Concordia University's Board of Governors and Senate on Bill 60:
Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests
December 17, 2013 – Concordia University is strongly committed to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and to the diversity of our community, and the inclusion of all individuals in public life. Concordia is proud to participate actively in the public life of Quebec.
For these reasons, the Concordia University community wishes to make known its disagreement with certain key elements of the proposed Charter of Secular Values, and urges the Government of Quebec to amend the draft legislation significantly before seeking its passage.
As a community, we have arrived at this conclusion after substantial discussion, formal and informal, over the past several months.
A number of our student associations, academic departments and labour unions have already registered their dissent from the bill or from certain of its elements.
And now our Board of Governors and our Senate wish to go on record: We disagree with Bill 60 and urge that it not be adopted in its current state.
It is true that certain elements of the bill – notably the principles of the secular nature of the state and the equality of men and women – are strongly reaffirmed by our Board of Governors and Senate.
We are, however, unable to support other key elements – such as its provisions prohibiting the wearing of religious symbols by university employees and the superintending of our policies on academic accommodation on religious grounds by a government ministry.
The prohibition against visible religious symbols would affect our more than 7,000 full- and part-time employees, many of whom are also students at the university and who depend on their employment as research and teaching assistants to help pay for their educations.
We are against Bill 60 in its current form on three grounds:
- Our particular history and current circumstances;
- The anticipated effects on recruitment and retention; and
- The democratic principle of the autonomy of universities everywhere.
Our particular history and current circumstances
Among our some 46,000 students, more than 75 per cent are Quebecers.
Concordia and its founding institutions, Loyola College in 1896 and Sir George Williams University in 1926, have served Quebec for more than a century. Among our unifying values are a profound dedication to freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience.
Today our university community represents a broad range of nationalities, cultures and faiths, and reflects the increasingly diverse nature of Quebec society.
Our 6,300 international students make up almost 15 per cent of our student community, and represent more than 150 countries. A great many of them will undertake the responsibility to learn French if it is not already among their languages, and integrate into Quebec society once they've completed their degrees at Concordia.
This broad diversity is also apparent among our faculty and staff.
We teach, study and work together in harmony. Our peaceful diversity is a great strength, and it is the future of our university.
The interaction among such a range of cultures and religions at our university contributes to the intellectual and social development of our community and to the vitality of Quebec.
It is well known that over the decades Concordia has welcomed many members of society who were in the past either excluded or underrepresented at institutions of higher learning.
We are proud of this history and our contemporary circumstances. We believe it is our future. We believe that Bill 60 puts that future at risk.
Recruitment and retention
Like all strong universities, we compete vigorously for talent.
Happily, in a recent survey Montreal was listed among the top 10 cities on the planet for the intellectual milieu created by its cluster of leading universities.
We believe that Bill 60, if adopted in its current state, would make it more difficult to recruit and retain students, staff and faculty.
We are concerned that the negative effect would include not only those whose religious faith compels them to express it visibly in their daily lives, but also those who on intellectual grounds would object to the restrictions imposed on us all by Bill 60 as it is presently contemplated.
The autonomy of universities
Historically, universities in the West began as instruments of the church. But over time that association was replaced by the modern concept of the intrinsic autonomy of academic institutions of higher learning – autonomous from both church and state.
Around the world universities often derive substantial revenues from the governments that assist them. And yet these universities are not direct units or instruments of government. Indeed a hallmark of a strong democratic society is strong, independent, autonomous universities.
Universities and their employees are not government agents. The freedom to teach, to carry out research, and indeed to criticize the state are fundamental elements of that autonomy.
For these reasons, the Board of Governors, Senate and the groups below respectfully call upon the Government of Quebec to amend Bill 60 significantly.
This joint statement is also supported by:
- Association of Concordia University Management and Administrative Employees (ACUMAE)
- Concordia Student Union (CSU)
- Concordia University Continuing Education Part-time Faculty Union (CUCEPTFU)
- Concordia University Professional Employees Union (CSN) (CUPEU)
- Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA)
- Concordia University Library Employees' Union (CSN) (CULEU)
- Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA)
- Concordia University Union of Support Staff (CSN) – Technical Sector (CUUSS-TS)
- Graduate Students’ Association (GSA)
- United Steelworkers - Local Section 9538, Loyola (USW)
- United Steelworkers - Local Section 9538, Sir George Williams (USW)