July 12, 2010
Dr. Steven Franklin
President and Vice-Chancellor
Dear President Franklin:
We are a national organization of scholars dedicated to maintaining academic freedom (www.safs.ca). We are writing to you to ask for clarification regarding your new vision statement, as described by Penni Stewart in her President’s Column in the June 2010 issue of the CAUT Bulletin, p. A3. You can access this column at: http://www.cautbulletin.ca/en_current.asp?sectionID=1259&articleID=0.
Professor Stewart states that the Trent Senate approved a new vision statement that includes the following sentence: “We foster an environment where Indigenous knowledge is respected and recognized as a valid means by which to understand the world.”
Our organization takes no stand on the validity of Indigenous approaches to knowledge, but we are troubled by the notion that a university might decide to declare any specific approach to understanding the world valid. In an academic setting, it is inappropriate to designate any school of thought as worthy of special respect, since all points of view and all disciplines need to be subject to healthy skepticism, vigorous debate, and potential discrediting.
We are also concerned that this vision statement implies that dissent from this "policy" will be regarded as unacceptable. If our inference is correct, it follows that criticism of Indigenous knowledge would violate the new vision statement. We would consider that position to be an abridgement of academic freedom.
Importantly, the Statement of Goals and Objectives now posted on your webpage, http://www.trentu.ca/calendar/overview_goals.php, contradicts the new approved vision statement. The first goal says: “To create a teaching, learning, research and living environment fundamentally committed to the promotion of free inquiry and expression.”
We fail to see how free inquiry, which your university claims to endorse, could be compatible with a statement that effectively declares that inquiry about the validity of Indigenous approaches to knowledge is off-limits. Possibly your Senate had some other purpose in mind when it approved the new vision statement.
We would greatly appreciate a clarification of the meaning of the vision statement. In particular, we would like to be assured that the new vision statement does not prevent inquiry about or criticism of the validity of Indigenous approaches to knowledge.
If it does, then it violates academic freedom. The CAUT Policy Statement on Academic Freedom clearly states “Academic freedom includes the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion; freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof … “
We look forward to your response, which we will post on our website along with this letter to you.
Thank you for your consideration.
Dr. Clive Seligman, SAFS President.