Academic Freedom

The idea of academic freedom lies at the heart of the modern university, and underpins everything SFUFA does. There is no universally-accepted understanding of the scope of the term. SFU’s statement, however, is one of the most robust in the country, many university administrations relying on more narrow interpretations.

We provide here two statements that help to frame the definition and reach of the term – one from our negotiated agreement with SFU, and the second from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.


From the SFUFA-SFU Collective Agreement, Article 12:

12.1 Academic freedom is the freedom to examine, question, teach and learn, and it involves the right to investigate, speculate and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University, Association and society at large.

12.2 Specifically, academic freedom ensures:

     12.2.1 freedom in the conduct of teaching;

     12.2.2 freedom in undertaking research and publishing or making public the results thereof;

     12.2.3 freedom from institutional censorship.

12.3 Academic staff will not be hindered or impeded in any way by the University or the Association from exercising their legal rights as citizens, nor will they suffer any penalties because of the exercise of such rights. The parties agree that they will not infringe or abridge the academic freedom of any member of the academic community.

12.4 Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge.

12.5 As part of their teaching activities, teachers are entitled to conduct frank discussion of potentially controversial matters which are related to their subjects. This freedom of expression will be based on mutual respect for the opinions of other members of the academic community.

12.6 Librarian and Archivist Faculty have a duty to promote and maintain intellectual freedom. They have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and are entitled to full protection of their own academic freedom and practices. For Librarians, this includes the right to express their academic judgment in the development of the Library collection and to make the collection accessible to all users in accordance with the University Library policies, even if the materials concerned are considered controversial. For Archivists, this includes the right to express their academic judgment in the acquisition and development of the Archives’ holdings.


And from the CAUT, it’s policy statement on academic freedom:

Post-secondary educational institutions serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students.  Robust democracies require no less. These ends cannot be achieved without academic freedom.

Academic freedom includes the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; freedom to engage in service to the institution and the community; freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works; freedom to acquire, preserve, and provide access to documentary material in all formats; and freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies.  Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique, and commitment possible. All academic staff must have the right to fulfil their functions without reprisal or repression by the institution, the state, or any other source. Contracts which are silent on the matter of academic freedom do not entitle the employer to breach or threaten in any way the academic freedom of academic staff employed under such collective agreements or other employment contracts.

All academic staff have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly, and association and the right to liberty and security of the person and freedom of movement. Academic staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as individuals including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest. Academic staff must not suffer any institutional penalties because of the exercise of such rights.

Academic freedom requires that academic staff play a major role in the governance of the institution. Academic staff members shall constitute at least a majority on committees or collegial governing bodies responsible for academic matters including but not limited to curriculum, assessment procedures and standards, appointment, tenure and promotion.

Academic freedom must not be confused with institutional autonomy.  Post-secondary institutions are autonomous to the extent that they can set policies independent of outside influence. That very autonomy can protect academic freedom from a hostile external environment, but it can also facilitate an internal assault on academic freedom.  Academic freedom is a right of members of the academic staff, not of the institution. The employer shall not abridge academic freedom on any grounds, including claims of institutional autonomy.