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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds I knew that I was in trouble when I started seeing these security agents around all the places where I would be. When I would be teaching, they would be outside. When I would be in my office, there would still be some outside elsewhere. So I started guessing that something was wrong. I was called a leader of a provincial sensation, as if any class would ever be with students of the same city or the same province. Arrested, imprisoned, in sordid conditions, going through a four months of total death and life in prison, I came to admit that I was as much dead as alive.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds I think the most obvious change is the expectations of short-term return in the monetary sense, that we are expected to deliver “innovation”– not intellectual innovation, but innovation that can bring cash back, so to speak. This kind of pressure is really throughout the whole academic society. More and more, I think we’re very quiet about academic freedom on Canadian campuses, and you rarely will hear that word. We had an unprecedented, in my experience, small talk on it in our Senate, and that was because we’d had an incident at my own university– and I will stop right after this. I had said academic freedom is also– one of the buts is safety.

Skip to 1 minute and 43 seconds And we’ve talked today before– speakers have talked about the need for safe space. But safety is also a trope that is used to curtail freedom of expression in all kinds of ways. And I’ll give you one very quick example. At my university, York University, a mural was hung in a student-owned student centre that depicted a young Palestinian man watching a bulldozer with a rock in his hand behind his back. That mural upset a lot of people. One donor said he was taking all his money out of York University, and he would urge everybody else to take their money too. And there were many public calls– it was a big thing in the media– about taking that mural down.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds Well, the university did the right thing. The president said, we support freedom of expression. But then the president also said, but we asked our lawyers, and we can’t take it down. And then he said– [AUDIENCE LAUGHING] –and then he said, and I’m going to be reviewing all the student rules of student conduct to see what we can do, because some of our students don’t feel safe, and this has made some students feel unsafe on our campus. And so he noted that the university, while we are committed to freedom of expression, there are other core values, including diversity, inclusivity, and respect.

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds And the saddest thing to me is that, just like academic excellence used to be pitted against equity, we now see academic freedom pitted against inclusivity, diversity, and respect, with the idea that the academic freedom will be the sorry loser. And I’ll end there. Thank you.

Examples: Types of threats to academic freedom

In this video, we present different types of threats to academic freedom. Using the list below, can you identify what type of threat is represented by each part of the video?

  1. Intentional violence, coercion or other threats
  2. Threats from systems, policies, and practices
  3. Threats from misapplication or oversimplification of values labels

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Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters

University of Oslo

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