WLU still under threat of censure

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The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is not letting their guard down against what they believe is a violation of academic freedom.

On April 27, CAUT’s council and membership passed a motion that could potentially mean the imposition of a censure on Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo (UW) if the two institutions don’t loosen their academics ties with the Centre of International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

“We had a very lengthy discussion of the issues,” explained Jim Turk, executive director of CAUT, noting that if the universities don’t amend their governance agreements with the Balsillie School they will put forward another motion to censure in November.

“The motion passed with only one vote against. It passed overwhelmingly. The only voice against was the president of the University of Waterloo faculty association.”

CIGI, the Balsillie School and the two universities believe that CAUT is making outlandish claims about the governance documents that were passed by the senates of UW and WLU.

CAUT maintains that Laurier’s and UW’s affiliation with CIGI, specifically in regards to CIGI’s position on the Balsillie School’s board of directors and research chairs, has too much of a role in the school’s direction for research.

“We disagree with their point of view about the document,” stated Deb MacLatchy, the vice-president: academic and provost at Laurier. “All we’ve seen is a motion, so there’s still no definition of what they think is wrong with the governance document in regards to failure with academic freedom.”

Thomas Homer-Dixon, the CIGI chair of global systems at the Balsillie School, strongly disagrees with the stance of CAUT and openly questions their motives.

“I think CAUT’s position is fundamentally misguided, [CAUT IS] wrong not only on the facts in terms of the nature of the agreement between the three institutions, but also, frankly, CAUT’s position includes quite extraordinary factual misrepresentations and outright innuendo about the nature of the agreement,” he explained.

To Homer-Dixon, the motives of CAUT are not clear. He added, “The real issue is, why are they doing this? What’s going on? What’s their agenda?”

With the timeline of six months, Turk hopes that WLU and UW take this motion strongly into consideration and that they come to a “satisfactory solution.” York University — who was originally under the threat of a censure by CAUT in March — recently dropped a potential research deal with CIGI.

“So, in our view, a donor, corporation, a private think-tank has no business being at the table of the discussion of those things [academics],” Turk added.

Fred Kuntz, the vice-president of public affairs at CIGI, asserted that all the documents with WLU and UW protect academic freedom. In addition, the preliminary documents with York allowed everything to be governed under York’s existing policies and practises.

“It appears to me that they are launching attacks on the senates [at WLU and UW] which include their faculty members at Laurier,” he said.

When asked if an actual censure would tarnish the reputation of WLU and UW, Turk replied by saying, “Absolutely.”

“But we’re not in the business of wanting to censure places, we’re in the business of fixing problems,” Turk continued.

The two universities and CIGI think otherwise.

“I think the two universities will shrug and move onto their business, I don’t think it’ll mean much to them,” said Homer-Dixon, adding that this may have more of a detrimental impact on the Balsillie School. “I think, given that the Balsillie School is still a young and a fragile endeavour, it’ll have more consequences on us, in terms of student recruitment.”

Though the universities have rejected the motion by CAUT, Turk plans on discussing with the president of each university in the hopes of getting what CAUT wants.

“We’re really hopeful that the administrations will talk,” he concluded. “There’s no indication that they wouldn’t enter into discussion to find a solution.”

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