Academic freedom

December 15, 2020

Dear members of the McGill community:

Open letters and media articles have raised questions about whether McGill has adjusted its position on academic freedom. Although statements made by the Principal and in response to questions posed by University Senate members have recently addressed the matter, I write to provide further clarity on this question.

McGill’s Statement on Academic Freedom has not shifted in its scope or application. This remains true even in the face of several public statements calling upon us to prioritize equity and inclusiveness over academic freedom, or vice versa. At McGill, none of these principles supersedes the other, nor is any of them absolute. Determining the limits of any of these principles always requires a contextual analysis.

I affirm McGill’s staunch commitment to academic freedom. The pursuit and testing of ideas – even those that are unpopular or unorthodox – must be permitted without hindrance on a campus. Hence, no single idea, argument, word, or work is “prohibited” at McGill; too many historical and contemporary examples have shown the danger of institutional censure.

While McGill extends robust protection to academic freedom, each of us is expected to abide by responsibilities set within University policies and regulations established through collegial governance processes. This includes McGill’s Policy on Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, which provides that, “Each Member of the University Community shares responsibility for respecting the dignity of, and giving fair treatment to, all members of the University community.” I therefore underscore McGill’s firm commitment to ensuring an equitable and inclusive campus climate for all.

Some public statements have also raised questions about the circumstances under which the University might revoke ”emeritus professor” status. This is an honorific designation, conferred upon recommendation by the relevant Dean and Chair/Director in recognition of a retired colleague’s outstanding academic and scholarly achievements. Although “emeritus” status may be revoked for misconduct, that term refers to misconduct as defined by the regulations and policies that apply to tenure-track and tenured academic staff. The exercise of academic freedom or freedom of expression, within the boundaries acknowledged by law, is not misconduct under those regulations and policies.

Let me close by citing McGill University’s Mission Statement and Principles, which must serve as our guide in any situation where we are called upon to address complex issues, which touch upon matters fundamental to our identity as a university:

The mission of McGill University is the advancement of learning and the creation and dissemination of knowledge, by offering the best possible education, by carrying out research and scholarly activities judged to be excellent by the highest international standards, and by providing service to society.

In fulfilling its mission, McGill University embraces the principles of academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.


Professor Christopher Manfredi

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)

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