July 12, 2010
Dr. Elizabeth Cannon
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Calgary
Dear President Cannon:
Congratulations on assuming your new position as President of the University of Calgary.
We are a national association of scholars (www.safs.ca) dedicated to academic freedom, free speech, and the merit principle in higher education.
We are writing to you because of our continuing concerns about the lack of commitment of your university to academic freedom and free speech rights for those on your campus. The CAUT Policy Statement on Academic Freedom states that academic freedom includes “… freedomto express freely one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, or the system in which one works; freedom from institutional censorship…”
More than a year ago, we wrote to President Weingarten about the abuse of students’ rights to protest concerning the issue of abortion, http://www.safs.ca/issuescases/harveyweingarten.html. As you know, the university’s actions in that case received wide and negative publicity, and ultimately the university’s position was found to be legally untenable. At that point, we had hoped the issue was over, and that the university would cease to harass students engaged in lawful behaviour, whether involving social debate or protest.
Thus we were gravely concerned to read a Recent Editorial in the Calgary Herald, http://www.calgaryherald.com/opinion/violatesprocess/3180449/story.html?cid=megadrop_story that begins as follows: “The University of Calgary's mishandling of a Facebook group critical of one of its professors is a black mark on the institution.” We are astounded that, if true, the university would involve itself in the manner and substance of student criticisms of a professor, and go so far as to convict the students of a non-academic misconduct based on the comments they posted on Facebook. We are also concerned about possible administrative improprieties, which may have allowed the complainant’s spouse to serve on an investigating committee.
We won’t repeat the other excellent points raised in the editorial, except to say we agree that your university’s actions appear, once again, to have been arrogant and contemptuous of free speech and the right of all members of the university community to criticize. But all this happened under someone else’s watch, and you should not be held to account for other administrators’ violations of academic freedom.
As the new president of the University of Calgary, we call on you to change course. We urge you, first, to reverse the misconduct decision against the students, and, second, to recommit the university, in action and expression, to academic freedom and free speech, without which there can be no true Academy.
We look forward to your response, and we will post it on our website along with our letter to you.
Dr. Clive Seligman, SAFS President.