The suspension of two professors from Université Laval (UL) for their comments on COVID-19 vaccines brings up the issue of academic freedom, as a law to better protect it was passed in June. This situation confirms the importance of the same, believes the Minister of Higher Education, who invites universities to comply quickly.
Patrick Provost, a professor in the Department of Microbiology-Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Laval University and an RNA expert, was suspended without pay for eight weeks in mid-June because of comments against the scientific consensus on Pfizer and Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccines.
A second biology professor, Nicolas Derome, was also suspended for eight weeks without pay, according to the daily. The sun, for very similar reasons. He did not respond to messages from Have to.
In a written statement sent to Have to by her office in response to a request for an interview, the Minister of Higher Education, Danielle McCann, indicated that “these situations at Laval University confirm that it was necessary to legislate on this matter”. She invites “Laval University and all others to proceed as soon as possible” to comply with the law passed in June on freedom in the university context.
“The law provides that each university must, within a year, develop a policy and create a commission to follow up on the implementation of the policy and analyze complaints regarding academic freedom,” she says. “The law also specifies that this freedom is exercised according to standards of scientific rigor,” she adds.
Laval University had not yet sent its reaction at the time of writing these lines. For its part, the Office of Inter-University Cooperation declined to comment.
An “important test” of academic freedom
While some applauded the university’s decision, the Laval University Teachers’ Union (SPUL) in turn filed a complaint to defend Patrick Provost.
“When you say something that doesn’t make scientific or factual sense, it’s your colleagues who will strongly reject it,” he said in an interview with Have to the president of SPUL, Louis-Philippe Lampron, who is also a professor of law at Laval University. When it is the university that sanctions, this seems to us to be very problematic. »
“They’re treating this as a stealing or plagiarism situation, and for us, it’s fun. It’s not a question of research integrity,” he says.
Without being able to comment on or confirm the case of Nicolas Derome, Mr. Lampron mentions that “the cursor is placed in the same place for any teacher who finds himself in a situation comparable to Patrick Provost”.
“In our case, before the law was passed, we were among the universities that had the most robust definition of teaching freedom”, he specifies. This is broadly defined in the collective agreement and takes up the main elements of article 3 of law 32. we filed,” she said.
Not all professors are protected by a collective agreement, hence the importance of implementing the law as quickly as possible in universities, believes Yves Gingras, scientific director of the Observatory of Sciences and Technologies at the University of Quebec in Montreal. He also served on the Cloutier commission, which focused on academic freedom.
It welcomes the minister’s reaction, which invites universities to act swiftly to comply with the law, namely through the creation of a commission to hear complaints.
“When you are unionized, the union has to agree to file a complaint, as was the case in this case,” he says. But some unions refuse to defend teachers […] There will be two doors open for union members and only one door for non-union”, he added.
Louis-Philippe Lampron, who is also an expert on human rights and freedoms, is not aware of a situation like that of Patrick Provost, which would have been dealt with in the Administrative Labor Court. “So this would be a first,” he said. It is an important test of academic freedom. »