The November 2010 issue of University Affairs welcomes its readers with a rather eye-catching, if predictable, cover story, “Racism in the academy,” by Harriet Eisenkraft, in which up to 20 academics from across the Canadian university landscape are interviewed and cited in support of the sweeping allegation that “many non-Caucasian scholars still feel excluded or denied opportunities” in our universities. After five decades of official multiculturalism and three decades of mandated employment equity, Peter Li, a professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan, says that racism is still a pervasive (not a “random” or incidental) feature; “regularized and embedded in the social process” of Canadian academic hiring, promotion, governance, research, and in the curriculum.
Dr. Li is hardly a lone voice. Malinda Smith, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, maintains that, for all the programs and the offices created in the name of equity and diversity, attention to issues affecting minority scholars are still “perpetually deferred.” The article states that every new report on systematic racism has had the unfortunate effect of producing a “backlash.” According to Audrey Kobayashi, a professor of geography at Queen’s University, one of the effects of the backlash “is to prevent progressive people from acting progressively” in the universities.
These are her words; I am not trying to be amusing. How can the most leftist institution in Canada be accused of curtailing the efforts of progressives to fight against “structural racism”? This is exactly the point: the preponderance of progressives in the faculties of arts across Canada is the very ground sustaining and encouraging these outlandish claims. In case we need to be reminded again, “studies in both nations [Canada and the United states] confirm that the humanities and social sciences are dominated by scholars with left-wing opinions and values” (as Christine Overall, cross-appointed with the department of philosophy and women’s studies at Queen’s, had acknowledged in an article, “Lefty Profs,” published two years ago in University Affairs).
It is well known that progressives have been able for decades now to exercise their control through domination of hiring committees and the imposition of politically correct speech codes designed to exterminate dissent. Dr. Li is not some isolated figure fighting for racial justice; he belongs to a department dedicated to teaching students to “think critically about the world around them” and “committed to link the aims of the discipline with the mission of the University of Saskatchewan”. Saskatchewan, like many universities in Canada, officially calls itself a “progressive university” committed to “employment equity” for women and visible minorities.
Of the 15 full-time faculty members teaching in Dr. Li’s department, eight are females, and three of the males, together with Dr. Li, are visible minorities of Asian origin. What is more, most of these members have research interests that touch on race, ethnicity, multiculturalism and social inequality. Among the many socialistic colleges, programs, and departments housed in Saskatchewan are: “Discrimination and Harassment Prevention,” “Family Medicine,” “Indian Teacher Education Program,” “Native Studies,” “Women’s and Gender Studies”.
A similar set of facts can be adduced for all the academics cited in this article. Jeffrey Reitz, who claims that white people tend to trivialize the experiences of minorities as unimportant, is director of ethnic and immigration studies at the University of Toronto, housed in a department in which the research and teaching areas are singularly left-oriented in character: “health and mental health,” “networks and community,” “gender and family,” “crime and socio-legal studies,” “immigration and ethnic relations,” “stratification, work, and labour markets.” Constance Backhouse, who wants universities to “take the lead” in dismantling the “mythology” that Canada is a “race-less” society, belongs to the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa, wherein the “Message from the Dean” states categorically and imperially that research and teaching are expected to be pursued “in a progressive atmosphere where issues of social justice are at the forefront of student and faculty concerns”.
This influence of progressives over our universities may explain why few of the specialists cite any solid evidence to substantiate their claims. Working within an audience of true believers, they have grown accustomed to soft-ball questions and easy endorsements. Pretty much all the “evidence” cited is anecdotal, based on “feelings”, and in no way the foundation for making a “systemic racism” allegation. The one meagre fact offered is that “about 14 percent of faculty positions are held by visible minorities, whereas 24 percent of all PhD-holders in Canada are visible minorities.” It does not take statistical expertise to realize that this claim is devoid of any meaning unless one offers a system-wide, representative set of statistical indicators on all the positions held by all ethnic groups, on all the PhD-holders, on all the academic openings in the last few decades (rather than merely looking at the ethnicity of academics who were employed decades ago), on all the number of actual applicants for jobs, and on all the respective qualifications of the applicants.
