2019 Campus Freedom Index: Ontario universities improve, but federal funding fuels new threats to free speech on campus

The Justice Centre today released the 2019 Campus Freedom Index. First published in 2011, the annual Campus Freedom Index provides students, parents and the public with data about the state of free speech at 60 Canadian public universities.

A full explanation of the Campus Freedom Index grading methodology is found here. Each university receives four letter grades: one for each of university policies, university practices, student union policies, and student union practices. Using a five-tier letter scale—A, B, C, D and F—the Campus Freedom Index grades universities and student unions on their stated policies (what they say) and their practices (what they do).

With 240 grades awarded to 60 campuses, Canada’s universities and student unions in 2019 have received only five A grades, which is unchanged from 2018. Four universities earned a ‘A’ grade in 2019 – one less than 2018. Only one student union (Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union) earned a ‘A’ grade in 2019—an increase from zero in 2018.

While the number of ‘A’ grades remains unacceptably low, the 2019 Campus Freedom Index reports that, for the first time since recording began, the total number of ‘F’ grades earned by universities and student unions dropped by double digits, from 35 in 2018 to 24 in 2019.

While the total number of ‘F’ grades has decreased significantly in 2019, five universities earned an ‘F’ for the first time. Memorial University, Ryerson University, University of Calgary, University of British Columbia and University of Winnipeg earned new ‘F’ grades in 2019 for failing to protect free expression on campus, based on either their policies or their practices. The McMaster Students’ Union and the Lakehead University Students’ Union also earned new ‘F’ grades in 2019.

Federal Government funding rapid expansion of campus Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (EDI) programs, putting free expression at risk

The 2019 Campus Freedom Index is the most comprehensive edition to date, providing new data from research into the increasing efforts by universities to promote ideological advocacy under the guise of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programs. The federal government promotes EDI on campus through Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Institutional Capacity-Building Grants. The Campus Freedom Index reports that universities are expanding EDI programming in order to qualify for these grants, to include mandatory trainings (for students, faculty and staff) on “anti-oppression” and “unconscious bias” strategies. The first round of funding was distributed to 15 small universities and colleges, each receiving between $200,000 and $400,000 from 2019 to 2021. Some institutions have already declared what they’re going to spend the money on: OCAD University vows to invest in more campus diversity training sessions, even though all incoming students are already required to sit through anti-oppression training at orientation, and all faculty receive mandatory anti-oppression and Indigenous Cultural Competency Training. At the University of British Columbia, the EDI office staffs more people than the President’s Office. As documented in the Campus Freedom Index, such programs and offices are often catalysts for unjust censorship of free expression rights on campus.

This new research, compiled by Justice Centre Campus Free Speech Fellow Lindsay Shepherd, unveils a growing threat to freedom of expression on campus, and increases awareness about the federal government’s efforts to fund university initiatives that put free expression at risk.

Marked improvement in policy framework at Ontario universities following Ford Government reforms

The 2019 Campus Freedom Index reports a marked improvement to the state of free speech at Ontario universities, following the implementation of new regulations requiring universities to better protect free expression on campus. Of the twenty Ontario universities surveyed in this report, ten universities have improved their grade in the Policies category. Many universities have passed new policies adopting the main tenets of the Chicago Principles, providing students, faculty and guests with clear policy protections against censorship and mob disruption. However, six Ontario universities continue to receive grades of ‘C,’ ‘D,’ or ‘F’ in the Policies category, due to other policies which unfairly restrict the free exchange of ideas on campus. Further, the Ford Government’s reforms failed to protect students at two Ontario universities, McMaster and Lakehead, when student unions censored expressive activities on campus. The Justice Centre urged the Ontario government to require universities to hold student unions accountable when they censor free expression on campus, but most Ontario universities maintain a policy of non-interference with student government affairs.

The master chart of grades for each of the 60 universities and student unions surveyed can be found here.

The 2019 Campus Freedom Index is housed in its own interactive web-database. CampusFreedomIndex.ca includes comprehensive reports on free speech at each of the 60 universities and student unions surveyed. At CampusFreedomIndex.ca, users can quickly find and share information on the state of free speech at their campus. They can compare their rankings with other universities across the country and better understand why their school got the grades it did. CampusFreedomIndex.ca also enables students, professors and concerned citizens to take action and fight back against campus censorship.

Released jointly with the 2019 Campus Freedom Index is a new report to inform university students about their legal rights on campus. Resisting Censorship on Campus explains the legal basis for students’ free speech rights on campus, and the processes by which students can assert their legal rights in the face of censorship by their university or student union. This resource also encourages students to contact the Justice Centre for pro bono legal advice and assistance. Resisting Censorhip on Campus is also summarized in a brochure.


Read the full findings at www.campusfreedomindex.ca!