Always a Zero-Sum Game?

Exploring the Tensions Between Academic Freedom and Anti-Oppression

Organized by Dr. Ummni Khan, the Joint Chair in Women’s Studies (Carleton University and University of Ottawa), this one and a half day symposium aims to create open and respectful dialogue about the tensions — real or perceived — between academic freedom and anti-oppression principles. Using concrete examples when these two principles have clashed at Canadian universities, stakeholders with divergent viewpoints will discuss the incident, analyze the broader political implications, and develop strategies for how to better respond when such conflicts arise in the future.

  • When: Monday, September 24, 2018  1:00 pm – 4:30 pm and
    Tuesday, September 25, 2018  9:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • Where: 2017 Dunton Tower, Carleton University
  • For more information, please email: jcws@carleton.ca
  • RSVP here.

Free event. Lunch and refreshments provided. Accessible venue by elevator in Dunton Tower.

Conference Program


For the past year, the conference organizers have held a series of focus groups that addressed ongoing tensions between academic freedom and anti-oppression. In this presentation, panelists share the experience of grappling with this fraught topic among people who hold divergent viewpoints. We outline the challenges of having difficult conversations, and invite all attendees to consider the risks and opportunities that come with this dialogue.

  • 2:30 pm Break

Events that convey criticism of Israeli state action towards Palestinians have garnered much debate and conflict on campus.  Bracketing the substantive issues, this panel explores how we negotiate between academic freedom and claims that campus events, speakers or professors are generating actual harm or making the campus unsafe for some of its members.

  • 4:30 pm Closing Remarks


How can professors teach sexual violence given that some survivors are triggered by the topic? The panel will consider this challenging area by addressing such issues as: trauma-informed pedagogy; trigger or content warnings; academic freedom for professors who believe sexual assault issues are an essential part of their curriculum; and the extent to which singling out sexual assault reifies the issue as more traumatizing than other crimes.

  • 10:30 am Break

What are the most urgent expression-related issues facing Indigenous scholars? Are their problems with “academic freedom” rhetoric which is divorced from issues of accountability? This panel probes such questions, considering the discourse and the implications of ‘academic freedom’ for Indigenous studies and scholars.

  • 12:15 pm Lunch

In 2017, Andrew Potter resigned from his post as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada after accusations of “Quebec bashing” circulated based on an article he published in Maclean’s magazine. Many believe this was a forced resignation. The panel will not engage with the substantive issues with the article, but rather, will consider the limits and boundaries of academic freedom for speech published outside of universities when it is considered hateful or harmful.

  • 2:45 pm Break

In 2017, Rebecca Tuvel (a white cis woman) published “In Defense of Transracialism” in the feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia. Many people perceived the article as harmful to the transgender community and the overlapping women of colour community, and there was a call for its retraction. This panel grapples with the issue of academic freedom when a peer-reviewed publication is experienced as harmful and violent by marginalized communities.

  • 4:45 pm Break
  • 5:00 pm The Government’s Campus Free Speech Mandate: What does it mean for Academic Freedom & Anti-Oppression?

The closing panel for the symposium will be an open dialogue that reflects on the broader implications of the symposium, and applies our insights to current events and future strategies. In particular, we will outline and address the recent Ontario government requirement that all universities implement and monitor a free speech policy by January 2019. Professor Stacy Douglas will lead participants in a discussion about this new obligation, and how we might move forward in advancing the goals of both anti-oppression and open dialogue.

  • 6:00 pm End