Tag: Academic Freedom

In the Dock, in Paris « EJIL: Talk! « Libel Tourism and Academic Freedom

If I lose, I will stand convicted of a crime, branded a criminal. The complainant will not enjoy a windfall as in London, but considerable moral satisfaction. The chilling effect on book reviewing well beyond France will be considerable.

In preparing a defense we faced a delicate challenge. The case was otiose for two reasons: It was in our view an egregious instance of ‘forum shopping,’ legalese for libel tourism. We wanted it thrown out. But if successful, the Court would never get to the merits –  and it was important to challenge this hugely dangerous attack on academic freedom and liberty of expression. Reversing custom, we specifically asked the Court not to examine our jurisdictional challenge as a preliminary matter but to join it to the case on the merits so that it would have the possibility to pronounce on both issues.

Prof. Joseph Weiler discusses his experiences of being on trial for criminal defamation in France.

Protecting academic freedom seen as key – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 21, 2011

SEANAD REPORT: ACADEMIC FREEDOM must be protected in view of the fact that some of the important criticisms of what had been happening in this country in recent years had come from people in academia rather than from the Oireachtas, Rónán Mullen (Ind) said.

One hundred and fifty academics had criticised proposals in the Croke Park agreement, which they claimed would pose a serious threat to academic freedom.

Referring to a letter published in The Irish Times, Mr Mullen said its signatories had said there was a threat to the right to permanency and tenure to retirement age, which was the bedrock on which academic freedom rested. He thought it was very important that academic freedom would not be undermined when one considered the sources of criticisms of the way the country had been governed.

The definition of the right of academic tenure should not be achieved at the expense of the rights of those holding temporary positions, he also argued.

It’s not often I agree with Ronán Mullen, but I’m glad that he now agrees with me! See my posts on the various legal protections of academic freedom and tenure.

The letter to which he refers is here.

Academic tenure in the Universities Act, 1997

DVD cover for the movie 'Tenure', via Amazon width=Tenure:

the very word connotes safety, security, and a sense that you have made it in academia. But is the system really all it is cracked up to be, or is it lumbering into the world of 21st century academia like a dinosaur that hasn’t heard it is supposed to be extinct?

In earlier posts on this blog, I have looked at various issues relating to the various legal protections of academic freedom and at the concomitant concept of academic tenure as a matter of principle. In today’s post, I want to look at it as a matter of law.

The starting point is the Universities Act, 1997. Section 25(6) (also here) of the Act provides (with added emphasis):

A university may suspend or dismiss any employee but only in accordance with procedures, and subject to any conditions, specified in a statute made following consultation through normal industrial relations structures operating in the university with recognised staff associations or trade unions, which procedures or conditions may provide for the delegation of powers relating to suspension or dismissal to the chief officer and shall provide for the tenure of officers.

The Statutes of a university constitute its basic law, and section 3 of the 1997 Act (also here) provides that “officer[s]” include “permanent, full-time member[s] of the academic staff of the university”. Hence, section 25(6) effectively requires that each university’s statutes must only specify disciplinary procedures leading to the suspension or dismissal for their employees, but must also provide for tenure of full-time members of academic staff. This rider to section 25(6) is very important. Dismissal procedures must be set out in universities’ fundamental constitutional documents, and where such procedures affect full-time members of the academic staff, they must specifically provide for tenure. This is a strong legislative commitment to the principle of academic tenure. As with the Act’s comcomitant protection of academic freedom, there are very few similar general legislative provisions elsewhere. In this respect at least, Irish legislation is particularly progressive, and – as Prof Jim McKernan, formerly of UCD and UL, and now of the College of Education in East Carolina University, has recently argued on Ninth Level Ireland – these freedoms must be jealously guarded and zealously protected:

Academic Freedom and Tenure: Necessary Rights for Irish Academics

Academic freedom is the right of the faculty member to select one’s materials, methods, pedagogy and points of view in teaching one’s discipline. … Academic freedom is an absolute necessity for a democratic society. … Faculty need to be free of the constraints of censorship and interference in the conduct of their duties by the institution or other agents and agencies in the community.

