policy on academic freedom by the CMU Board of Governors in 2003 that would apply to all of CMU, despite MSC already having its own hiring policy. The faculty members were concerned that the adoption of this policy may also lead to a common policy on hiring and employment conditions that “might be based on the Christian mission of CMU which, it was felt by some faculty at Menno Simons College, would constitute an infringement of their academic freedom,” the report explained.

Faculty members were also concerned that the Christian objective of CMU was being imposed unwillingly on MSC and its staff.

In a letter to U of W president Lloyd Axworthy, MSC professors Wilder Robles, Judith Harris, and Mark Burch expressed their concerns over efforts at CMU to move towards a more Christian orientation at MSC: “If these efforts are successful, and there are indications that this is already the case, the implications for curriculum changes at Menno Simons College are enormous.We ourselves are deeply disturbed by this trend,” the professors wrote. “We are feeling ourselves increasingly marginalized from the decision-making process and valued merely as cheap intellectual labor.”

In 2007, a common hiring policy was adopted at CMU, with special provisions to faculty members at MSC. However, the report explained that some faculty members at MSC  felt that these provisions still infringed upon their academic freedom.

CAUT outlines several faith-based requirements in the employment conditions at CMU, which are understood as not only hiring conditions but also conditions of continued employment, which were found in CMU’s Personal Policy Handbook. These requirements include self-identification as a Christian, active participation in the life of a Christian congregation, and understanding of the Anabaptist faith tradition, or a commitment to developing an understanding of the Anabaptist faith tradition.

The report concluded that, based on the presence of these requirements, a faith test does exist as a condition of employment at CMU. CAUT executive director Jim Turk argued that by imposing such requirements, the university was infringing on the academic freedom of its faculty. “If you say you can’t teach here unless you have certain beliefs,” then academic freedom is lacking, he told the Winnipeg Free Press.

He pointed out that most religious universities do not impose a faith test as part of their employment conditions, citing St. Francis Xavier University, St. Thomas University, and St. John’s and St. Paul’s colleges at the University of Manitoba, as examples.

However, CMU vice-president Earl Davey fired back against accusations his institution has violated academic freedom, stating that CMU “is deeply committed to academic freedom — this is foundational to our understanding of the nature of universities.” Davey further told the Free Press that CMU faculty earned PhDs from established institutions in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, who conduct and publish research of the same quality as faculty elsewhere. “These aren’t people that somehow come from a different academic tradition,” he said.

Photo: Courtesy of Canadian Mennonite University


The battle over Christian universities wages on

  1. What is the problem, why not have a cristian view and education or do have to all bow our heads to Socialisme and the Athiest propaganda, we seem to be soooooooooooo oposed to right wing views it is absurd, freedom is important, the Carter of Rights seem to be used to curtail freedom !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Not requiring professors to avow to a particular religion does not automatically mean having “Socialisme” (sic) or an “Athiest propaganda” (sic) agenda or curriculum. Academic freedom means that professors are free to study, teach, and research in their field or specialty, or other fields as they see fit, without any limit based on a religious or political framework, other than their own private views. One of the reasons for the existence of universities is to allow for this kind of freedom.

  3. There’s the ideal, Judy, and then there is the real. Welcome to 2010 Candian secular universities where pro-life groups are being shut down on campuses because their views are considered offensive, and where speakers considered to be right wing are shouted out or forced to cancel because radical students won’t allow them the freedom to speak and universities don’t provide the protection needed to see that the right to free speech is maintained.

  4. Thanks for your comment, John, but I think you are missing the point of academic freedom. It is about the freedom to teach, study, research, and think. It is not about pro- or anti- groups rallying and shouting at each other. But it is obvious our views differ, and that is part of the freedom we enjoy as Canadians in a secular, democratic nation.

  5. Academic freedom means that students are informed that their professors are subjected to faith tests, and then the students have the knowledge to decide if they want to attend an institution like that. Forcing CMU to change their practice would be limiting academic freedom.

    The limit on academic freedom in Canada is that institutions across the country are being forced to secularize. We already have plenty of secular universities to choose from, if the complaining profs at Menno Simmons aren’t Christian, maybe they should go teach someone else.

  6. Can’t strike but your university harbours a man who has called for the murder of journalist Julian Assange.

    Tom Flanagan is not fit to teach you.

    Turn your back on him.

    Julian Assange is the bravest journalist to ever walk the face of the earth.

    Here is a link to an article written by a lawyer who has represented Julian in the past. In this story you will find out the truth about the charges the Swedish authorities are trying to slander the good name of Julian Assange with:

  7. Judy: Thanks for your comments. I understand the ideal of academic freedom, but it is not being practiced at our universities. Some ideas are simply banned because they are not politically correct, or because they don’t fit into a particular ideology or agenda. The academy is no longer a place where all ideas are permitted an airing. As you say yourself, the country has according to you embraced secularism, a worldview that in essence is hostile to religious faith. And that hostility comes to expression on secular campuses where the doctrine of tolerance applies only to certain points of view. Secularism has become as much of a religion as any other ideology at work in culture. Christian colleges exist because they wish to teach from a particular worldview. That freedom should be tolerated in our so-called tolerant, secular society.

  8. Canadian Mennonite University should have a faith test. It is first and foremost a divinity college! They train their clergy and church music directors there so it’s not just a college with religious heritage. I think there are at most five such Mennonite seminaries in North America. I am secular but faith tests seem reasonable in the case of CMU.

    As for its satellite college (MSC) housed off-campus at the U of W: That’s more complicated. MSC is the site of the U of W’s Peace and Conflict Studies program so it attracts both the religious students and the secular ones. (Mennonites are pacifists, hence the appropriateness of their lead on this program). Historically, the U of W was a United Church divinity school (and one of the homes of the social gospel movement that lead to the creation of the NDP) so there is some sympatico in the air. Nonetheless, I’m sure the non-Menno faculty attracted to the program wouldn’t like the faith test. My guess is that the U of W will eventually hire those worried faculty and lend them out to MSC as needed….This would be the obvious workaround.

    As for the recent push to implement this faith test – I assume that the more conservative wing of the Mennonites is in ascension at CMU – for the moment. So: this story is less about academic freedom and more about internal politics within the Mennonite church in Manitoba.