Author: Mark Mercer

Mark Mercer ( is a professor of philosophy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

Hands Off My Syllabus!

The course outline or course syllabus is a teaching tool. Since it is a teaching tool, what it contains should be entirely up to the professor. Professors’ prerogatives with regard to their syllabi should be protected by academic freedom guarantees. Well, that’s in an ideal world. In the real world, in order to balance what […]

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Regrets, I’ve Had a Few

In early October 2020, a visual arts professor at the University of Ottawa spoke to her students about the phenomenon of subversive resignification. She mentioned as an example the word “nigger.” (She also mentioned “queer.”) One of her students complained to the university. In response, the university put the class on hiatus for a couple […]

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A Blithe Spirit

On the one hand, universities should seek talent wherever it exists and without concern for credentials or professional values. On the other hand, the academic milieu is strange and difficult, and those brought into universities who have had little experience of it might well dislike it, and that could harm it. These two hands matter […]

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Say What You Please, Even If You Don’t Back it with Reasons

Professors, students, and all other members of an academic community should be free from sanction to say what they please. Freedom of expression should be guaranteed in official university documents, including, of course, collective agreements. Guarantees, though, are not worth much if the university’s culture is hostile to freedom of expression. One duty members of […]

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Respect the University

My university, Saint Mary’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia, makes a lot of noise about respect. We have a Safe and Respectful Saint Mary’s working group that issues reports and recommendations now and again, a Policy on Conflict Resolution that directs members of the university community to contribute to a respectful environment, and even a senate-approved […]

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Bad Words at Ottawa U

How should academic administrators respond when offended students complain to them about their professors or courses? In late September, in her course Art and Gender, Verushka Lieutenant-Duval mentioned the word “nigger” as an example of a word used to denigrate a class of people that was then taken up by that same people. Dr. Lieutenant-Duval […]

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