|Student Union Policies
|Student Union Practices
Free expression and academic freedom are not referenced in the Mission, Values or Vision statements of Thompson Rivers University (TRU). TRU does not have a policy on academic freedom.
TRU’s policy on Campus Conferences/Events states:
In keeping with its aim of providing an environment conducive to freedom of enquiry and expression, TRU will permit the use of its facilities for public speaking, distribution of literature (if not considered to be libellous, seditious, inciting to riot, or beyond the bounds of common decency, under the laws applicable in British Columbia), gatherings and related activities, where there is some reasonable degree of student, faculty, or staff interest, providing, specifically, that such actions:
TRU’s Respectful Workplace and Harassment Prevention Policy states:
Thompson Rivers University promotes teaching, scholarship and research, and the free and critical discussion of ideas. The University is committed to providing a working and learning environment that allows for the full and free participation of all members of the University community. Discrimination undermines these objectives, violates the fundamental rights, personal dignity and integrity of individuals or groups of individuals and may require remedial action by the University. Harassment is a form of discrimination that is prohibited under this policy and may result in the imposition of disciplinary sanctions including, where appropriate, dismissal or permanent suspension.
This policy defines “personal harassment” as “[b]ehaviour directed towards a specific person or persons that: i. serves no legitimate purpose; and ii. would be considered by a reasonable person to create an intimidating, humiliating, or hostile work or learning environment."
Section 2.2 of the Respectful Workplace and Harassment Prevention Policy states:
This policy will not be interpreted, administered, or applied to infringe the academic freedom of any member of the University community. Academic freedom is the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn and it involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large. The frank discussion of controversial ideas, the pursuit and publication of controversial research, and the study and teaching of material with controversial content do not constitute discrimination.
TRU does not provide funding or resources to any office that promotes vague and ambiguous concepts such as “diversity” and “inclusion.”
In November 2019, a Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) investigation found that TRU breached academic freedom rights when they suspended economics professor Derek Pyne without pay and banned him from campus. Pyne published an article titled The Rewards of Predatory Publications at a Small Business School in the peer-reviewed Journal of Scholarly Publishing. The article discussed business school faculty publishing in “pay to publish” journals with little to no peer review process. Though Pyne anonymized the school and professors he based his research on, it was discovered that his research was in fact based on the Thompson Rivers University business school. The CAUT report found that TRU failed to uphold one of the central tenets of academic freedom, wherein university faculty have the right to criticize their institution.
In July 2020, Pyne was again suspended, over a second incident where on Facebook he praised the Brock University faculty association for standing up for the academic freedom of Tomas Hudlicky (see Brock University, “University Practices”). Pyne tagged the Thompson Rivers University faculty association in his post, and soon after learned that harassment complaints were lodged against him. He has received a one-year suspension with no pay, no benefits, and no access to his TRU email account.
TRU Student Confessions was an anonymously administered Facebook page created during the 2013-2014 academic year that invited students to submit confessions that were then anonymously posted. The page garnered over 2,000 likes before being removed on March 26, 2014.
TRU’s director of judicial and student affairs, Duane Seibel, reportedly advised the TRU Student Confessions administrators that the university was concerned about anonymous posts being made about students that could be considered “harassing, humiliating or defaming,” and told them to “consider the content of the posts and ensure they weren’t contrary to university policy or Canadian law.”
Despite this Facebook page being independent of the University, TRU’s dean of students Christine Adam stated to the media:
...the anonymous nature is what is most concerning because the page becomes a place where people feel comfortable expressing hate, racism or homophobia without being called to account for it. When people can’t be held accountable for their actions, there is no valuable civil discourse taking place.
Around April 6, 2012, a piece of student-made artwork was removed from TRU’s art department by a TRU employee. The image depicts a woman in full traditional Islamic dress holding up a bra while folding laundry. The artist, Sooraya Graham, said she contacted the employee who stated she would not return it unless Graham promised not to hang it up in the art department. When Graham informed TRU administration, they obtained the artwork from the employee and hung it up in the TRU Art Gallery. The University also offered to cover all costs related to the damage of the artwork.
Christopher Seguin, vice-president of advancement for TRU, upheld the University’s defence for the artwork being placed on campus in statements to the media:
It was an individual acting on their own motivations. When we found out (they) had taken the piece of artwork down, we spoke to (them) and (they) made a commitment to replace it …First and foremost, freedom of expression has to be preserved on our campus…We listen to the concerns of all our stakeholders, but we maintain freedom of expression on our campus. There is nothing condoning hatred in this work, it is not a rude piece of art and we stand behind it.
Free expression and academic freedom are not referenced in the Mission, Values or Vision statements of the Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union (TRUSU).
Issues Policy 07 - Academic Freedom of the TRUSU Policy Manual states:
Public institutions of higher education serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge, truth, and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in students, faculty members, and researchers. The intrusion of proprietary or third party interests into the classroom and research environment places pressure on public institutions of higher education to alter their mission in order to secure and retain funding from private sources, pushing public institutions to become dependent on private sector funds and therefore private sector goals.
Restricting academic freedom leads to many negative consequences including: researchers critical of industry, university, or government practices having their employment threatened; courses and research not considered commercially relevant being under-funded or eliminated; and, in general, dissent becoming increasingly silenced. For universities to remain true to their mission to pursue knowledge for its own sake, the tenets of academic freedom must be held as indispensable.
Issues Policy 13: Non-Academic Student Codes of Conduct states that TRUSU opposes “Limitations on students’ right to free expression, assembly, or any other right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Operational Policy 08: Club Policy lists among its requirements for ratification [a] designation of the Club as belonging to one of the following categories: a. Academic; b. Common Interest; c. Ethnicity-based; d. Religious Affiliation; e. Political Affiliation.”
Operational Policy 10: Space Usage prevents TRUSU space being used for the following:
Operational Policy 24: Endorsements states that “The Union may endorse positions, policies, campaigns, or events.”
Operational Policy 32: Non-Partisanship states that non-partisanship shall not “[d]isallow positive or negative commentary or action in relation to, or endorsement of, a position, policy, or decision of any politician and/or political party.”
The authors are not aware of any rules or regulations related to elections and referenda that impose restrictions on campaign speech and literature.
TRUSU takes official positions on issues outside its mandate, such as on blood donation policies.
The authors are not aware of cases of the TRUSU limiting or restricting campus free speech rights, or discriminating against students or clubs on the basis of their opinion.