Swaggering Bureaucrats: the SSHRC and CAUT

Last week I published Rhoda Howard-Hussmann’s letter criticizing constraints on aboriginal research set by Canada’s granting agencies. (Read the entire letter: February 5, Howard-Hussmann on Funding Aboriginal Studies.)

The agencies, chief among them the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, require researchers in the field of aboriginal studies to respect the centrality of community experience and communal identification in the lives of aboriginal persons. The successful grant proposal must indicate the researcher’s adherence to this notion of communal identity.

But in academe the importance of communal identification is not usually a researcher’s assumption. It is, rather, a matter to be studied, queried, weighed, pondered. For researchers in aboriginal studies today it is, I would say, the subject. A conscientious researcher in aboriginal studies cannot assume the importance of communal identification a priori.

To put it briefly, Canada’s guidelines on aboriginal research weigh in on one side of a contested academic issue, blindsiding the researcher and circumventing free inquiry.

Now think about the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ quarrel with Trinity Western University. TWU hires only women and men who identify themselves as Christians. Why should the CAUT care? It is their view apparently – the association will correct me if I am wrong – that an institution of higher learning should be neutral on the subject of religion.

I do not think the CAUT denies that particular religions, religiosity as phenomenon, and the history of religious belief, are appropriate subjects of study. They are assuming that these topics require an approach from outside the parameters of faith. Well, it is an old question, centuries old: can the agnostic researcher grasp the character of religious faith? Can believers grasp principles of science and philosophy?

The two great topics of study in universities before the modern era were Philosophy and Theology. These were the ruling disciplines. And the great question was this: is there a quarrel between them? Some said yes and some said no. The question remains alive. It is as fruitfully thought provoking as ever.

The CAUT is ham-fistedly weighing in on one side of a famously contested issue.

Who appointed these national managers? Who gives them their clout?

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