CUASA Guidelines on Academic Freedom

February 26, 2024

This statement was prepared over the last few months and included extensive consultation with numerous CUASA members, and is being released following a majority vote by CUASA Council.

Content Warning: This statement discusses themes that may be emotionally challenging for some readers, including violence, oppression, and racism, among others. We acknowledge the sensitivity and potential impact of these subjects. We recommend that individuals approach this content with awareness of their emotional well-being.*


On October 11, 2023, CUASA shared a statement on the “Israel-Palestine Crisis” in Gaza. We continue to support our members who are affected by the ongoing killing of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank and members who have been targeted by the rise of anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Jewish hate on campus and in the broader community. Since our first statement, many CUASA members have approached us regarding their safety on campus, as well as questions related to academic freedom and what can and cannot be discussed in their classrooms. Members have relayed experiences of being yelled at by students for speaking about colonialism and racism in their classrooms; instructors voicing their concerns about genocide have been accused by students of creating a hostile learning environment; and many faculty have remained strategically silent for fear of reprisal from students, their colleagues, or the employer. Black, racialized, and Indigenous faculty and staff members, as well as faculty and staff from equity-seeking religious or ethnic groups, have expressed additional concerns about speaking out, given that they already face increased scrutiny for their teaching and research. Throughout all this, members have heard inconsistent messaging from the employer on what constitutes academic freedom. Our members need clarity about how to talk about these topics in the classroom and in their research in ways that are protected by academic freedom and supported by the university.

For these reasons, we believe it is important to release a brief statement with practical guidance for our members, to ensure that all CUASA members at Carleton University understand our rights when discussing these topics on campus.

Clarification of classroom conduct rules

CUASA members are free to discuss topics related to their expertise in the classroom and to determine what is pedagogically relevant to the course. They have the freedom to advance their research without institutional censorship or outside influence or pressure, as well as the freedom to comment on internal Carleton policies without interference. Importantly, they also have the freedom to discuss topics of public interest or concern provided they do not speak on behalf of the university (unless specifically authorized to do so). These rights are addressed in the Collective Agreement under Article 4, Article 10.1, and Article 15.7. They are also included in Carleton University’s Human Rights Policies and Procedures section 4.1 and 4.2. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) also offers a toolkit article on the Four Components of Academic Freedom and a Policy Statement on Academic Freedom.

Given this, CUASA members should interpret academic freedom to mean that speech about topics such as the decades-long conflict in Israel/Palestine can be appropriate in a broad range of settings because debates about justice and identity shape the contexts in which we teach and in which students learn. In some cases, this means discussing important public issues that arise, but are not explicitly identified on course outlines. CUASA members should be aware that what is relevant to their pedagogy, educational objectives, and course themes can be interpreted broadly, and that censorship in this regard would violate academic freedom.

CUASA members have an obligation to responsibly foster a free exchange of ideas, in addition to other rights and responsibilities listed under Article 15.2 of the Collective Agreement. That said, racist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, and sanist forms of speech are all harmful and have the effect of undermining open discussion. Hate speech is not protected under the guise of academic freedom.

As a guideline for CUASA members, the following non-exhaustive list is considered, by the union, to be acceptable speech and of public interest.

  • Discussing the unequal legal standing of Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian Christians and other ethnic minority residents of Israel, Gaza, and the occupied territories by using terms such as colonialism or apartheid.
  • Discussing the fear and concern that the 10/7 attacks created among Jewish communities around the world.
  • Contextualizing the 10/7 attacks as a part of an ongoing history of violent conflict.
  • Discussing the current Israeli military campaign against Gaza as being in breach of international law, or having the characteristics of genocide.
  • Calling for a ceasefire or rejecting violence as a legitimate strategy.
  • Making a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Zionism, like any political ideology, is a legitimate target for critique. Antisemitism, on the other hand (like anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry), is not acceptable speech.
  • Dispelling the racist, Islamophobic rhetoric that equates all Muslims and/or Palestinians to Hamas, as well as the racist and antisemitic rhetoric that equates all Jewish people and/or Israelis with the actions of the Israeli government.

Such discussions work best if they adopt a spirit of learning and understanding. Care must be used to not erase the fear, concern, and lived experiences of Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, and other directly impacted colleagues and students.

Having discussions about issues of public interest is a part of the mandate of our University and CUASA will oppose any move by our administration or any other governing body to dictate the terms of these, sometimes difficult, conversations. CUASA will also oppose any University position or policy that would punish any member, especially those on preliminary contracts, for exercising their legitimate right to free expression and the academic freedoms outlined above.

If you have questions about what we can do to defend you or if you have concerns along these regards, contact us at [email protected].


* This content warning has been adapted from the Feminist Solidarity Futures template by the Feminist Institute for Social Transformation.

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