Majority of university professors say they censored themselves, survey reveals

More than a third of the 1,000 or so professors who responded to the survey also claimed to have censored themselves by not teaching a particular subject over a period spanning the past five years.

Almost a thousand university students responded to another Commission survey: 64% of respondents believe that they should be able to use any words they deem useful for academic purposes.

In addition, 28% of students who responded to the survey said they had censored themselves in the course of their studies and the same proportion said they had witnessed self-censorship from a teacher.

These are not a few isolated cases, commented Minister McCann during a press briefing in Quebec City on Wednesday for this dossier which she considers to be priority.

The minister will wait for the recommendations of the Commission in December to decide whether she will impose national directives or if she will introduce a bill to support professors in the exercise of their academic freedom.

Support teachers

Chaired by former PQ minister Alexandre Cloutier, the Independent Scientific and Technical Commission on the Recognition of Academic Freedom was created, last March, in the wake of a controversy that shook the University of Ottawa.

In this establishment, the suspension of a professor having uttered a word considered racist in the context of one of her classes had given rise to debates and questions.

Minister McCann had shortly after requested university directions of Quebec that they develop a framework in which teachers and students will be able to debate the use of certain words, without slippage.

The minister now says that it is also up to the government to mobilize in this file. The university has an important role to play, but the government is also there to support them and support the professors […], McCann said Wednesday.

The measures that will be put in place will certainly also be aimed at lecturers., she clarified.

Danielle McCann believes that awareness work needs to be done. The students who mobilized invoked the issue of equity, diversity and inclusion. I think we must stop opposing all these questions with academic freedom, she believes.

Our universities are there to develop in our students a critical and enlightened mind. In this sense, academic freedom can play a very important role in increasing diversity, equity and inclusion.

A quote from:Danielle McCann, Minister of Higher Education of Quebec

More information needed

The President of the Commission, Alexandre Cloutier, himself said he was surprised at the number of people who admit to having self-censored in the context of their work or their studies.

In addition, he said, the public hearings illustrated that there is unanimity on the importance of academic freedom.

Finally, we must disseminate more information on what currently exists to protect academic freedom, says Mr. Cloutier. Both students and teachers invite administrations [des universités] to do more, he said.

Almost all of the professors who responded to the survey (93%) said they had never been the subject of formal disciplinary measures in their institution for the views they expressed, during the past five years.

And among the responding professors, 58% said they did not know whether their university had official documents protecting academic freedom.

In the course of its work, the Commission received 43 briefs, opinions and testimonies and it met more than twenty groups and stakeholders during public hearings.

The quality of teaching compromised?

Isabelle Arseneau, associate professor of French literature at McGill University, says for ten years in the field of self-censorship reflexes.

Interviewed on ICI Première on the show Midi info, Ms. Arseneau stated that the cases reported to Concordia, McGill, Ottawa and UQAM are not an anecdote or an epiphenomenon.

The self-censorship in question occurs during the quotation of a word, and not in ordinary conversation, she recalls.

This can happen when discussing in class a work or a historical document containing a word deemed sensitive, or when developing the lesson plan, explains Ms. Arseneau. One can also imagine a self-censorship which would relate squarely to matters, subjects, which one guesses that they too could be perceived, received as being difficult and sensitive.

According to Isabelle Arseneau, this self-censorship compromises the quality of teaching. The results [du sondage] testify to a problem in terms of pedagogy, in terms of the transmission of knowledge.

Asked whether she fears more the pressure that students could exert or that which could come from the administration of the university, in the event of a litigation related to university freedom, Isabelle Arseneau answers this: I would spontaneously say that I am much more afraid of administrations than of students. That students resist, that they want to debate, that they wonder, I see a sign of good intellectual health. On the other hand, that universities no longer do their duty, do not respect the rules of the game with which they have equipped themselves, that seems to me much more worrying at the moment..

Methodology

All faculty members were invited to respond to the survey between June 9 and July 9, 2021 and 1,079 people responded on the Consultation Québec platform. The representativeness of this sample was verified using Statistics Canada’s annual survey of teaching staff in Canadian universities.

The student survey was conducted among 992 members of the university student community between June 23 and July 14, 2021. The collection work was carried out using the Léger Opinion (LEO) platform and was carried out by a specialized survey firm.

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