Report on SAFS 10th Annual Meeting, May 4, 2002

September 2002

The annual general meeting, held at the University of Western Ontario, was attended by 40 people, with 25 staying for the business meeting. Once again, we thank Daniella Chirila, our SAFS secretary, for coordinating the conference, arranging morning coffee and lunch, and booking the meeting rooms.

A) As president, in my opening remarks, I commented on several cases we had taken on in the past year. SAFS had written to the Dean of the Medical School at UBC to protest their plans to ‘set aside’ 5% of their places for aboriginal students. In his reply to SAFS, Dean Cairns said, in part, “The Faculty of Medicine, in line with policies and procedures in other faculties at UBC, has chosen to orient the selection processes for aboriginal students towards our understanding of the systemic issues that exist for aboriginal students in accessing post secondary education.” The admission criteria include “academic and non-academic qualities, both counting for about 50% of the admission decision.” The conflict between admission procedures that emphasize admitting the best students versus admitting those with minimal qualifications, who also have desirable “non academic” qualities, seems lost on the UBC Medical School. This is a troubling issue, and it would be worthwhile for SAFS members to investigate how far the professional schools at their own universities depart from the merit principle in student admission policies. The media coverage of this issue was mixed, showing that there still is work to be done in making the case that racial discrimination in admissions to medical school is a bad idea.

SAFS decided to support the case of retired Professor Jeffrey Asher in his human rights complaint against his former employer, Dawson College. Professor Asher alleges that he was forced out of his position because of his views on feminism. The case is now before the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last Spring, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University investigated one of its students for allegedly engaging in hatemongering, based on an article he wrote for the Law School paper, Obiter Dicta. SAFS wrote a letter to Osgoode Hall Dean Peter Hogg and to York University President Lorna Marsden to protest that these actions violated the student's academic freedom. In the end, after many months, the complaint was withdrawn, and the student is in good standing at the Law School.

Professor David Healy was hired, and then “unhired” by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto even before he took up his new job, after he gave a lecture during which he claimed that the drug prozac may be unsafe. We wrote to Dr. Paul Garfinkel, CEO, and Dr. David Goldblum, Physician in Chief at the CAMH, to express our concerns that Professor Healy was not treated fairly. The case was complicated by suggestions of improper interference by Eli Lilly, the maker of prozac and a contributor to CAMH. Professor Healy sued for breach of contract, and ultimately the matter was settled out of court.

Another case that we followed last year involved Professor David Noble who was a candidate for a chaired professorship at Simon Fraser University. It was suggested that, during the interview process, the university inquired of referees whether they thought Professor Noble would represent the university’s views. We wrote to President Michael Stevenson to suggest that expecting professors to conform to the university’s positions was a violation of academic freedom. As in the Healy case there were other complicating factors, including Professor Noble’s refusal to submit a complete vita and to allow the university to contact its own external referees. Initially, Professor Noble was turned down for the Woodsworth Chair by the Provost. In a second, new search, Professor Noble was turned down by the appointments committee. There have been several investigations of the case, and the university appears to consider the matter closed. CAUT is expected to report on its investigation shortly.

There was very positive coverage in the BC news media regarding the hiring statistics that Doreen Kimura collected, which were reported in the April, 2002 SAFS Newsletter.

Finally, it was noted that the process for ethical review of research with human participants appears to be a growing concern. (As it turned out it came on us faster than expected, and SAFS response is posted on our website).

B) The winner of this year’s Furedy Award for Academic Freedom was Doreen Kimura, SAFS founding president. John Furedy presented the award to Doreen, and his and her remarks are published elsewhere in the current Newsletter.

C) The morning session, entitled “Academic freedom in the light of September 11,” consisted of presentations by Nancy Innis, Jan Narveson, and Ken Westhues, followed by a lively question and answer period.

Nancy Innis gave a historical perspective on the threats to academic freedom by retelling the story of the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California in the early 1950s. By describing the event in some detail, Innis showed that an important threat to the Academy came from within, from some fellow faculty members and particularly the administration. However, when a few courageous faculty were willing to stand up and fight for academic principles, academic freedom was able to survive.

Jan Narveson began his talk with a concern over the increased restrictions on liberty due to security concerns over terrorism, and raised the question “when and why are restrictions on liberties appropriate?” He sought to answer the question with regard to the appropriateness of restrictions on academic freedom. After consideration of criteria such as honesty, competency, and controversy, he suggested that tolerance of different positions, ideologies, religions, and the like was a key guide as to what should be allowed to be said on campus - "intolerant religions and ideologies not only do not need to be tolerated but, in the light of 9/11, ought not to be tolerated.”

Ken Westhues considered the attacks of September 11 as “a dramatic intrusion of the real world on postmodern goofiness.” He examined the factors that led to the attractiveness of “right minded dreaming” over facts of reality, which have led “many scholarly groups to lose touch, to apologize for what our civilization has achieved, and to accord equal value to societies where the infant mortality rate exceeds the literacy rate as to our own.” He ended his talk with the hope that one consequence of September 11 will be the quickening pace of reduction of politically correct panic, which he thinks peaked in 1994. He sees hope in today’s students whom he believes possess a sense of irony about life.

D) Our keynote speaker, Dr. Alan Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) spoke on the theme of "Betrayal of Liberty and Dignity on America’s Campuses," elaborating and updating the thesis presented in his book The Shadow University that he co authored with Harvey Silverglate. In a wide-ranging and impassioned speech he described the transition of the student radicals of the 1960s who once fought for free speech and who now, when in power in the universities, implement speech codes. He showed that the terms diversity and multicultural education are not really about those lofty goals, but are about supporting a particular political point of view that excludes many groups who do not accept the appropriate criticism of Western culture. Kors considers current university agendas based on group identity rather than on the individual to be an affront to liberty and dignity of the individual. He went on to show how FIRE's public opposition to university abuses of the US constitution and academic freedom of faculty and students has been effective in restoring justice on many campuses.

E) The Annual Business Meeting was held at the end of the day. The minutes are circulated to the members with this issue.

See SAFS website for furthers details on the cases discussed here.