Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The University of Toronto's hypocritical, selective interest in Academic Freedom and Free Speech
Yesterday, the University of Toronto acceded to a request from Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson to have a public debate about Canada's Bill C-16. Among Peterson's concerns about that piece of legislation is the fact that it's worded so it could be utilized to turn the use of a pronoun, if a transsexual to whom it was addressed didn't feel it was appropriate, into a crime. (Yes, Canada has legislators who are that preposterous.)
The request was a victory, but a hard-earned one by Peterson and his supporters, and it came about not because of a commitment to academic freedom or free speech by the University. It was quite the opposite. The University capitulated to intense public and media criticism after they first attempted to deprive Peterson of his free speech rights and academic freedom.
This episode reiterates the hypocritical, selective approach the University of Toronto takes to these critical benchmarks of an intellectual climate, and respect for the rights of individuals and groups, or lack of such, it affords to its students and instructors.
Peterson has been at the center of a maelstrom of controversy after recently making YouTube videos in which he proclaimed he would refuse to use pronouns he thought were ideologically driven perversions of language-usage. Singled out were those people who demanded to be addressed as "they" or some made-up pronoun because they deemed themselves "gender non-binary persons."
It is critical to the understanding of this issue to recognize that while transsexual issues have become very prominent in the media in the last year, as a percentage of the population, they are exceptionally rare. Within that minuscule sector of the populace, those who identify as "gender-non-binary" are rarer still. Most transsexuals identify as either male or female and prefer the use of "he" or "she."
It's also important to note that other than in the extraordinarily rare case of hermaphrodites, there is no biological evidence that gender non-binary people exist outside of their own belief. It is a psychological or psychiatric condition rather than a biological sex.
But we now live in times where radical activists and their ideologies drive legislation and will aggressively, sometimes violently stomp on the rights of anyone who disagrees with them.
In this case, the first response of the University of Toronto's administration came in the form of two threatening letters from senior administrators to Peterson, in which they urged his silence about and compliance with policies he found morally deplorable.
It was only after a public outcry and scathing media criticism that the University switched directions and acquiesced to Peterson's request to have a public debate on the issue.
The attempted suppression of Peterson, who did nothing but assert his own rights to use language within the normal confines of English usage and biological realities, contrasts sharply with University of Toronto's responses to instances where its institutions and professors were engaged in hateful, discriminatory practises. In previous instances, the University vigorously defended the academic freedom of those engaged in overt hatred and discrimination. But the difference is that in those cases, the University of Toronto defended the right to direct hatred towards Jews.
In 2010, a major controversy arouse out of a thesis promoting ethnic bigotry that was the basis of a Master's Degree awarded at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education(OISE). The thesis, by a Jenny Peto (who has since metamorphosed into "Ben" Peto) asserted that Holocaust education programs were part of a Zionist conspiracy to promote Israeli interests and further Jewish "whiteness." Its demented conclusions resembled a modern re-working of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and its laughably shoddy scholarship was based in large part on the author perusing a pair of websites. It was condemned across party lines in the Ontario legislature, including by Liberal Cabinet Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, and it brought the academic standards of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education into disrepute, turning it into a laughingstock.
But rather than the threats and attempts at stifling that Jordan Peterson received for his exercising basic rights, U of T defended the awarding of a Master's Degree for antisemitic tripe. In that instance, the U of Toronto did not investigate the hatred and bigotry promoted at OISE and the bullying of students who don't submit to orthodoxy of accepted radical notions of anti-western so-called "social justice." Instead, U of T doubled down by making an anti-Israel, Marxist crackpot who was a featured speaker at an "al Quds Day" antisemitc jamboree as OISE's new head of "Social Justice education."
Was that a one-off at the University of Toronto? No, it was not.
At around the same time that Peto was writing her deranged tome, an Assistant Professor at U of T's school of Social Work by the name of Rupaleem Bhuyan, it was discovered, took institutional antisemitism to a new level. She fostered a classroom discussion where students complained of "rich Jews," and even participated in a "Jew count" of faculty. A student complained about the professor's racism and Bhuyan was confronted by the school's Director of PhD Programs about it, During that confrontation, Bhuyan protested, according to Professor Adrienne Chambon, that, "‘racialized’ students come from underprivileged backgrounds and were justified in not wanting to be around old Jews because they are rich and would make them uneasy. " According to Chambon, Bhyuan also asserted that donor plaques at the university were all from rich Jews, which she felt proved her point.
Did the University do anything to remove that bigoted, nontenured instructor out of its teaching environment? No. It did the opposite and awarded her a tenured Associate Professor's position while effectively ostracizing and driving out the Director of PhD Programs, Professor Chambon and Professor Ernie Lightman, who first brought the issue to the administration's attention.
From these and Peterson's plight, we can learn two important things about the University of Toronto. One is that if you want basic rights there, you have to stand up for them, often in the face of vigorous institutional opposition. The other is that it's most likely to only defend your rights if it thinks you're a "politically correct" victim, and in those cases, the victimhood need be only in your head.
UPDATE (Nov 6/16): It will come as no surprise that the University of Toronto has put severe free speech limits on the free speech debate it agreed to hold at Jordan Peterson's request. Despite the compromise it entails, Prof. Peterson intends to participate nonetheless, because of the critical importance of ensuring the public can examine some of the issues involved in the curtailing of free speech by legislation and within academic culture.