Our Institution is Built on Academic Freedom

Monday, March 12, 2018
by Feridun Hamdullahpur

academic freedom

The University of Waterloo has constantly evolved over the course of its history, yet at the heart of that evolution has been a set of non-negotiable principles that have deep roots in our academic culture. Top of which is academic freedom.

I firmly believe there is nothing more central to the success and existence of a university than the ability to openly share one’s ideas and perspectives in a respectful and investigative environment. We cannot have an environment where your thoughts are shielded from the public or hastily dismissed simply because they are uncomfortable or unpopular.

Without the freedom to propose these ideas, we risk shutting down what makes our community dynamic and respected around the world: our curiosity for truth and discovery.

Our academic environment has to instill confidence in our faculty and students so they know that their opinions or lessons will be not be censored by an authority on campus.

In the context of our highly polarized world, it is our duty to keep the University of Waterloo a place where individuals with different opinions can share them with respect and without the threat of censorship.

Those at the University must also be open to hearing the opinions of others regardless of how strongly they disagree with them. This does not mean that the University of Waterloo supports or condones the ideas being presented within its community, but that does not mean we have the right to immediately extinguish that point of view because we personally do not share it. Academic freedom is our right and we need to ensure we participate in it and protect it.

It is not enough to say we have and support academic freedom at our institution, we need to participate in the discussion. This is why I am pleased that the University and our partners at the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo have taken a leadership position today with a joint panel on academic freedom.

An open dialogue on academic freedom should not be avoided but embraced with open arms. Only when we ignore the topic will cracks appear around this central principle. I believe that this was the start of an ongoing discussion that I hope never stops.

When we stop discussing conflicting ideas with one another, we stop learning.

Let’s take this opportunity to shed the polarizing world we find ourselves in and come together as a university community that supports academic freedom in more than name and live it every day.