COVER

THE SILENCERS

A NEW WAVE OF REPRESSION IS SWEEPING THROUGH THE UNIVERSITIES

TOM FENNELL May 27 1991
COVER

THE SILENCERS

A NEW WAVE OF REPRESSION IS SWEEPING THROUGH THE UNIVERSITIES

TOM FENNELL May 27 1991

THE SILENCERS

COVER

A NEW WAVE OF REPRESSION IS SWEEPING THROUGH THE UNIVERSITIES

The departure of Jeanne Cannizzo from her teaching job at the University of Toronto followed charges of racism—and persistent and vocal pressure by her opponents. During the summer of 1990, Cannizzo, a respected anthropologist, curated an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum that depicted the often-humiliating treatment Africans suffered at the hands of white colonialists. Although the exhibition was meant to be critical of the white colonization of Africa, some protesters denounced it as racist and mounted demonstrations outside the museum. Later, when Cannizzo began lecturing at the U of T’s Scarborough campus, more protests erupted. Students disrupted her class and hurled insults at her. Desmond Morton, a prominent Canadian historian who is principal of the U of T’s suburban Erindale campus, said that the university authorities did nothing to help Cannizzo because under a new, rapidly unfolding moral order, it is considered unacceptable for a white person to be critical of minority groups. He added that the champions of the new restrictive order are saying, “ ‘Nobody is allowed to do anything I disapprove of.’ ” Said Morton: “On one occasion, a large black male chased Cannizzo down the hall. If she had been teaching calculus to whites, it never would have been tolerated.” Across Canada and the United States, many academics and people in other walks of life are finding themselves on the defensive for falling afoul of what some politicians and academics refer to as the “politically correct” posture on

issues and ideas of the day. With temperatures rising, students, political activists and intellectuals are demanding, among other things, that seemingly disparaging references to color, sex or sexual preference be banned. As well, political correctness embraces a number of liberal causes—from feminism to homosexual and native rights. Their critics say that many of these groups believe that male-dominated Western civilization is the source of almost every evil in society, from violence against women to environmental pollution. For her part, Judy Wubnig, a philosophy professor at Ontario’s University of Waterloo who is in-

volved in a campaign to stop the spread of the politically correct movement in Canada, says that many university lecturers are frightened that they will come under attack. Said Wubnig: “If I give a bad grade to a student from a minority group, then I could be assailed as a racist.”

Targets: In recent months, the politically correct reformers have launched attacks in Canada on a wide range of targets. In a speech in Winnipeg in March, internationally renowned artist Alex Colville described how feminists at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., protested the use of one of his paintings to illustrate the

university calendar because, they said, the work reflected a sexist attitude towards women. In the same month, at a gathering in Vancouver of leading North American Shakespearean scholars, some feminists criticized the 16th-century playwright for being sexist and racist. At the University of Western Ontario in London, controversial psychology professor Philippe Rushton, who has suggested that blacks are inferior in intelligence to other races, is the target of student protesters who want him suspended. Even though many of Rushton’s academic colleagues regard his views as objectionable, some defend his right to be heard. Said Rushton: “The thought police with their codes of conduct are just around the corner.”

In Ottawa earlier this month, academic deans from 16 Ontario universities met partly to discuss political correctness and the threat that it poses to academic freedom. Said Thomas Través, dean of arts at Toronto’s York University: “People have legitimate concerns about the curriculum, staffing and hiring arrangements.” Través added that most of the deans attending the meeting took the position that a middle ground had to be found that would balance “academic freedom against genuine intellectual challenges, which are part and parcel of a whole range of social and cultural questions.”

While the politically correct movement has stirred controversy on many Canadian campuses, its influence has been even more strongly felt at American universities. Pressured by the reformers, at least 16 major U.S. colleges have abandoned the teaching of traditional courses, including the origins of Western civilization, as a requirement for graduation, and have replaced them with so-called social justice courses on such subjects as feminism and Third World studies. And in some cases, professors who object to the new conformity are heckled into submission or refused full-time professorships (page 44).

Pressure: Some social commentators say that outside the hallowed halls of academe, a popular movement in North American society is putting pressure on individuals to abandon habits that were once widely accepted. Groups demanding reform in the name of good health and issues ranging from animal rights to environmentalism are responsible for growing pressure against cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, high-cholesterol foods and even the wearing of furs and leather. Critics say that the result of the various reformists’ demands amounts to a new kind of Puritanism (page 48).

In Canada, critics say that the politically correct movement is growing steadily more influential. While the reformist leaders are often lecturers or junior professors, many students say that they fully support the call for change.

Alex Roslin, an editor at Montreal’s McGill University undergraduate newspaper, said that among his fellow students there is a demand for “progressive change.” Added Roslin: “The debate for those against political correctness is really over left wingers squeezing out right wingers.

The issue is that white heterosexuals have run our society f for a long time.”

