Academic Freedom

“A scholar’s freedom to express ideas through respectful discourse and the pursuit of open discussion, without risk of censure.” (UBC Strategic Plan)

The current Senate Policy on Academic Freedom stipulates the positive obligations of the university. It states:

The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.

This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions.

All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University’s forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

In 2015, the Honourable Lynn Smith prepared a report that is given here.

Prof. Neil Guppy was the Senior Advisor to the Provosts on Academic Freedom between 2016-2019; during his service he prepared a brief history of academic freedom at UBC. Prof. Margaret Schabas was the Senior Advisor to the Provost on Academic Freedom from January 2020 to December 2021. Prof. Schabas led the significant development of further material on our website.

UBC’s current strategic plan highlights five core values: Excellence, Integrity, Respect, Academic Freedom, and Accountability. Academic Freedom is singled out as “a unique value of the academy” but clearly draws upon, and informs, the other four values. To learn more about respect and accountability, see the UBC Statement on Respectful Environments; Bullying and Harassment Prevention at UBC, and the initiatives of the Equity & Inclusion Office.

In the words of our former Provost:

“UBC must be an open forum where members of the university have the freedom ‘to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion’. While engaging in such discussion, I encourage our students, faculty and staff to uphold the university’s values in creating a positive and respectful environment, even when considering opinions that may fundamentally differ from their own.”

Andrew Szeri, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UBC Vancouver (July 2017 - April 2022)

Freedom of Inquiry

Learn how freedom of inquiry lies at the core of academic freedom.

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Guidance for Ongoing Collegial Discussions

Learn more about the university's approach to ongoing collegial discussions.

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Online Learning + Scholarship

See the principles and practices pertaining to teaching, learning and research in an online environment.

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Controversial Speakers

Learn more about the principles that govern public speakers at UBC.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Review FAQs regarding academic freedom, freedom of expression, and controversial speakers.

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Related Policies + Documents

Review a list of statements and policies on academic freedom from UBC and other institutions.

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