FIPPA and Academic Freedom
It has recently come to light that the administration, in complying with a FIPPA order, plans to search through the computer files of a Carleton faculty member. Although CUASA recognizes the need for public institutions to provide access to information held or produced at the direct instruction of administration (such as student grades and committee files), university faculty have by both past practice, and previous information rulings, enjoyed a status unique among employees of public institutions. Academic employees have certain special rights arising directly from the core function of the university as a place of critical inquiry, which in turn rests on the fundamental guarantee of academic freedom. Academic employees have custody and control of many of their files. The principle of academic freedom lies at the core of what differentiates university research from, for example, government or industry research, which can be stopped when it conflicts with the opinions of those in power or suppressed when its results damage those with special interests.
The principle of academic freedom is so important that the current issue was brought to the fore by academics from outside Carleton, a testament to the importance faculty members across Canada place on protecting this principle. Despite multiple efforts by CUASA to impress upon the administration the effect this FIPPA decision will have, and offers by CUASA to cooperate in attempts to amend the FIPPA decision, to avoid the chilling impact it will have on academic freedom, Carleton’s administrators have steadfastly refused to entertain the idea that academic freedom even needs to be addressed. The administration believes that they have custody and control of all of your files contrary to legal decisions by other adjudicators.
Indeed, the tenor of their pronouncements, along with ominous suggestions of increased legal delay, serve only to underscore the increasing corporatization of administration and their view of faculty not as fundamental to the mission of the university, but as interchangeable cogs in a machine that somehow does not depend wholly on the efforts of faculty.
It does not take long to imagine the wider consequences of a university in which academic freedom is an afterthought; where administration begins to 'encourage' faculty to avoid research that damages the reputation of generous donors; where administration creates an environment in which socially or politically sensitive research is no longer permitted. Clearly, the administration’s position on this FIPPA request is a stand against everything a university should be. Therefore, CUASA, along with CAUT, is taking action to defend ourselves against this attack on academic freedom.
What CUASA members can do to defend academic freedom:
1) discuss the issue with colleagues
2) inform CUASA of requests/orders for access coming from administration
3) let the administration know what you think about their plans.