… Faculty members, after a probationary period have a property right to their position and cannot be removed barring ‘just cause’. Tenure does not guarantee a post for life. When I was first appointed at UCD in 1981 there was one condition in my contract letter for removal-being guilty of ‘gross moral turpitude’. Irish academics had real tenure in those days. I do not know if new conditions for removal of tenured faculty have been introduced. … Tenure really means that one ‘owns their position’ and the right to return to that position year after year after the probationary period. … Tenure secures a working community of scholars based on accepted academic values and aims, and it guarantees that a person cannot be dismissed from that community without due process and without consideration based on well established objective academic criteria. As it turns out, the truth is not always popular, especially within circles of power and wealth. Remove the system of tenure and we shall witness a ‘Flight of the Dons’. …

The answer to Jim’s question in bold about the current state of tenure in Irish universities is in three parts. (more…)

Views: Defining Academic Freedom – Inside Higher Ed

Defining Academic Freedom

December 21, 2010
By Cary Nelson

… This statement is designed to help clarify both what academic freedom does and doesn’t do.

PART 1: What it does do

1. Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation.

2. Academic freedom establishes a faculty member’s right to remain true to his or her pedagogical philosophy and intellectual commitments. It preserves the intellectual integrity of our educational system and thus serves the public good.


PART 2: What It Doesn’t Do

3. Neither academic freedom nor tenure protects an incompetent teacher from losing his or her job. Academic freedom thus does not grant an unqualified guarantee of lifetime employment.

News: ‘Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era’ – Inside Higher Ed

It’s not just civil libertarians who worry that 9/11 has been used to justify insidious state overreach; academics have a mounting set of concerns, too. A new essay collection, Academic Freedom in the Post 9/11 Era (Macmillan), whose contributors include Cornel West, Noam Chomsky and Henry Giroux, makes the case that universities are in trouble. Its editors are Edward J. Carvalho and David B. Downing.

The book presents academe as bullied by corporate interests, saddled by the need to curb its rhetoric to match national political agendas, and pressured by the military. Its message so piqued Stanley Fish that he used its authors as characters in a short Kantian morality play on his New York Times blog, pitting them against conservative academic David Horowitz and provoking a few hundred comments.

Academic Freedom and the Law

Academic Freedom book cover, via Hart websiteHart Publishing have just published Academic Freedom and the Law: A Comparative Study (cover left) by Eric Barendt:

Academic Freedom and the Law: A Comparative Study provides a critical analysis of the law relating to academic freedom in three major jurisdictions: the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States. The book outlines the various claims which may be made to academic freedom by individual university teachers and by universities and other higher education institutions, and it examines the justifications which have been put forward for these claims. Three separate chapters deal with the legal principles of academic freedom in the UK, Germany, and the USA. A further chapter is devoted to the restrictions on freedom of research which may be imposed by the regulation of clinical trials, by intellectual property laws, and by the terms of contracts made between researchers and the companies sponsoring medical and other research. The book also examines the impact of recent terrorism laws on the teaching and research freedom of academics, and it discusses their freedom to speak about general political and social topics unrelated to their work.

This is the first comparative study of a subject of fundamental importance to all academics and others working in universities. It emphasises the importance of academic freedom, while pointing out that, on occasion, exaggerated claims have been made to its exercise.

Academic judgment and breach of contract in Ontario

York University law, via their website.Omar Ha-Redeye has blogged on Slaw about an Ontario CA decision that is very relevant to the judicial review proceedings being taken by Andrew Croskery to challenge his degree results in Queen’s University Belfast (on which I have previously blogged: 1, 2, 3). The gravamen of those posts was that courts are slow to disturb substantive academic decisions, though beyond that sphere, they will of course give effect to claims in tort or for breach of contract. This distinction is at the heart of the case at issue in Omar’s blogpost: Jaffer v York University 2010 ONCA 654 (7 October 2010).

In this case, the plaintiff challenged a decision to exclude him at the end of his first year because he had not maintained a sufficient grade average, on the grounds that the university had failed to make proper accommodation for his Trisomy 21 (Down’s Syndrome) and that he had detrimentally relied on an alleged promise by a professor to defer his status while the dispute over disability was resolved. His claim failed at first instance, in part on the ground that, “[w]hile there may be contractual or tortious issues within the broader claim, if the pith and substance of the impugned conduct is academic in nature, the action cannot be continued in the courts” ([24] Pitt J). This does not seem surprising, since the proposition that the Courts will be slow to interfere in matters of purely academic judgment is well-established as a matter of Canadian law (see, eg, Harelkin v University of Regina 1979 CanLII 18 (SCC), [1979] 2 SCR 561 (30 March 1979); followed in Ontario in Paine v University of Toronto (1982) 34 OR (2d) 770 (Ont CA) and Gauthier v Saint-Germain 2010 ONCA 309 (CanLII) (3 May 2010) ([30]-[31], [46], [50] Rouleau jca, en français)).

