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CAUT criticizes SSHRC president in open letter

June 15, 2009

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has released an open letter criticizing SSHRC president Chad Gaffield’s handling of a controversial funding issue. After being urged to do so by Minister of State Gary Goodyear, Dr. Gaffield has asked the organizers of an Israel-Palestine conference to provide information for a review of the decision to provide roughly $20,000 to help fund the conference. Critics of the move have alleged that the request for review violates SSHRC funding guidelines and practices, and is especially offensive given the overt political interference by a government minister. The CAUT letter addresses Dr. Gaffield:

Your action of requiring the conference organizers to immediately provide you with a list of all changes to their program since their grant was awarded violates SSHRC’s own policies and legitimates the Minister’s unprecedented and unacceptable political intervention in SSHRC’s peer-reviewed granting process… As President of SSHRC, you have an obligation to uphold the integrity of the academic grant awarding procedures of SSHRC that are designed to ensure that peer review, not political considerations, guide SSHRC’s decisions.

After calls for Goodyear’s resignation went unheeded (were ignored altogether, frankly), critics are hoping that pressuring Dr. Gaffield will help preserve academic independence from political second-guessing by science and research ministers. They argue that the heads of the arm’s length granting agencies need to stand as bulwarks against this type of direct political interference, to maintain the traditional separation of politics and academic freedom. The letter urges Dr. Gaffield:

When asked by the Minister to review SSHRC’s peer-reviewed approval of the York University conference, you should have pointed out to him that his request was inappropriate — that every minister before him had understood it was unacceptable to bring political pressures to bear on academic decision-making.

In an apparent effort to please the Minister, you chose to disregard SSHRC’s Grant Holder’s Policy that specifies any changes other than a major change to the theme of the conference are to be provided in the organizers’ report of activities submitted at the conclusion of the grant. Instead, you demanded the information now so as to comply with the Minister’s request. Whether or not you allow the funding to go ahead, your actions have legitimated political intervention that sullies SSHRC’s record of commitment to standing behind its peer-reviewed decisions.

If you want to make Dr. Gaffield aware of your concerns, you can reach him by email:

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