Quebec introduces controversial academic freedom bill
Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann.
The Legault government tabled a bill on Wednesday to protect university academic freedom. Institutions will have to adopt a policy on this subject, the parameters of which are defined by Quebec.
The government defines academic freedom as “the right of every person to exercise freely and without doctrinal, ideological or moral an activity by which it contributes, in its field of activity, to the accomplishment of the mission of such an educational institution”.
The Independent Scientific and Technical Commission on the Recognition of Academic Freedom in Academia submitted a report on academic freedom last fall. All recommendations made were adopted.
This commission was created by the Legault government following several high-profile incidents concerning the use of offensive terms in a university context. The suspension of Verushka Lieutenant-Duval by the University of Ottawa for using the “N-word” in class to explain a concept has attracted international media attention.
“Several disturbing events have drew our attention to the subject, and it worried me, as Minister of Higher Education,” admitted Danielle McCann at a press conference at the National Assembly on Wednesday.
Censorship has no place in our classrooms, it never will, and we must protect faculty from censorship.
Danielle McCann, Minister of Higher Education
Under the bill, all words may be used in a classroom in an educational context, respecting and “within the standards of scientific and ethical rigor that exist in our universities”. Before tackling a sensitive subject, teachers will not be required to issue a warning to their classroom.
If the bill is supported by part of the university community, several professors are rather skeptical. The National Federation of Teachers of Quebec (FNEEQ-CSN) welcomes the adoption of the bill, but is still concerned about certain measures proposed in it.
One criticism is that academic freedom does not take precedence over other legal obligations of teachers. They therefore find themselves exposed to potentially excessive lawsuits. In this sense, we do not protect lecturers, whose employment status is precarious.
“Given their contractual status, session after session, several of the lecturers we represent admit to self-censoring in order to avoid controversy”, comments the vice-president of the union, Christine Gauthier.
The federation would like the bill to be extended to CEGEPs.