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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Canadian Universities, where supporting students' fragile emotions is more important than teaching them

The free-speech wars have broken out again. The battlefield this time is the little campus of Acadia University, located in bucolic Wolfville, N.S. The villain of the piece is Rick Mehta, an associate professor of psychology who's been teaching there for 14 years. Critics call him a free-speech absolutist whose outrageous views are endangering the safety and security of his students. He calls himself an independent thinker who offers different perspectives to challenge the prevailing narrative. This week, we learned that the campus administration has launched a formal investigation to determine just how dangerous he is. A letter he received from Heather Hemming, the vice-president of academic, said that the administration had received too many complaints to ignore. "The university has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment," it said.

We've been down this road before. You'd think that universities have learned a thing or two from the Jordan Peterson debacle. The University of Toronto's efforts to stifle Prof. Peterson backfired badly by helping to turn him into the Western world's foremost martyr to free speech. He's a rock star. Sensibly, the university is now leaving him alone.

Prof. Mehta is an unabashed Peterson fan. He, too, likes to whack away at current campus pieties. He has also said that Indigenous policies have fostered a victim mentality, and that he, personally, does not feel guilty for the wrongs done to historic populations before he was alive. (As an immigrant of East Indian descent, he can hardly be accused of white privilege, either.) The bill of indictment also includes statements he has made on social media, and sometimes in the classroom, about men and women and the fact that their career interests tend to differ. He thinks that the pay gap is largely fictional, that immigration policy needs vigorous debate and that introductory psych courses (such as the one he teaches) largely ignore the role of intellectual ability in determining social outcomes. In the real world, none of these views are particularly radical, and some are empirically correct. But in the hothouse world of today's universities, they are automatically racist, sexist and hateful...

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