Academic Freedom and the Christian University
4 min. read
February 9, 2011

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) recently opened an investigation into whether Redeemer is denying academic freedom to its academic staff by requiring them to subscribe to a statement of faith as a condition of employment. CAUT believes such a condition limits the openness and diversity of viewpoints that it feels are essential to any university’s quest for and dissemination of knowledge. Three other Christian universities in Canada—Trinity Western (Langley, BC), Crandall (Moncton, NB), and Canadian Mennonite (Winnipeg, MB)—have already been investigated by CAUT. All three have been identified by CAUT as “Universities that Impose a Faith or Ideological Test.” Dr. Hubert Krygsman, President of Redeemer University College, believes that the investigation is redundant. “It is a matter of public record that Redeemer does indeed seek to hire faculty who share Redeemer’s faith commitments and mission as a Christian university. It is actually done in accordance with the Provincial Charter we received in 1980 to operate the university.” Although Redeemer acknowledges the existence of a faith statement, it takes issue with the assumption that such a requirement restricts academic freedom. As a full member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Redeemer subscribes to their statement on academic freedom (PDF). “In our 28 years of existence,” notes Dr. Krygsman, “we have not had a single instance of a faculty member alleging that their academic freedom has been infringed in any way. In fact, by acknowledging that all truth is rooted in God, and by encouraging an exploration of all aspects of His creation, we believe that our faith basis promotes the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.” The bigger issue, according to Dr. Krygsman, is the way that academic freedom is being defined. “We respectfully disagree with the way that CAUT, in our view, narrowly defines academic freedom as an exclusively individual right. We believe that universities, many of whom were founded as faith-based institutions, retain a communal freedom to pursue their distinctive academic missions and projects.” Academic freedom has been and remains essential to the scholarship and research activities at Redeemer. “We have many guests, academic and cultural, who don’t share our faith-based perspective, and our faculty discuss with students all sorts of things that we don’t necessarily agree with,” says Dr. Krygsman. “But, as a university committed to exploring ideas, we welcome that kind of exchange and dialogue – we’re not afraid of it, and we’re certainly not some sort of bubble designed to hide from the world.” It is an issue that has struck a chord across Canada. A petition, crafted in part by Concordia University’s Dr. Paul Allen, decries what it calls the “invasive and unwarranted investigations” of the CAUT. It calls upon the CAUT (to which most of the signatories are members of), to “cease its harassment of these institutions” and it has been signed by more than 120 academics from both public and faith-based universities across Canada. Over the last few days, the story has been reported in a number of local and national media outlets. Charles Lewis has written a number of stories about the petition and the investigation into Redeemer in the National Post, and the issue was discussed on CBC Radio’s The Current. Dr. Krygsman was also interviewed by Bill Kelly on Hamilton’s CHML radio. “It is unfortunate that the CAUT has begun these investigations,” notes Dr. Krygsman. “It gives the impression that we are somehow second-class when it comes to accommodating academic freedom. We are also concerned that it may unduly and unfairly impact our faculty as they interact with colleagues from institutions around the world. But at the end of the day, we remain committed to pursuing excellence in scholarship and teaching. Students and faculty will continue to be encouraged—and be given the freedom to—explore all of this mighty and wondrous creation.” Redeemer considers the association’s investigation unwarranted and unnecessary. “The report’s findings are a foregone conclusion,” says Dr. Krygsman. Instead, Redeemer has invited the CAUT to an open and honest philosophical discussion about differing paradigms of academic freedom and the relation of faith to learning. Those discussions have yet to be scheduled, but Dr. Krygsman is hopeful that they will take place. “It would be a helpful step in understanding each other’s position, and in exploring the broad scope of academic freedom.”

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