Report on SAFS 11th Annual General Meeting, May 3, 2003

September 2003

The annual meeting, held at the University of Western Ontario, was attended by over 30 members, with 17 staying for the business meeting. Once again, we thank Daniella Chirila, our SAFS secretary, for coordinating the conference, arranging morning coffee and lunch, and booking the meeting rooms.

A) In my opening remarks, I noted that this year we were doubling the number of morning panel sessions and thus, in the interest of saving time for these sessions, I would not be reviewing the recent cases with which SAFS was involved. Instead, I directed the members to the SAFS website for recent updates. Additionally, I informed the audience that there would be no winner of the Furedy Award for Academic Freedom this year.

B) The first morning session was entitled, “Research Ethics Boards: Protecting the Public or Limiting Academic Freedom.” The speakers were Ben Forster and John Mueller. The session was chaired by Steve Lupker.

Ben Forster reviewed the background, structure and operations of the University of Western Ontario Review Board for Non-Medical Research Involving Human Subjects of which he is currently Chair. He outlined the larger national context, and urged involvement in the processes now ongoing which are to define not only a revised Tri-Council Statement on Research Ethics but also national systems of oversight and accreditation.

John Mueller, in his presentation, noted the continued growth of the research ethics bureaucracy. He said that many of the complications came from trying to apply a model of medical research to the social and behavioral sciences, and some came from mindless insatiable bureaucratic growth. He argued the effectiveness of many of the regulations is not apparent on the surface, and it seems there is no concern with documenting effectiveness, and no accountability for the added bureaucracy. The way these ethics boards do, or may come to, constrain inquiry on campus was discussed. His full talk can be read at and for SAFS response on research ethics see page 4 of this issue.

The second morning session, “Strategies and Tactics in the ‘Diversity/Equity’ Debates,” was chaired by John Furedy.

The session was a review of a prior panel, organized by several SAFS members (John Furedy, Doreen Kimura, Clive Seligman, and Philip Sullivan), that took place at the “Excellence Through Diversity” conference, held at the University of Toronto, in March 2003. The SAFS panel at that Toronto conference was the only one to disagree with the conference theme, as evident in the name of our session, “The moral bankruptcy of diversity/equity hiring policies for university faculty: Empirical, logical, and ethical considerations.” Nonetheless, the session drew a large audience, almost none of whom agreed with anything we had to say. Accordingly, the AGM session was organized to discuss our failure to be persuasive. The session began with a tape of some of the discussion that took place at the Toronto session, and this was followed by presentations by Philip Sullivan and Martin Wall.

Phil Sullivan argued that the reaction of the Toronto audience, many of whom were employed in diversity positions in education, was akin to that of advocates of creation science, who see the issue as a moral crusade. Sullivan said that in equity advocacy we see moral fervor, bold assertions, dogma, determinism, and the discounting of contrary scientific evidence. He suggested that we should learn from how scientists have argued with creationists, i.e., we should assemble contrary evidence in a comprehensive way and work harder to disseminate it to the public.

Marty Wall, who was in the audience, at the Toronto session initially thought it would be a wonderful attempt to engage productively with a somewhat hostile audience and to raise some questions in their minds, even if not actually to change their minds. In Marty’s view, the opportunity was lost. There was little communication. Judging from the comments, many in the audience viewed the panel as appearing arrogant, which made it too easy for them to be dismissive toward the arguments and data presented. The atmosphere became highly charged. Marty urged us to draw from our experience as teachers, to be sensitive to where the audience is coming from, and to build our case slowly, moving from non-controversial to more controversial arguments.

Although there was not a lot of time for questions and answers after the speakers’ portion of the sessions, the discussion was lively.

C) Our keynote speaker, Dr. Frederick H. Lowy, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Concordia University, spoke on the topic, “Defending Academic Freedom in the Politicized University.” Dr. Lowy gave a thorough, sensitive, and balanced account of the recent problems at Concordia University that culminated in the riot that prevented Benjamin Netanyahu, former Prime Minister of Israel, from delivering an invited talk on campus in September, 2002. He discussed the history of Concordia University, its diverse student population, and the problem of radicalized students who see the university as a defender of the status quo. The difficulties were enlarged due to the fact that in Quebec student unions have labor union status and the university has no control of the fees the students pay to support their union, and thus little control over their activities. Since the problems in the Middle East became more intense in recent years, there has been a growing tension between pro-Palestinian students, aligned with the radical students in the student union, and other groups, particularly pro-Israeli supporters. Dr. Lowy outlined various events that have occurred on campus that raised serious questions of how to defend academic freedom while trying to contain increasingly violent activities.

Dr. Lowy stated firmly that he and Concordia University believe in the core values of the Academy, including academic freedom and free speech, and they will defend them. A lengthy and candid question and answer period followed Dr. Lowy’s talk. A fuller account of Dr. Lowy’s remarks, prepared by Chris Furedy, is on page 11 of this issue.

D) The Annual Business Meeting was held at the end of the day. The minutes are circulated to the members with this issue. Please save the minutes to bring with you to the next AGM.