Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Calling out political interference in academic freedom

As a follow-up to Dawg's post here, writing of SSHRC backing down from a politically motivated attempt to revisit its funding of the “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” conference...this letter from Osgoode faculty dated June 14th to SSHRC's President may have helped that climb down on the 15th along: appears that the special accounting was demanded of our colleagues in direct response to the unprecedented and entirely inappropriate political intervention of Minister Goodyear.

We believe that SSHRC made a serious error in acceding to political interference in this manner. Whether or not SSHRC ultimately submits to the demand for a new peer review that better meets the Minister’s political ends, and whether or not the funding for this conference is ultimately jeopardized, we fear that SSHRC has already compromised the autonomy of academic research in this country. By intruding into the planning of an academic event after a funding decision has been made, SSHRC’s actions are likely to have a most unfortunate chilling effect on academics considering the exploration of controversial or unpopular topics. In addition, by casting doubt on the integrity of its own procedures, SSHRC has empowered those who would devalue academic research and discourse by insisting that academic freedom be reserved only for those who happen to share their point of view.

We hope that SSHRC will very shortly stand up to defend its own granting procedures and the values of academic excellence and autonomy they are designed to protect.
Signed by a very impressive list of faculty, led by Harry Arthurs, former Dean and former President of York University. All's well that ends well? Until next time...

Update (June 21): Dr. Dawg informs me that SSHRC has not backed down. I'm not clear myself on that point, given the link above to the SSHRC statement, but I will defer to him.