The universities of Canada have worked like a gold mine for progressives. Many of the professors cited in the article have multiple research grants, contracts with government departments, awards for research and teaching, are fellows of the Royal Academy and, in at least one case, is a member of the Order of Canada. I could go on for pages citing their academic honours. University Affairs might have done its readers a greater service publishing an article entitled “The Racism Industry in Academia.”
One would think that after decades of widespread employment equity and the creation of entire departments and programs dedicated to the grievances and resentments of minorities and women, these academics would have some achievements to call for. Then again, why give up on what has been a most remunerative profession? Can these specialists do anything else? They don’t care much for Western high culture. Their research and teaching interests stand in direct opposition to the Greek discovery of rational argumentation, the Roman legacy in jurisprudence, the invention of polyphonic music in medieval France, the invention of linear perspective painting in Renaissance Italy, the invention of the novel in modern Europe, the calibration of uncertainty in Europe (1565-1657), the rise of Galilean and Newtonian science, and indeed the invention of Liberalism and Democracy.
What really matters for progressives is not equality of opportunity as a right but equality as a fact and equality as a result. This is why they have started advocating a way of thinking about merit consistent with “equity and diversity.” Grace-Edward Galabuzi, associate professor in politics at Ryerson, thinks that “When you have a critical mass of PhDs in a whole range of disciplines, the issue of whether you have to choose between [race] representation or quality [is] moot.” Tom Patch says “excellence in the academy requires equity and diversity.” The goal, it seems to me, is to enforce some racial or sexual balance rather than to encourage intellectual openness and variety. Professor Backhouse even says that those administrators who fail to make progress on diversity should be condemned as “not meritorious.” Excellence requires agreement with her agenda.
Anthony Lising, a professor of education at Stanford University, says that non-whites are better at integrating knowledge and political activism than whites — from which observation he suggests that they are rather excellent scholars. Others advise that the curriculum should place less emphasis on European culture, find new ways to adjudicate qualifications by advertising jobs in “community” papers and relying on “personal contacts” for hiring purposes. Dr Kobayashi wants nothing less than a campus-wide strategy commanding every faculty to offer an anti-racism course or a full program so that all students can learn about white racial attitudes.
Looking at the courses offered in Canadian universities, one wonders if the attempt to teach Western high culture is itself now seen as offensive. It is difficult to think of ethnic and gender courses as requiring any mental discipline internal to themselves apart from the foregone ideological conclusions for which they were created in the first place.
White academics welcome this blanket indictment against the “unearned privileges of white faculty” – to use the heading of a letter published in the subsequent issue of UA (December 2010), by Susan Gingell, professor of English at Saskatchewan. There were two letters published in this issue in response to Eisenkraft’s article; by Gingell, in which she suggests that whites are failing to recognize their “racialized privileges,” and by Baljit Singh (quoted in the article) in which he compliments Eisenkraft’s “balanced story.” Never mind that not a single contrarian view was mentioned in this article. In the “comments to this article” in the UA website, there are four comments currently listed (Dec. 5, 2010), each of which agrees with the accusations.
White progressives firmly believe that these impressionistic and anecdotal allegations are legitimate. Peggy Berkowitz, the editor of UA, calls them “serious” and praises Eisenkraft’s attentive journalistic habits. Not a few academic minorities – all too human as they are – have welcomed this state of affairs.
Indeed, racism has become a catch-all explanation for many of their everyday difficulties: the struggle to achieve good grades, publish articles, handle students who are skeptical of leftist policies, or just plain coping with bad affairs and unfriendly people. Whites and progressives don’t mind castigating the “structural racism” of the institutions they inhabit and operate daily. The culprit is not any one of them in particular, but the “structures” of Western culture, the family, capitalism, white masculinity, and the classics. The generations paying the price for an education based heavily on a “Studies” curriculum – Mothering Studies, Environment Studies, Peace Studies, Asian Studies – are the students coming out with a BA believing that truth is only a reflection of one’s own ethnicity and sexual orientation.
Dr. Duchesne is a professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John campus.