Statement of Academic Freedom

Background

The basis for Sheridan College’s commitment to academic freedom is found in a fractious group of English exiles living in Amsterdam in the early 17th century. In confrontational tracts and sermons, the first Baptists were among the earliest advocates in England for two foundation principles of modern democracy: freedom of conscience and freedom of association.

Persuaded of human fallibility and suspicious of interpretive creeds, Baptists asserted that truth should not be delivered by an authoritative church and enforced by the state, but discovered through personal investigation and embraced according to one’s own conscience. They were strident critics of coercion in religion, arguing that the state’s authority should be limited to worldly matters, fulfilling its God-given mandate to establish and preserve a just and free society.

Baptists were equally committed to defending the rights of individuals and churches to freely associate with one another on the basis of shared beliefs, and to separate from each other if those beliefs diverged. Argumentative and independent, Baptists lived out freedom of association with enthusiasm, planting democratically-governed churches, moving into voluntary associations while retaining local church autonomy, uniting and dividing over confessions, causes and personalities, even as the state continued to harass them as dissenters from orthodoxy.

Baptist experiments in democratic governance and free association were influential models in the formation of modern democracy and open academic institutions. The Rhode Island colony charter enshrining political democracy, the separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience, was a blueprint for the United States constitution. When England’s medieval universities denied entry to students who did not belong to the Church of England, Baptists formed their own associations and started their own academic institutions. Baptist ministers Isaac Backus and John Leland were influential advocates for freedom of religion during the American Revolution. In the 20th century, the Reverend Martin Luther King’s inspiring oratory and non-violent campaign for civil rights helped bring an end to decades of government policy enforcing black segregation.

Religious liberty, freedom of conscience and freedom of association continue to have immense relevance for the 21st century, and it is in the context of its rich Baptist heritage that Sheridan College affirms the following five principles of academic freedom:

 

Principles of Academic Freedom

  1. Truth – All truth is God’s truth, and God has enabled human beings to discover his truth through biblical revelation and human investigation of the natural world. Faculty are free to seek out truth within their fields of professional competence in lecture theatres, in their research and publications and in their public statements. Faculty should exemplify intellectual honesty by striving for accuracy and making appropriate use of evidence, by carefully examining ideas and subjecting their work to critical scrutiny, and by questioning established knowledge when new evidence emerges.
  2. Voluntary Association – Sheridan College affirms the rights of scholars in a democratic state to freely associate and cooperate around a shared set of core principles. The College will sustain an intellectual community where faculty may engage freely in rigorous academic inquiry within a scholarly tradition shaped by orthodox Christianity, as reflected in the Sheridan College Confession of Faith. The College asserts that scholarly activity undertaken from within an orthodox Christian identity will advance knowledge and enrich academic disciplines, benefiting the local, national and international communities.
  3. Humility– While affirming the truth of the Bible and the natural world, the College recognises that people are fallible and may interpret the Bible, ideas and data imperfectly. Since no individual or institution can possess a complete knowledge of truth, College representatives will maintain a humble stance towards the existing body of knowledge and retain a lifelong commitment to, and engagement in, further discovery. Faculty should respect each other’s opinions and the opinions of those outside the College and defend the rights of others to hold different views. Faculty will not impute or imply beliefs to others that are not supported by evidence or claimed by the other person or organisation.
  4. Hospitality– Sheridan College welcomes students and visitors of all faiths and none into its community. In contrast to “tolerance” which entertains the presence of competing worldviews while denying validity to their claims to ultimate truth, the Christian virtue of “hospitality” acknowledges that real differences between worldviews exist, and in doing so creates a space for genuine dialogue and engagement to take place. Hospitality builds trust, leads strangers into friendship, and requires that neither the host nor the guest forsake their worldview while instructing and learning from the other around a shared table (see Hagstrom, 2006).
  5. Responsibility– Sheridan College scholars are encouraged to offer conscientious public comment in their area of expertise. Academic freedom is not an end in itself but is to be exercised responsibly with due regard for the mission and values of Sheridan College. Representatives of the College should be conscious that their public statements may lead others to form impressions of the College and its employees, the academic profession and the Christian faith.

In the context of the above principles, faculty have the right and responsibility to exercise their professional and personal judgment in teaching and research. They are encouraged to disseminate the results of that research without undue interference from the College administration or from outside institutions and individuals. Should a complaint be made to the College, the administration shall protect faculty from requests to retract or modify their research, publication, or teaching. If any member of the faculty believes that their academic freedom has been unreasonably constrained, they may pursue resolution through the Sheridan College Staff Grievance Policy.

Link to List of Sources for SC Statement of Academic Freedom