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CAUT adds Providence University College to faith test list

The following article concerning Providence University College and Seminary occurs on the website of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

(Ottawa - March 8, 2012) - Providence University College, located south of Winnipeg in Otterburne, Manitoba has been added to CAUT’s list of universities and colleges that have a faith or ideological test as a condition of employment.

The action follows a report by an ad hoc investigatory committee created last year under CAUT’s Procedures in Academic Freedom Cases Involving Allegations of Requirements of an Ideological or Faith Test as a Condition of Employment.

The investigation, conducted by Robert Chernomas of the University of Manitoba and University of British Columbia professor emeritus William Bruneau, concluded that based on a review of the institution’s policies and practices, “it is clear that Providence does have a faith test.”

“When someone is hired as an employee … they agree to live according to the Providence Covenant of Community Life for the duration of said engagement,” said the committee’s report. The Covenant stipulates an “understanding that Jesus Christ is sovereign over every aspect of corporate and individual life,” and outlines that “the institution reserves the right to impose disciplinary actions in the case of failure to uphold … the Covenant of Community Life.”

While the university does have a statement on academic freedom, the committee described it as “significantly inconsistent” with that of CAUT and the majority of universities internationally, and “assurances that free enquiry is still possible within its constraints are unconvincing.”

“This is not about a university having a religious mission,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “It is about requiring that academic staff conform to a particular religious belief if they want to be hired or retain their jobs.”

Providence is in conformity with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), which represents nearly all Canadian universities. Providence hires faculty who are compatible with its institutional mission. The following is the definition of Academic Freedom in the Providence Employee Handbook.

F. ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND INTEGRITY (Rights and Responsibilities)

Providence College and Theological Seminary is a Christian institution which recognizes the centrality of academic freedom and intellectual integrity to the pursuit of truth. Neither truth nor faith need ever fear honest and open investigation. We understand that simplistic answers to complex questions and uncritical indoctrination into predetermined conclusions are incompatible with quality education that is predicated on human dignity.

1. Definitions

a. Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is herein understood as

1) freedom to teach and discuss subjects in the classroom that are within a faculty member’s field of expertise,
2) freedom to engage in research and writing within his or her field of expertise, employing the tools of their discipline, guided by the pursuit of truth, and following it wherever it leads, and
3) the right to teach, research, and write, with freedom from institutional censorship or discipline.

The following is an excerpt from the statement on academic freedom of the AUCC.

The responsibilities of academic freedom

Evidence and truth are the guiding principles for universities and the community of scholars that make up their faculty and students. Thus, academic freedom must be based on reasoned discourse, rigorous extensive research and scholarship, and peer review.

Academic freedom is constrained by the professional standards of the relevant discipline and the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission. The insistence on professional standards speaks to the rigor of the enquiry and not to its outcome.

The constraint of institutional requirements recognizes simply that the academic mission, like other work, has to be organized according to institutional needs. This includes the institution’s responsibility to select and appoint faculty and staff, to admit and discipline students, to establish and control curriculum, to make organizational arrangements for the conduct of academic work, to certify completion of a program and to grant degrees.

The following is the statement on academic freedom of CAUT.

Policy Statement on Academic Freedom

1.  Post-secondary educational institutions serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students. Robust democracies require no less. These ends cannot be achieved without academic freedom.

2.  Academic freedom includes the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; freedom to engage in service to the institution and the community; freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works; freedom to acquire, preserve, and provide access to documentary material in all formats; and freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies. Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

3.  Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique, and commitment possible. All academic staff must have the right to fulfil their functions without reprisal or repression by the institution, the state, or any other source. Contracts which are silent on the matter of academic freedom do not entitle the employer to breach or threaten in any way the academic freedom of academic staff employed under such collective agreements or other employment contracts.

4.  All academic staff have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly, and association and the right to liberty and security of the person and freedom of movement. Academic staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as individuals including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest. Academic staff must not suffer any institutional penalties because of the exercise of such rights.

5.  Academic freedom requires that academic staff play a major role in the governance of the institution. Academic staff members shall constitute at least a majority on committees or collegial governing bodies responsible for academic matters including but not limited to curriculum, assessment procedures and standards, appointment, tenure and promotion.

6.  Academic freedom must not be confused with institutional autonomy. Post-secondary institutions are autonomous to the extent that they can set policies independent of outside influence. That very autonomy can protect academic freedom from a hostile external environment, but it can also facilitate an internal assault on academic freedom. Academic freedom is a right of members of the academic staff, not of the institution. The employer shall not abridge academic freedom on any grounds, including claims of institutional autonomy.
(Approved by the CAUT Council, November 2011.)


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