Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry has urged Québec university leaders to “under no circumstances” tolerate censorship in schools. It demands that inclusion and the concern for a greater representativeness of diversity do not interfere with the “equal competence”.
Posted at 2:36 p.m
“Under no circumstances should we tolerate censorship in academic circles. Censorship inhibits thinking, and anxious thinking hinders the pursuit of excellence central to academic mission. We cannot sacrifice academic freedom in the name of certain specific struggles, at the risk of ending up losing both,” the new minister wrote in a letter to rectors on Monday, intended as “clarification” after recent events.
For the minister, the steps to diversify educational institutions are “legitimate and necessary”, but they must “in no case lead to any form of discrimination or injustice”. She claims that the Ottawa-specified equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) requirements of the Canada Research Chairs’ programs “rather limit certain rights and lower the primacy of the notions of competency and excellence.”
Last spring, Université Laval found itself at the center of controversy after a vacancy in its Canadian research chair in biology was advertised, which stipulated that only women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities or members of a visible minority would be considered.
In Ontario, the University of Ottawa, where professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval was suspended after saying the “word that begins with an N” in class, also created five positions for racialized or indigenous candidates in 2021. -2022. The aim is then to “counteract the under-representation of certain groups within the teaching staff”.
A request, demands
Last December, during the brief parliamentary session at the National Assembly following October’s election, Ms Déry tabled a motion calling on Quebec’s elected officials to “speak up [leur] Concerns about the disqualification of certain candidates from obtaining Canadian research chairs on the basis of criteria unrelated to competency”. The motion passed unanimously.
Speaking on Twitter Tuesday, the minister confirmed that she had asked Quebec’s senior researcher, Rémi Quirion, to “review its scoring grid when allocating Quebec Research Funds so that the EDI criteria are not necessarily overriding but rather complementary.”
“The opposite would jeopardize excellence, the search for truth and academic freedom,” emphasizes Pascale Déry, adding that “the quality of teaching” and “the relevance of the university environment in general” are at stake.
Nonetheless, the minister acknowledges that for universities, “delivering on these expectations is a delicate responsibility that may require difficult arbitration procedures”. “You can count on my full support in pursuing this goal,” she assures those responsible.
Ms Déry’s predecessor, Danielle McCann, introduced a bill last April to “Protect the Academic Freedom of the University”, which has since been passed. In particular, the law prescribes a definition of this term and obliges universities to pursue policies whose parameters are set by Quebec. The University of Montreal (UdeM) was particularly concerned that Quebec would set a “very bad precedent”.