Campus Scenes

Don’t Get CAUT Policing Canadian Higher Education

Welcome to the land where religiously homogeneity is now regarded as a violation of academic freedom.

By 4.23.10

Since I married a Canadian, we celebrate Canada Day by toasting with Canada Dry and teaching our kids Canadian history and facts. My two boys especially love learning historical tidbits about the Mounties, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It appears I need to teach my kids about another police branch in Canada.

The name of this unique police force is the Canadian Association of University's Teachers (with the appropriately Orwellian acronym of CAUT). CAUT considers itself the guardian of academic orthodoxy in Canada, and it grants itself the power and privilege of not only defining academic orthodoxy but also enforcing it. Interestingly, in 2006, it changed the orthodoxy test for their its doctrine of academic freedom. It declared that academic freedom is violated if a university seeks to ensure a "religious[ly] homogeneous academic staff."

Recently, CAUT caught a heretic, Trinity Western University (TWU), a community of scholars and students defined by a common set of shared beliefs. Moreover, in the same way various groups in civil society or business, such as Jewish synagogues, the Boy Scouts, or Dell Computers think they should not have to hire individuals who oppose their mission, TWU believes it must protect the integrity of its community by hiring with its mission in mind.

You would also think that CAUT, as defenders of academic freedom, would not want to pressure a Christian university to hire atheists. CAUT appears uninterested in protecting institutional freedom and integrity. It wants adherence to their new orthodoxy from every college and university. Furthermore, like the KGB, CAUT apparently does not need to hear about a violation to issue a search warrant. It merely shows up at your door to check your orthodoxy and did so at TWU. Without a report of any violation of academic freedom it sent two agents to Trinity Western to determine if a faith test is in use and if staff members adhere to a full measure of academic freedom. The agents discovered, according to their report, "crucial information" in the University's academic catalog. The university's mission is "to develop godly Christian leaders: positive, goal oriented university graduates with thoroughly Christian minds; growing disciples of Jesus Christ who glorify God through fulfilling the Great Commission, serving God and people in the various marketplaces of life." For the 800 years Western universities have existed, hundreds of universities have had similar missions.

CAUT's agents, however, judged and condemned TWU in no uncertain terms. They reported (pdf) that based on the mission statement and other university documents, "there is no question that Trinity Western University violates the commitment to academic freedom that is the foundational bedrock of the university community in Canada and internationally." Amazingly, although the academy has survived and arguably thrived for 800 years without CAUT's particular interpretation of academic freedom, CAUT suddenly considers its four-year-old understanding of academic freedom the foundational bedrock of university life.

Its argument also appears odd since we usually think freedom requires encouraging institutional diversity and not limiting it. For instance, promoting religious or economic freedom usually entails allowing more than one general type of institution to exist and flourish. Only allowing Muslim mosques or one Standard oil company to exist in a country creates a monopoly that proves destructive to freedom. In other words, if you only have the freedom to attend one religious institution or work for one company, you do not have freedom. Even if those institutions or companies can exist, but must do so with a major competitive disadvantage, you do not have freedom. In the case of higher education, one might believe that if we only accredit universities with uniform hiring practices, it may actually be difficult for corporate forms of academic freedom to flourish since scholars may not be able to form institutions around a common core of beliefs.

CAUT, however, takes only one approach to academic freedom. Like a Muslim nation that is threatened by the existence of a flourishing Christian church in its land, CAUT thinks giving equal academic standing to a Christian university with distinct hiring practices threatens freedom in the realm of higher education. In CAUT's world, the best kind of academic freedom is promoted when every higher education institution acts like every other academic institution.

Not surprisingly, a certain disdain for private institutions that contribute to institutional diversity undergirds CAUT's report. When noting the lack of access to some tenure materials, the authors of the report write in the sort of way an adult speaks to a child, "We remind the reader that in every public institution in Canada, policies and contractual arrangements on tenure are published. Academic staff, members of the public (including journalists), and interested civil servants thus have ready access to the relevant provisions and policy. Similarly, publication should be the norm at TWU." Why the writers of the report believe that an institution meant to serve the public Church should be accountable to the Canadian public even though the Canadian public does not fund the institution, the authors never say. CAUT's nationalism appears to make them unable to realize that universities may serve other publics other than the nation-state.

Granted, one can imagine that allowing the vast majority of universities to have distinct hiring practices based upon religion could limit the job opportunities of professors in the Canadian nation-state. When Oxford and Cambridge limited their faculty to Anglicans, professors from other Christian or religious confessions or no confession faced difficulty getting hired in the limited English university market. Allowing this one Christian university with hiring standards in Canada, however, hardly poses a tremendous burden upon academia or other students in Canada. In contrast to America which boasts hundreds of Christian colleges less than two dozen exist in Canada and most educate fewer than a thousand students. Evangelical Christians, in particular, have few educational options if they want to join an academic community that proceeds from certain shared presuppositions. Nonetheless, CAUT appears to be unable to appreciate or allow hiring practices designed to advance a minority institution's identity and actually contribute to the diversity of higher education institutions as a whole. Oddly, the usually tolerant Canadians could learn a little bit from the American Association of University Professors at this point. At least they grant this reality and merely ask that "religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment."

In CAUT's defense, the attempt to discriminate against religious universities does not prove completely unusual in the annals of history. French Revolutionaries shut down the Catholic universities in France in the late 1700s and the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union and various Eastern bloc countries successfully outlawed all forms of religious higher education in the twentieth century. In fact, the communists probably still rue the one wounded exception they allowed to survive: the Catholic University of Lublin that helped provide a teaching platform for Karol Józef Wojtyła who later became the famous thorn in their side, Pope John Paul II. Like these groups, perhaps CAUT does not want to be caught giving standing to institutions that might cultivate deep thinkers within a particular tradition whose first allegiance is not to the nation-state. Perhaps, CAUT's fearful of a unique university producing another John Paul II that challenges the authority of national universities. Or perhaps like the Marxists of old, they cannot stomach the existence of a university with a distinct moral vision for the future that resists the prevailing orthodoxy and the police that enforce it.

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About the Author

Perry L. Glanzer teaches in the School of Education and the Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University.