Conference tackles academic freedom

by Gavin Wilson

Staff writer

Political correctness. Chilly climates. Charges of racism and sexism. Fears of free speech stifled. These issues have generated heated and divisive debate at many universities -- including UBC -- in recent years.

A conference to be held on campus April 10-12 will tackle these and many other related topics in an effort to foster greater understanding among the often antagonistic viewpoints.

UBC President David Strangway called the conference more than a year ago as part of the healing process at the university following charges of racism and sexism in the Political Science Dept.

The conference's central focus will be how to welcome previously excluded groups to universities, where the new issues of inclusiveness often clash with traditional academic principles, said Dennis Pavlich, associate vice-president, Academic and Legal Affairs.

"The McEwen Report raised a range of issues which divided the campus community. One of those issues was academic freedom and how that can accommodate the relatively new values the university must adopt in order to welcome different groups to campus," he said.

"I am confident that the conference speakers and participants will emerge with many good ideas about how these different values can be reconciled."

Titled Academic Freedom and the Inclusive University, the conference brings together prominent academics, social activists and commentators to discuss ways of clarifying issues and resolving conflicts.

Conference organizers have also scheduled ample opportunity for participation from audience members, including workshops, discussion groups and question periods after each panel presentation.

Among the speakers scheduled to appear at the conference are: York University historian Jack Granatstein; Stan Persky, a Capilano College instructor and political commentator; Carleton University's Peter Emberley, author of Hot Button Politics; Judy Rebick, former head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and host of the CBC-TV program Face Off; McGill University Principal Bernard Shapiro, who will deliver the keynote address; Lorna Marsden, president of Wilfrid Laurier University; and former UBC Board of Governors member Tom Berger.

Speakers from UBC include: Graham Good, English; Stanley Coren, Psychology; and George Hoberg, Political Science.

Two speakers, John Fekete, professor of cultural studies at Trent University and author of In Moral Panic, and Duke University's Stanley Fish, will be featured at the Vancouver Institute lecture on April 12 which is free and open to members of the public.

All are welcome to attend the conference. The fee of $125 includes admission to all conference sessions, dinner on Friday and lunch Saturday. Admission for students is free, but does not include social events.

For more information on conference content, call 604-822-1460. For registration information, call 604-822-1050.