Academic Freedom and Diversity in Canadian Universities

This paper was presented at the Canadian Studies Conference on "The Canadian University in the Twenty-first Century, " St. John's College, the University of Manitoba, October 14-16, 1994.

During the last three decades, the universities in Canada as in other Western industrial states have experienced considerable change in the composition of their student body, teaching and administrative staff. Traditionally marginalized groups such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, and economically disadvantaged classes have gained more visibility on the campus and it is likely that this trend of diversification will intensify. The demographic composition of Canada is becoming more heterogeneous, and thus the demand for access to higher education from diverse communities is growing.

forces argue
that the pursuit
of diversity in
research and

Canadian universities have collected data on the representation of "visible minorities," "women," "Aboriginal Peoples," and "people with disabilities" among their faculty and administrative staff since 1986 as a result of the Employment Equity Act and the Federal Contractors Program.1 The data on the student population do not contain such a breakdown. Certain institutions, such as York University and University of Toronto, have initiated the collection of representation data among their student population.2 The Employment and Educational Equity Committee of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) also initiated a pilot survey of all applicants through the Ontario Universities' Application Centre, in 1993.

Diversification of the student population has occurred largely due to pressures from sources external to the university, i.e., as a result of popular struggles such as the civil rights movement, women's movement, Native people's movements, the environmentalist and peace movements and gay men and lesbian women's struggle for their equal rights. Internally, too, the student movement of the 1960s and the 1970s acted as a powerful source of change. In spite of initial resistance, the state and the universities have both shown flexibility in meeting these challenges. The result has been the introduction of extensive (though superficial) changes in the life of the academy. Gender and race relations on the campus, curriculum, teaching, institutional structure, and planning have all been affected. New curricula such as women's studies, ethnic studies, multiculturalism, Native studies, peace and conflict studies, and environmental studies have been established. Hiring policies and practices have been modified and a number of administrative measures were introduced in order to facilitate the integration of these groups. Some of these measures include the establishment of offices of sexual harassment, race relations, employment and educational equity, status of women, and, more recently, human rights.

Liberté universitaire et diversité dans les universités canadiennes
par Shahrzad Mojab

On entend en général par liberté universitaire, le droit du corps professoral d'enseigner et d'effectuer des recherches sans que l'administration de l'université, l'État, le public ou quiconque ne s'immiscent dans ces activités. Cette notion de liberté prive les principaux intéressés de l'université, soit les étudiantes et étudiants, les groupes minoritaires, les femmes ou le personnel, du droit de participer à la réforme de l'enseignement supérieur, aux programmes d'études, aux méthodes d'embauche, aux critères d'admission. etc. Selon les tenants du conservatisme, une réforme se fondant sur l'équité et la diversification des programmes d'études équivaut à une grave infraction de la liberté universitaire et fait peser une menace sur la civilisation et la culture occidentales. et article soutient que les efforts déployés actuellement par les groupes marginalises en faveur de la diversification s'inscrit dans la longue lutte menée pour démocratiser l'université.

Back Contents Next