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.

From 2016-2019 Prof. Neil Guppy held the role of Senior Advisor to the Provosts on Academic Freedom; during his service he prepared a brief history of academic freedom at UBC, that is given here.  He was succeeded by Prof. Margaret Schabas in January 2020.

UBC’s current strategic plan highlights five core values: Excellence, Integrity, Respect, Academic Freedom, and Accountability. See Shaping UBC’s Next Century. 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 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

Controversial Speakers

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Online Learning + Scholarship

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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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