Academic freedom and inclusiveness

Live 2020

Dear members of the McGill community:

As Principal of our University, my most important role is to protect and uphold the principles that are central to McGill University’s Mission: academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness. The value of each of these individual principles is evident. At times, however, they may appear to clash with one another. This has been apparent in recent events within Canadian institutions of higher education, which reveal a tension between academic freedom on one hand, and equity and inclusiveness on the other. In such situations, I believe that abandoning one principle in favour of another is not the solution. Rather, these situations call upon us to engage in active listening and dialogue so as to understand the cause of the conflict and to learn.

McGill’s commitment to academic excellence requires that the University support an open environment where different views and ideas can be expressed and debated with mutual respect and without fear. This freedom is central to McGill’s mission of advancing learning through teaching, scholarship, and service to society.

At the same time, the University is steadfast and unequivocal in its commitment to a working and learning environment in which every member feels included, valued, and respected. The EDI Strategic Plan and Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism are two recent examples of McGill’s continued efforts to make critical strides in this area.

The simultaneous pursuit of these commitments may at times appear difficult to reconcile. Yet, Universities should be up for this challenge. We are, as aptly noted in the 2018 Report of the Task Force on Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life, “well positioned to navigate these choppy waters. We are institutions built around a core of critical thinking and originality.” We should be able to engage in constructive dialogue in searching for ways to ensure that our core principles can coexist, both conceptually and in practice, even when they seem to conflict.

I have full trust in the members of McGill’s academic staff who carry out our mission each day to exercise academic freedom in full dedication to our mission and principles. I also have great confidence in our students’ ability to engage with their instructors, and with one another, in a manner that reflects McGill’s abiding principles. No doubt, any of us can make an unintentional misstep, which can be hurtful to others. Let us approach such incidents with empathy, trust, and as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to openness, ongoing learning, and growth.

Just as our community shares the responsibility of treating each other with respect and empathy, we have a collective obligation to learn, reflect, and do better as, together, we move forward.

Sincerely,

Suzanne Fortier
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
and McCall MacBain Professor

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