(Quebec) Rectors oppose Bill 32 aimed at better protecting academic freedom. This is the message they delivered on Wednesday to the Minister of Higher Education, Danielle McCann.
“We do not see the added value of a law,” explained the president of the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire (BCI) and rector of the University of Sherbrooke, Pierre Cossette.
The president of the BCI – which represents 20 university establishments – made a point of defending their autonomy during his appearance before the Committee on Relations with Citizens.
He spoke out against requiring universities to adopt an “exclusively” academic freedom policy and to provide for the creation of a “council”.
“We already have collegiate bodies, program committees, departmental and faculty assemblies, […] student protectors, ombudsmen, compliance offices,” he listed.
Moreover, clause 6 of the bill is particularly problematic, because it gives the minister “really unprecedented” discretionary powers, he added.
“Legislating like this threatens academic freedom,” said Cossette.
Speaking in turn, Ms. McCann suggested “twining” the issues of academic freedom and harassment, so that they are dealt with by the same board.
She asked why the BCI was opposed to Bill 32, while the teachers’ and lecturers’ unions were more in favour.
“How come there is such a discrepancy between your position(s)?” asked the minister.
MP Alexandre Leduc, from Québec solidaire, suggested that professors and researchers could feel neglected by their institutions in the event of a lawsuit.
“We take up the cause of the teachers regularly. We do this several times a year. We are always told that we defend them badly, I am mystified when I hear that, ”reacted Pierre Cossette.
He took the opportunity to castigate the Cloutier commission survey, according to which 60% of faculty members and 28% of students have already censored themselves by avoiding the use of certain words.
According to him, the sample used by the commission is not representative.
“There are 97% of people who were questioned and preferred not to answer,” he pointed out.
The Cloutier commission was set up by the government in August 2021, following a few incidents that occurred in academia and were reported in the news.
A University of Ottawa teacher was suspended in the wake of a complaint for using the word that begins with the letter “N” in her classroom.