OHFA Executive Statement Defending Academic Freedom

Osgoode Hall Faculty Association

Posted 2 November 2023

The Osgoode Hall Faculty Association (OHFA) Executive understands that this is a difficult time for many of our members, with the conflict in the Middle East. We strongly condemn all violence against civilians. We stand strongly against anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate. We affirm the importance of academic freedom, especially in times of conflict. Regardless of their views and tone, and so long as they act within the law, OHFA members are accorded academic freedom and should not face disciplinary action for expressing their scholarly views.

The OHFA Executive is deeply concerned about the statements made in the Ontario legislature on October 17, 2023 by Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities.

In addressing a debate on the current conflict in the Middle East, Minister Dunlop named an Osgoode Hall Law School Professor, Heidi Matthews, and other professors, as well as students from York University and elsewhere. They were labelled anti-Semitic and accused of “celebrating” terrorism. The Minister also implied if not encouraged university administrations to pursue disciplinary actions against the named individuals.

Article 11.01 of the Collective Agreement sets out the administration and OHFA’s shared and ongoing obligations to “upholding, protecting, and promoting academic freedom as essential to the pursuit of truth and the fulfillment of the University’s objectives.” Academic freedom includes the freedom of an OHFA member “to disseminate her opinion(s) on any questions related to her teaching, professional activities, and research both inside and outside the classroom.” We believe that the exercise of academic freedom extends to social media postings and that the administration has an obligation to support OHFA members in the pursuit of research, creative and professional activities free of “interference or reprisal”.

The OHFA Executive endorses the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)’s letter to the Minister and Memorandum 23:41 “Academic Freedom in Times of Conflict,” as well as the statement on academic freedom and campus safety from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA).

We take the position that, as stated by CAUT, “any institutional reprisal against or censorship of a member for expressing, within the law, their views on matters of public interest would violate their academic freedom.” Further, we share CAUT’s characterization of the Minister’s remarks as “a serious infringement on the principle of university autonomy.” The OHFA Executive holds steadfast to the view articulated by OCUFA that the Minister’s assertions are “antithetical to the academic mission of our universities.”We call on the administrations of Osgoode Hall Law School and York University to forcefully defend academic freedom, university autonomy and freedom of expression of staff and students by publicly denouncing the Minister’s statements and demanding an immediate retraction and public apology.

The OHFA Executive