July 3, 2003
Dear Vice-Chancellor Denis:
I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. We are a national organization of scholars whose goals are to promote academic freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship and to uphold the merit principle as the basis of academic decision-making regarding students and faculty. For further information, please visit our website at: www.safs.ca.
On March 26, this year, your university issued a press release “The UQAM declares Zone of Peace,” in which the Board of Directors reaffirms “the resolution of the Commission of the studies of the UQAM, inviting the whole of the community to be opposed to the war against Iraq.” Subsequently, one of your faculty members, Professor Stephen Schecter, responded in the Montreal Gazette (April 3, 2003), criticizing the university’s actions in an article, entitled “UQAM Anti-War Resolution was Inappropriate."
My first purpose in writing to you is to inquire whether there has been any further development in UQAM’s political activities regarding the war in Iraq, and whether you or any other official at UQAM has answered Professor Schecter publicly or privately, or taken any disciplinary action against him.
A second purpose is to ask why UQAM, as an institution of higher education, whose function is essentially epistemological, would align itself with any particular political position. Generally speaking, universities, as corporate entities, do not hold political positions on matters removed from the direct administration of the university. Universities are communities of scholars, who, individually, believe many different things about politics, society, culture, religion, and so on. The explicit expression of an opinion by the university administration on the war in Iraq necessarily threatens the academic freedom of individual scholars to state their own views by suggesting there is a correct university-approved position on the matter. It is concerning enough that the university administration took a political position, it is even more troubling that its faculty were asked to support it in an email message.
Professor Schecter, in his article, correctly points out that “the people on the commission des etudes were elected or appointed to decide questions pertaining to the academic life of the university, not on matters of politics or law.” He then goes on to distinguish between political and epistemological functions and clearly believes that the university and society are better served when the university limits itself to matters of truth-seeking and avoids the politicization of the Academy. We could not agree with him more.
My final purpose in writing to you is to register for the record that our society opposes your university’s declaration of a resolution concerning the war in Iraq, asks that you recommend to the relevant university committees that the resolution be withdrawn, and that UQAM refrain from further actions that politicize the academy, including the adoption of political positions and asking individual faculty members to support the university’s political positions.
I would be grateful for a response and we will be happy to post your reply alongside our letter to you on our website.
Clive Seligman, SAFS President.
As of today we have received no response to either letter.