SAFS Conference

April 2008

This year's conference will address both of SAFS goals: the protection of academic freedom and the promotion of the merit principle in academic decisions. Our keynote speakers are Jim Côté and Anton Allahar, professors of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, who will speak on the topic of their recent, well-received book, The Ivory Tower: A University System in Crisis. They will present data to support their contention that grade inflation and lowered expectations of student performance have combined to create student alienation and decreased academic standards. In their presentation they will address the impact of these trends as well as some thoughts about how to improve the situation.

The morning panel session will focus on the potential threat of collective agreements to academic freedom. Collective agreements frequently contain effective articles on academic freedom, but they also include articles dealing with various kinds of harassment, such as discrimination, sexual, speech, and bullying. In theory no one wants these articles to collide, with the effect that a gain in protection in academic freedom comes at the expense of a decline in protection against harassment, or vice versa. But sometimes there are, or appear to be, genuine conflicts. Our panelists will examine the ways in which such conflicts can occur and what may be done to remedy the situation.

Murray Miles will describe his recent, personal experience at Brock University, where a collective agreement article on Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment Policy was used to challenge his academic freedom.

His descriptions of the process of defending against such charges and how the procedures to investigate the charges can be 'suspect' serves as a reminder of how fragile our rights to academic freedom really are, and why they must be defended vigorously.

Albert Katz, who is a former president of the faculty association at Western and who also served as chief grievance officer for a couple of years, will describe the collective agreement in the context of a unionized university, the grievance process and duty of fair representation, and how can member to member conflicts can be handled.

Phil Sullivan will try to place these issues in the larger context of societal trends that he believes are undermining the core purpose of the university: the search for knowledge and its transmission through research and teaching. Sullivan will discuss two trends that he thinks are problematic: 1) the emergence of the managerial university that focuses administrators on trendy pursuits that may conflict with scholarship, such as promoting equity and inclusiveness, and 2) the influence of relativism, which he believes has led to a decline of standards in some disciplines.

I hope our members will join us this May for what promises to be an intellectual feast. Further details about the conference and its program are provided on page 10.