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Universities fear Alberta gatekeeping bill will threaten academic freedom

A national organization of post-secondary teachers is calling on Alberta to either change a proposed gatekeeping bill or scrap it altogether.

The bill would give the province the right to veto federal agreements with provincial bodies, including post-secondary schools.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers says such political intervention threatens academic freedom given Premier Danielle Smith has said she wants to ensure funding aligns with provincial priorities.

Executive director David Robinson says research is best served when based on scientific merit rather than political ideology.

“Applying a political litmus test to research funding is an unprecedented attack on scientific independence, research integrity and academic freedom,” Robinson said. “Bill 18 opens the door to political censorship that has no place in a democratic society such as ours.”

Smith believes the federal government intervenes in federal funding for post-secondary research, prioritizing left-leaning projects.

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“That’s what I’m worried about is, are we creating a narrative because the federal government is only funding certain types of research,” Smith said over the weekend on Your Province Your Premier.

“Do we need to use our provincial spending power to make sure that we end up with more balance?”

Click to play video: 'Alberta law would require provincial permission for city deals with feds'

Alberta law would require provincial permission for city deals with feds

Earlier this week, other academics in Alberta voiced their concerns over the proposed bill.

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“I believe it will create barriers to funding the important research our academic institutions do,” said Dr. Andy Knight, an international relations professor with the University of Alberta.

Appearing at a news conference with the Alberta NDP, the political scientist said his research has been supported by Conservative politicians Ralph Klein and Peter MacKay.

“I wanted to find ways to end genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing,” Knight said. “It’s not motivated by political partisanship.”

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Researchers apply for federal funding through peer-reviewed, non-partisan agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Two PhD students at the University of Alberta crunched the numbers from that council to see what it funds.

“Even within the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funding, management, business and administrative studies received more dollars than disciplines the UCP would consider ‘more Liberal,’” PhD student Andrea Dekeseredy said.

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Dekeseredy is currently looking into labour and delivery care in rural Alberta. She fears for her research.

“We do what we do to make our province a better place. That funding allows us to continue doing our work.”

There has not been consultation on the proposed legislation. The province said that will be done over the summer.

“I’m going to gather all the data from the post-secondaries and from the publicly available information to make that it can at least have a starting point to analyze all of the grants and the funding that has come in to see if there is indeed a problem,” Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney said earlier this week.

The bill is still being debated in the legislature. It is expected to be implemented next year.

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Robinson says if the bill passes, his group will explore going to court to challenge it.

— with files from Global News.

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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