Professor has her day in court
Emily Eaton had her day in the court for her ongoing case against the University of Regina on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Eaton took the U of R to court after the university refused to provide her with information she requested about the agency funding oil and gas research at the school. Dan LeBlanc, Eaton’s lawyer, argued at the Regina’s Court of Queen’s Bench that his client’s request is valid because it contains information that would benefit the general populace. According to LeBlanc, citizens are unable to discuss the benefits, or otherwise, of the fossil fuel business on Saskatchewan’s educational system because they do not have adequate information. LeBlanc proposed that freedom of information requests are important to the identity of democracy in the province.
Defending the university was Erin Kleisinger, who stated that the university has refused to change its stance on the case to ensure that the institution’s workspace remains competitive and secure. Kleisinger noted that by revealing the names of the project’s funders, academic freedom could be jeopardized as a result of the project’s controversial nature. The university, however, did not offer any definition of academic freedom and relied on affidavits from the Head of Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy, Glenys Sylvestre, Vice President of Research, Kathleen McNutt, and Director for Research, Innovation and Partnerships, Sally Gray.
“We were trying to make the argument that an absence of a robust definition of academic freedom makes it hard to know whether their opinions should be elevated to the status of the law,” said Eaton.
Eaton, who remains unconvinced about the university’s defence, worries that the university’s policy on the issue is sending a dangerous message to the rest of the world. It is particularly a matter of concern to Eaton that despite the plethora of options available to a private institution to carry out a discreet study, they have chosen to do so at a public institution.
“I think the university is maintaining some weak arguments. I hope it was clear to the judge that it is actually the private research that is more harmful to academic freedom.” Eaton said after her court case.
Granted the busy schedule of the court, the judge will most likely make her final verdict sometime this summer. Regardless of what the verdict turns out to be, Eaton’s act of tenacity has and will continue to inspire students and staff of the university and beyond. Sepase Tersoo-Gwaza, a fourth-year student in the university’s department of geography and environmental studies, is one of those who supports Eaton’s effort.
“I think Dr. Eaton is showing students a good example to follow by living the passion for her work. I’ve been privileged to take a class with her, so I am not surprised by her fight for transparency nor her tenacity. She truly walks the talk and that’s the kind of character which brings about progress in the world. It is about making progress in the right direction and Dr. Eaton is showing us how to fight for that.”