empty campus
The U of O’s Committee on Academic Freedom is expected to submit its report before the end of the summer. Image: Charley Dutil/Fulcrum
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Five faculty members sit on committee but no students

On April 23, the University of Ottawa announced that five faculty members would join retired justice Michel Bastarache to sit on its Committee on Academic Freedom. According to the university, these faculty members are representative of the university’s teaching and research community with the breadth of their experience, disciplines, and backgrounds.

Members of the committee include: Tansy Etro-Beko, a part-time philosophy professor in the faculty of arts; Jude Mary Cénat, an assistant sociology professor in the faculty of social sciences; Alizera Jalali, an associate professor and the associate dean of external relations, engagement and advancement at the faculty of medicine; Jonathan Paquette, a faculty of social sciences professor and holder of the research chair on international Francophonie and cultural heritage policies and Sophie Thériault, vice-dean of academics and a civil law professor. 

Notably absent from the committee are students, there are no undergraduate or graduate students on the committee. Previous committees such as the President’s Advisory Committee on a Racism-Free Campus and the President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Wellness both had at least one undergraduate student participate in deliberations.

In response to questions about the lack of student representation on the committee, the university claims that the work being done by the committee will simply have a greater impact on its academic community and as such decided to grant membership solely to faculty members.

“Membership has been focused on faculty members since the issues to be looked at have direct impacts on the work being conducted by our professors and researchers,” wrote U of O manager of media relations, Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn in an email to the Fulcrum. 

The U of O encourages students to participate in its current consultations by sharing their thoughts on the questions developed by the committee. These questions centre around the U of O’s core mission which it defines as academic freedom, freedom of speech, university autonomy, and equality, diversity and inclusion.

“The consultation process launched by the Committee on Academic Freedom will not succeed without the involvement of the entire University community …  It is crucial for students to participate.”

“The chair of the committee, the Honorable Michel Bastarache, has already invited students to express their views and encourages them to participate in the consultations by sharing their thoughts on the questions developed by the Committee,” wrote Mailloux-Pulkinghorn, on behalf of the university.

When asked about the absence of student voices on the committee, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) was disappointed.

“The UOSU obviously supports student participation at every decision making level at the University, and is disappointed that students have not been granted a seat at the table,” wrote the Union’s Executive Committee in a message to the Fulcrum. 

In spite of this, the UOSU encourages its members to participate in the consultation to have their voices heard when it comes to academic freedom at the U of O. 

“With regards to the consultation, we encourage all students to send a clear signal to the University that academic freedom must never be used as an excuse or justification for racist and discriminatory remarks in the classroom. The Committee must reaffirm this point in its findings.”

Students who wish to partake in the consultations have until June 4, to email a written submission to Submission should be no more than 20 pages, double spaced and in either English or French.

The U of O’s Committee on Academic Freedom is expected to submit its report before the end of the summer.