McGill University Campus Arts Building. PHOTO: Paul Lowry/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.
CJFE is concerned by the McGill University administration's actions in the recent resignation of Andrew Potter from the Institute for the Study of Canada, where he was director. Potter’s resignation came after the publication of an opinion piece he wrote for Maclean’s that examined the social implications of a recent snowstorm in Quebec and argued, among other things, that the province is an “almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society.” The column provoked an intensely negative reaction from many in Quebec, among them members of the media and political class, including Premier Philippe Couillard.
On March 21, 2017, the day after the column ran, McGill University issued a statement via Twitter saying, “The views expressed by @JAndrewPotter in the @MacleansMag article do not represent those of #McGill.” By distancing itself from Potter, McGill failed in its basic duty to defend the academic freedom of its faculty, and undermined its mission to provide a sanctuary for the fearless pursuit of truth and knowledge. McGill should support Potter's right to express his views regardless of whether or not it agrees with the content of those views. By failing to provide institutional support to its scholars, McGill has created a dangerous chill that will be felt at institutions throughout Canada, and sent a message to other scholars that they should hesitate before pursuing potentially controversial or unpopular lines of inquiry.
We are encouraged that McGill reaffirmed its commitment to academic freedom in a March 23, 2017, statement. However, the administration should apologize for the original statement distancing itself from Potter, and be forthright in clarifying the role that political pressure played, if any, in his departure.
A copy of this letter was sent to Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University