November 19, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 45  

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Policy passes w/ concern

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

A new discrimination policy has been approved by Western’s Senate and will be headed to the Board of Governors for ratification, despite some fears the policy could threaten academic freedom at the university.

Michael Carroll, a sociology professor and senator, said a clause in the Non-Discrimination/Harassment Policy has the potential for some individuals to use the policy against academic opinions they do not agree with. “It poses a threat to legitimate exercise of academic freedom,” he said.

The clause Carroll referred to is Section 6.03 which reads, “Conduct and/or behaviour also constitutes harassment — when it creates an intimidating, demeaning or hostile working or academic environment.”

During last Friday’s Senate meeting, Carroll moved to have a disclaimer added to the clause to reaffirm Western’s commitment to academic freedom, however, the motion was rejected. “I think we’ve got to make it clear this policy is not meant to undermine academic freedom.”

“Academic freedom is free from discrimination — we have a strong statement in both of these areas,” said Western’s VP-academic Greg Moran.
“[A complaint] will have to be judged on its own merit — what we have to do is be confident and vigilant in our judicious process,” Moran said, the Western community as a whole has made a commitment to academic freedom.

“It’s a policy that articulates an arena to bring forward issues of rights on campus,” explained Western’s acting VP-administration Jane O’Brien. She added the policy is meant to protect members of the Western community who do not fall under other policies.

According to O’Brien, the new policy will align the university with provincial laws, encompass several other human rights policies at Western and will aid in settling disputes. Students will also be under the policy, she said.

“I think most universities have stood on their heads to ensure people can say what they want to say,” noted Western anthropology professor Regna Darnell, whose area of expertise includes academic freedom.

Darnell pointed out that the issue is about balancing the interests of academic freedom and the need to contain discrimination and harassment at Western. “In general, the policy is to be used with some degree of common sense,” she added.



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