Exercising their rights to academic freedom

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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By Dr. Robert Gilmour (guest opinion)

I am writing in response to Rolf Tomlin’s June 5th letter, “Taxpayers funding focus on abortion,” as it is important to address his questions and to clarify a number of his assumptions.

The University of Prince Edward Island is an institution that supports its faculty in their right to academic freedom and their ability to teach, learn, study, publish, and express and communicate their ideas and research free of threat of reprisal and discrimination.  In addition, UPEI provides a safe environment where people can come together and take part in open and respectful dialogue.

When members of the academy submit published research, conduct media interviews on their area of study and scholarship, and speak at public forums and news conferences, they are not speaking on behalf of the University, but instead are exercising their right to academic freedom.

Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie from UPEI's Department of Psychology did that when she expressed her opinions and gave details of her research into access to abortion at a recent news conference that she organized on May 28. Dr. MacQuarrie did not speak on behalf of the university, but she instead presented her own opinions based on her research.

As Mr. Tomlins mentioned, a conference called “Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution” will be held on the UPEI campus in August. This is an academic conference organized by professors Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, UPEI; Dr. Tracy Penny Light, University of Waterloo; and Dr. Shannon Stettner, York University. Although the University is the site for the aforementioned conference, the conference organizers are solely responsible for the conference agenda and roster of speakers. Both internal and external groups are welcome to book space at UPEI for events and conferences and have done so in the past.

The university exists to “encourage and assist people to acquire the skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary for critical and creative thinking.” To accomplish these objectives, our professors’ primary tasks are to teach and to learn, to engage in scholarship and research, and to offer service for the benefit of our Island and beyond.

The Office of Research Services at UPEI works with our faculty members who conduct research and supports them when applicable, as in the case of Dr. MacQuarrie’s recent research, which was funded by the University through its internal grants program. Research funded through that program is subjected to rigorous peer review, including an evaluation of any ethical issues posed by the study.

In this particular case, the ethical aspects of the study were evaluated both by our internal Research Ethics Board and by an outside consultant. It is important to note that the University does not dictate the subjects that faculty research, nor does it regulate the outcomes of that research. For more details on Research Services’ funding process, view the guide at http:/research.upei.ca/

 

Dr. Robert Gilmour is Vice-President Research and Graduate Studies, UPEI

Organizations: University of Prince Edward Island, Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo York University Office of Research Services Research Ethics Board

Geographic location: Iceland

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