Why Canadian Christian universities
deserve public support.
About two years ago the executive of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), a free- standing organization purporting to represent the
interests of Canadian university professors, commissioned
an on-site investigation of Trinity Western University
in British Columbia. Professors William Bruneau and
Thomas Friedman concluded in late 2009 the
policies of TWU contradicted the academic
freedom policies of CAUT.
Similar reports were subsequently filed
on Crandall University in New Brunswick
and Canadian Mennonite University in
Manitoba. Redeemer University College in
Ontario saw the trend and last year refused
to allow the CAUT investigators onto their
As CAUT’s president, Penni Stewart of
York University, has since admitted, CAUT
might have saved itself a lot of time and money by spending five minutes on the website of any of these schools.
Each school insists faculty members conduct their teaching and scholarship according to that university’s theological commitments. And that is a policy incompatible
with a statement of unqualified academic freedom such
Alas, the public discussion of the issues has not been
conducted as well as it needs to be, by either side.
Unqualified academic freedom is basic to the modern
secular university. It is in the public interest for professors
to be free of interference from their superiors, colleagues
or university donors when professors seek to teach or publish their research.
As defenders of the Christian universities have pointed
out, there are ideological pressures in secular universities too: whether to conform to the preferences of tenure
and promotion committees, or to the fads of one’s discipline or to the priorities of granting agencies. But the
fact secular universities often fail to honour this standard
doesn’t mean it’s fine for Christian universities to fail in
the same way.
However compromised academic freedom might be
at a secular university, it’s an ideal to be cherished and
protected. And it’s a good thing a secular university pro-
fessor can always call the university to public account if it
compromises his or her academic freedom.
JOHN STACKHOUSE was professor of religion at
the University of Manitoba. Since 1998 he has been
Sangwoo Youtong Chee professor of theology
and culture at Regent College, Vancouver.