Ryerson distinguished visiting professor James Turk to speak on academic freedom


University codes of behaviour may be well intentioned, but they also threaten freedom of expression, says James Turk, the Ryerson School of Journalism’s new distinguished visiting professor.

“What you can say and do in the corner of Dundas Square, you can no longer do in a university. To make matters worse, the definition of what is civil and respectful is incredibly subjective,” says Turk, who will deliver a Nov. 13 inaugural address entitled, “You can’t say that! Enforced civility as a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

Turk’s speech is one of several talks and panels he is organizing this year that will deal with matters related to academic freedom, freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. Planning is already underway for events that will address issues such as un-publishing, whistleblowers and investigative journalism. The talks are sponsored by the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD) and the Ryerson School of Journalism.

Turk recently stepped down as executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which currently represents more than 68,000 academic and general staff nationwide. Turk, who held the position for 16 years and has been recognized for his contributions to Canadian post-secondary education, is also currently an adjunct research professor at Carleton University’s Institute of Political Economy.

“I’ve probably had more contact with universities across the country than anybody else in Canada. But when I came to Ryerson, I was struck by how vibrant and lively a place this is. In terms of the students, the faculty, the engagement and kinds of action on campus, I’ve found it a very exciting place to be,” said Turk, who began his appointment with FCAD on Sept. 1.

Turk’s Nov. 13 speech, which is open to the public, will focus on academic freedom.

“Academic freedom is the foundation of everything that goes on in a university,” he said in an interview. “In the absence of that, there’s really no justification for universities because if you can’t raise certain questions, if you can’t challenge conventional wisdom and if you can’t bring forward ideas that powerful interests may not want brought forward, then what’s the point?”

Notions of freedom of the press and academic freedom in universities go hand in hand, he said, but in recent years, challenging ideas that would otherwise be examined in the past are no longer allowed.

“If we don’t do something about those threats, we’re going to lose academic freedom. And that means a much poorer quality of education for students, a much less useful workplace for faculty and most of all, a real loss in the role of the university in a democratic society,” Turk warned.

The position of Ryerson “distinguished visiting professor” was created to bring scholars from various backgrounds to campus for a set period of time to teach and work with students and faculty.

WHAT: “You can’t say that! Enforced civility as a threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression,” inaugural lecture by James Turk, Ryerson School of Journalism Distinguished Visiting Professor

WHEN: 7:00 p.m., Nov. 13, 2014

WHERE: RCC204, Rogers Communication Centre, 80 Gould Street, Toronto

Click here for the event poster.