Debate over academic freedom is still buzzing at uOttawa after Bastarache’s report

In his report, commissioned by UOttawa, former Supreme Court judge Michel Bastarache said students and the university community “must be prepared to address sensitive issues in an academic context.”

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The aftermath of an academic freedom report continues to swirl at the University of Ottawa with a group of active and retired professors saying the school has not done enough to support academic freedom, while another group is spreading a petition complaining about Black, Indigenous concerns. and racist people were ignored.

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An open letter signed by 73 past and present academics said uOttawa president and vice chancellor Jacques Frémont “had a golden opportunity to restore the image of our university, tainted by the many controversies of the past year. Unfortunately, insisting that the report be submitted to the Senate for discussion before it can be reacted to, you gave the impression that your support is delicate. “

The letter calls on a university to confess that it was wrong to suspend a part-time professor, Verrushka Lieutenant-Duval, in October 2020 after she used the N-word during a discussion in an online lecture. It demands that Frémont issue a “sincere apology” for “releasing Verushka Lieutenant Duval from this undeserved and unjust burden.”

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Such action would be the first steps to “a much-needed reconciliation necessary to rebuild trust with our faculty, a trust severely damaged by the events of the past year.”

The university commissioned the report from a commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Michel Bastarache to look into the limits of academic freedom after the Lieutenant Duval incident and subsequent controversy in March involving uOttawa law professor Amir Attaran. In tweets from his personal account, Attaran called the Quebec government a “white supremacist” and described the province as the “Alabama of the North.”

Bastarache’s report said the committee “is not in favor of institutional or self-censorship that is capable of jeopardizing the dissemination of knowledge or is motivated by fear of public disapproval.” It said students and the university community “should be prepared to address sensitive issues in an academic context.”

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Meanwhile, a group of professors at the school’s Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies said they were “deeply disappointed and annoyed by the report,” and argued that it gave too much weight to white faculty opinions and made little effort to hear of other voices. .

The petition describes the report as “smoke and mirrors” hiding under the disguise of academic freedom.

“According to our analysis, the report focuses on the perspectives of white professors and suggests that their experiences are of greater value than those of black, indigenous and racist people.”

“We mainly hear about the fear of whites who care about their academic freedom. It is their fear that is validated. The fear of blacks, indigenous and racialized people is thus silenced by the very conditions of the consultation.”

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The petition was posted by 11 professors and assistant professors from the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies including director Jamie Chai Yun Liew and assistant director Corrie Scott.

Students were also critical of the Bastarache report, with the University of Ottawa Student Union saying “it ignores the need for mutual respect in favor of the freedom to use racial insults in a classroom.”

In a text message on Friday afternoon, UOSU president Tim Gulliver dismissed the professors ’open letter as“ ridiculous ”and said the Bastarache report attempted to consult students in May and June, when most had already left campus for the summer.

“The report completely ignored student prospects, especially black students,” Gulliver said. “We strongly oppose this attempt to use academic freedom to legitimize racism in the classroom.”

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