A new association has been formed at McGill University to serve faculty, staff, and students who believe in academic freedom and are concerned about the cancel culture now operating in universities.
SAFS McGill, a freshly minted chapter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, has launched itself online under the rubric, THINKSPACE: A SAFE PLACE FOR REASON.
Its founding members, drawn from across the University, recognize the solemn duty of academics to pursue knowledge and understanding wherever that leads, and to disseminate their findings without fear or favour. That sometimes means questioning received wisdom or challenging powerful interest groups or rejecting premature closure of debate. They are committed to a free marketplace of ideas that contend through rational enquiry rather than through pressure tactics.
SAFS McGill has the following goals:
- To maintain freedom in teaching, research and scholarship
- To maintain standards of excellence in academic decisions about students and faculty
- To resist censorship and provide a convivial forum for critical thought about academic freedom at McGill University.
A symposium and live launch event is being prepared for the new term in September, with details to be confirmed at safsmcgill.com.
This new organization at McGill was founded in February 2021 as a local chapter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. The appearance of SAFS McGill is especially timely, given the current furore over academic freedom, which in Quebec has elicited an investigative commission.
SAFS McGill grew out of a discussion group of professors of highly varied personal, political, and disciplinary backgrounds. “Why are people in fields as diverse as Physics and Psychiatry and Anthropology and Religion gathering in online salons?” asks Chemistry professor Pat Kambhampati. “We are doing so because we believe Academia a precious construct which offers great value to society. Having said that, Academia is also a very delicate entity and there are many forces at play that are causing its fundamental nature to change. It is our view that there is a silent majority of students, faculty, staff, donors, and taxpayers who are interested in seeing open discussion of the emergent culture of Academia and whether we are heading in directions upon which we broadly agree.”
The organization hopes to help correct a common misperception that the controversies and culture wars which appear on university campuses pit professors in search of academic freedom against students seeking a “safe” learning environment. People of all walks of life, and in all quarters of the University community and its wider constituency, are concerned that the culture of free inquiry is in grave danger. What they are looking for is a context congenial to serious debate and the pursuit of genuine learning. SAFS McGill seeks to provide a new forum for that – specifically for a free and spirited discussion of the mission and culture of Academia.
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