On the other hand, in Gauthier, Rouleau jca pointed out that since the relationship between a student and university is, of its nature, contractual, it can give rise to obligations both in contract and in tort ([32]-[33], [46]) and the court does not lack jurisdiction solely because the claim arises out of a dispute of an academic nature ([45]). This, too, is well established in Canadian law (Young v Bella 2006 SCC 3 (CanLII), [2006] 1 SCR 108 (27 January 2006)). As ever, the question is not so much about the line as to the side of it on which any given case might fall.

In the appeal in Jaffer, Karakatsanis JA held that Rouleau jca’s judgment in Gauthier “clarified that the decisions of this court upholding the dismissal of claims relating to academic matters did not do so on the basis that the court lacked jurisdiction …, but rather … because the pleadings did not disclose a reasonable cause of action based upon contract, tort, or negligence or … because the cause of action was untenable in law” ([22]). In other words, the proper judicial deference to academic decisions does not deprive the court of jurisdiction, but it does mean that the plaintiff has no exigible claim.
did not implicate purely academic judgments, so she considered the breach of contract and negligent misrepresenation issues, and found them both wanting.

Hence, the question in Jaffer was not whether the dispute was academic in nature, but rather whether the pleadings support a cause of action in either contract or tort ([31]). Unlike Pitt J at first instance, Karakatsanis JA for the Court of Appeal held that appellant’s various claims did not implicate purely academic judgments, so she considered the breach of contract and negligent misrepresenation issues, and found them both wanting. In other words, the distinction between Pitt J and the Court of Appeal turned on the characterisation of the issues as purely academic or not. Unlike Pitt J, Karakatsanis JA held that the issues were not purely academic, and thus went on to consider whether there was a breach of contract or a tort. She found that there was no basis in the facts pleaded upon which to find that accommodation was an express or implied term of the contract between the university and Jaffer, and thus dismissed the breach of contract claim. She also found that the professor’s offer did not constitute a misrepresentation and that there was no causal link between the allged misrepresentation and the damages claimed, so she also dismissed the misrepresentation claim. However, she did allow the appeal to the extent of permitting Jaffer to amend the Statement of Claim to plead the breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation issues with greater particularity.

On this approach, the question which would arise in Andrew Croskery’s application is whether the matter is one of purely academic judgment. If it is, then the Court will not lack jurisdiction but it will be particularly slow to hold against the university. If it is not, then the court can go on to consider his substantive claims. I await Mr Justice Treacy’s decision with interest.

Grievance poses academy ‘threat’

Queen's University Belfast, via wikipediaFurther to my two previous posts concerning student challenges to degree classification, there is a piece in this week’s Times Higher Education on the judicial review proceedings taken by Andrew Croskery challenging his degree results in Queen’s University Belfast. The piece contains some interesting reactions to the challenge [with added links]:

Grievance poses academy ‘threat’

Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that if the case were successful it could unleash a wave of similar challenges. “Of course it is important that universities do right by students. But if a student feels they are getting inadequate supervision, contact or anything else, they should deal with it up front and at the time. Otherwise the floodgates will be opened and it will be impossible to judge genuine cases from chancers,” he said.

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, described the case as a battle between academic authority and the marketisation of higher education. He said a ruling in favour of Mr Croskery would be “disastrous” because it would undermine universities’ academic authority. He noted that legal challenges of college grades were quite common in the US but said British courts had taken the view in similar previous cases that universities were in the best position to make academic judgements.

Richard Langley, head of litigation and dispute resolution at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said Mr Croskery would have an “uphill struggle” to prove that the university had acted irrationally in not increasing his grade. “It involves a very subjective judgement and it is impossible to determine what he would have got with different supervision,” he said. He also warned that, at best, the judge would require the university to reconsider its decision, which it may uphold. …