A recent accusation of racism to a professor at UNBSJ had raised questions about how far is too far when it comes to academic freedom in university communities.
Last summer, a Vancouver city councillor, Kerry Jang, accused UNBSJ sociology professor Dr. Ricardo Duchesne of racist comments towards immigrants. UNB has defended Duchesne by saying he was within his rights of academic freedom.
“The idea of academic freedom is the freedom to explore, discuss, critique, research and publish ideas, whether or not they are popular or controversial,” said Barbara Roberts, human rights officer at UNB.
“Academic freedom enables people to debate controversial ideas without fear of consequences, so that we can engage in rigorous examination of assumptions, attitudes or beliefs.”
Like freedom of speech, there are measures in place in case of accusations like racism.
“There are principles, like clarifying that one is or is not speaking on behalf of others or the university; and that opinion statements or allegations of fact are based on solid research, not anecdotes incorrectly quoted,” Roberts said.
The concept of academic freedom is taken seriously by professors.
“Academic freedom is foundational to our profession and must be defended,” said Dr. Miriam Jones, an English professor at UNBSJ.
“Our whole profession relies on conversations about ideas and research, and anything that limits conversation, limits knowledge. Some ideas are offensive — sometimes very offensive — but the remedy is to expose those ideas, not to suppress them.”
Siddharth Raval, president of the UNB International Student Association and student at UNB Fredericton, agreed with this view on academic freedom.
“I believe that if there’s a study that is backed by strong evidence then it should be allowed to be expressed,” he said. “Like without academic freedom we would still be learning that the sun revolves around the earth.”
Raval also said that the accusations towards Dr. Duchesne of racism shouldn’t have an effect on international students who are considering attending UNB.
“While selecting a university, professor rankings, labs, instruments, reputation and courses being offered are the major factors in my opinion,” he said.
“As an international I believe that it’s my prime duty that I respect the culture and the people of the country that I live in.”