À mon avis
In my opinion
CAUT versus Trinity Western
or statement of faith?
They’re both right
By John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
John Stackhouse holds the
Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair
of Theology and Culture at
Regent College, Vancouver,
affiliated with the University
of British Columbia.
“It is an obvious and yet
he canadian association of University
the exciting stimulation of
radical plurality versus
the reinforcing energy of
Teachers recently commissioned an on-
site investigation of Trinity Western
University in Langley, British Columbia.
Professors William Bruneau and Thomas
Friedman concluded that the policies of TWU
contradicted the academic freedom policies of
CAUT. Their report of some two-dozen pages
was released in October 2009.
CAUT might have saved itself a lot of time
and money by spending five minutes on TWU’s
website. It states clearly that faculty members
must attest to, and “investigate,” in accordance
with, the university’s statement of faith, a policy
that is obviously incompatible with a state-
ment of unqualified academic freedom such as
CAUT’s. Still, the CAUT report raises a crucial
issue that is not yet properly resolved.
Unqualified academic freedom is basic to the
modern secular university. I won’t belabour this
point since I cannot imagine readers of this mag-
azine disagreeing with it. Where some might
disagree, however, is on whether it also makes
sense for a Canadian university to insist that its
faculty members teach and research within the
confines of its confessional statements.
Drs. Bruneau and Friedman claim in their
report that academic freedom is foundational, not
only to secular universities but to “the univer-
sity community in Canada and internationally.”
This is a curious claim in the light of the confes-
sional nature of most Canadian universities
before, say, 1950 and the acceptance of Christian
universities of this sort in the United States to
this day. It is also a hegemonic claim, insisting
that there is only one way of pursuing legitimate
As one who has been educated in and has
taught at both kinds of institutions, I believe
CAUT is right to champion academic freedom.
I also aver that TWU is right to champion con-
fessional education and scholarship.
It is a very good experience to learn, teach
and research in the wide open spaces of the sec-
ular university. It is a very good experience to
confront ideas alien to one’s own. And it is a very
good experience to be free to think whatever one
wants to think and then to say so without fear
of institutional recrimination.
To be sure, anyone who has actually worked
in a secular university for more than about two
weeks recognizes that there are ideological pres-
sures there, too: to conform to the preferences
of one’s departmental superiors who will be
deciding on one’s tenure and promotion, to the
fads of one’s discipline and to the priorities of
granting agencies. Still, however compromised
academic freedom might be, it is an ideal to be
cherished and protected.
At the same time, however, I want to urge my
fellow Canadian scholars to leave a space for the
alternative of a community of scholars that can
take a number of basic assumptions for granted
and go on together to analyze a wide range of
important questions. The synergy that comes
from such shared intellectual commitments is
simply not to be found in the secular university.