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Information bulletin

August 7, 2008

from the Memorial University Faculty Assn. (MUNFA) to its members (download PDF) that includes clear defenses of university autonomy

The importance of autonomy is obvious. Universities, if they are to fulfill their roles, must be free of political influences and outside pressures. This is a widely recognized and respected value the world over. The loss of autonomy brings back the times when universities were under tight control by the church. Church doctrine served as the template for what may be taught and as a litmus test for who should and shouldn’t be employed.

and academic freedom:

The loss of autonomy poses a serious threat to academic freedom. This has two sides. One is that if government directly interferes in the selection of a president, they may also interfere in other activities and processes in the university, including but not limited to hiring decisions, decisions about curriculum, and decisions about promotion and tenure.

The second side of the problem is if government chooses the president there is risk that in the president’s role of the chief academic officer (who must consent to all decisions around hiring, promotion, and tenure) s/he may make decisions based on whether they support the government agenda. This potentially has a chilling effect on the freedom to undertake research that disagrees with or is critical of government, undermines creative pedagogical methods, and may have direct impact on courses and fields of study offered.

The news media continues to carry the story. Readers may be interested in the comments on the online versions. For example, some of the ninety-nine (and counting) comments to this story are chilling in the misunderstanding they display; we clearly have work to do, as the arguments can become so muddy. Some people, for example, seem to conflate MUN with the outsiders who have historically exploited the island’s natural resources, while Danny Williams is reconfigured as a folk hero, saving Newfoundland for Newfoundlanders. Then there is a somewhat confounding thread on polytechnics that seems to have come right out of left field.

As defenders of academic freedom and university autonomy we need to get out there and get busy, because otherwise someone else gets to tell our story.

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