For his part, Dennis Forcese, vice-president of academic affairs at Ottawa’s

Car letón University, said that he is disturbed to see many students accepting the politically correct line. “Students are quick to move from a moral position to something that becomes censorship,” Forcese added. “But people should not be intimidated into silence and therefore fail to find the correct basis for a moral position.”

Under pressure from the forces of political correctness, the University of Waterloo’s Wubnig and others say that members of university teaching staffs now are careful not to make jokes or unguarded statements about women, homosexuals or members of racial minorities. Nor is it safe, they say, to voice opposition to the ideals of the new reformers. As a result, Wubnig and others say that students and teachers who fear being denounced as racist, sexist or biased against homosexuals are being forced into silence. But Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, who has a senior appointment with the women’s studies programs at both Ottawa and Carleton universities, and who is the author or editor of several books on women’s issues in Canada, said that people like Wubnig are overreacting and that the balance of power in society still rests overwhelmingly with white males. Said Hofmann Nemiroff: “Hopefully, we can get some real changes.” But she acknowledged that “we may be seeing a backlash” against the forces of political correctness.

At the same time, Canadian and American universities have begun to introduce codes of conduct that some professors say will restrict

‘ALL WE‘RE SAYING IS THAT PEOPLE CANT BE BIGOTS A’

what teachers can say, or not say, on certain subjects. Some professors say that if they even mention an author’s sexual orientation during a discussion of his work, they could leave themselves open to attack. A set of revised guidelines drawn up by an administrative committee at the University of Toronto would define “sexist behavior” in the classroom as a form of sexual harassment. Under the guidelines, which the University Affairs Board is currently considering, sexist remarks by a professor could be grounds for a complaint to the univer-

sity’s sexual-harassment officer and for possible suspension.

A similar code of conduct already exists at the University of Western Ontario. It makes sexist humor and language grounds for complaint and provides for formal hearings that could ultimately lead to suspension. Under Western’s code, derogatory remarks about a person’s sexual orientation could lead to complaints. Said Douglas Jackson, a psychology professor at Western: “I have to measure my words carefully.”

Much of the pressure for change on campuses is coming from women, who are filling more university teaching posts partly because of federal and provincial employment-equity programs. As well, feminist studies now are among the fastest-growing areas of research and study on curricula. At some universities, senior academics are taking special steps to increase the number of women on staff. Peter Schouls, acting chairman of the religious studies department at the University of Alberta, for one, says that to increase the number of wom-

en on staff in his department, which now has 13 men and no women, he does not intend to hire any more full-time male staff members until there is parity.

As they gain strength on campuses, some women and other followers of the politically correct philosophy are demanding changes in the way students are taught—and in what they are taught. And Hofmann Nemiroff said that the traditional curriculum, which places maledominated European civilization at the apex of human achievement, often only reinforces

what she says is a destructive male bias in society. Hofmann Nemiroff says that “we have to make the curriculum fair” by giving students greater access to female writers.

As the battle heats up, Shakespeare and other writers and artists from the past are coming under attack because some feminists and other critics say that they embody white male views. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which was once viewed as a comedy about a spirited woman who becomes a submissive wife, is now seen as an example of male subjugation of women. Andrew Taylor, a professor of English at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., said that Shakespeare is not likely to disappear from English literature courses on Canadian campuses. But Taylor said that rather than being taught as an example of great writing, the playwright’s works will increasingly be used to teach about the evils of male-dominated Western society. According to Taylor, the debate over courses based on Western literary and cultural traditions has reached the point where, for some people, male

writers and philosophers from the ancient Greek thinker Plato to the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant have become “symbols of racism and sexism.”

One of the tools the new reformers use in their attack on traditional cultural values is a critical technique known as deconstruction. In Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man, author David Lehman writes that “to deconstruct is to debunk, systematically, rigorously, ruthlessly.” The term, Lehman added, essentially means that “there are no truths, only rival interpretations.” Typically, academic reformers use the method to attack the works of traditional writers to reveal what some deconstructionists say is the sexist and racist content of their plays and poetry.

The reformers attack modern works, as

well. Feminists at Acadia University wrote letters of protest to the university administration denouncing one of Colville’s realist paintings. Called Western Star, the painting shows a man standing beside a large transport truck, photographing a fully clothed woman. The Acadia protesters said that the painting made the woman resemble a physical object, like the truck. Last week, Colville, 70, said that there is a new conformity developing. Added Colville: “They are bullying people to make them line up with their beliefs.”

Battle: While feminist critics have steadily gained influence at universities, black and other non-white students are also demanding change. The most bitterly fought battle waged so far by the forces of political correctness in Canada erupted last summer over the Royal Ontario Museum’s exhibition on white colonialism, entitled Into the Heart of Africa. Organizers said that the exhibit, which displayed photographs of 19thand 20th-century Canadian explorers, missionaries and colonial administrators in Africa, was intended to show in a

critical light the white colonial mentality of the period.

But protesters who picketed the museum said that photographs showing vanquished African warriors and pictures that depicted Africans in servile activities were demeaning to them. The protesters, largely black students and off-campus activists belonging to a group called Coalition for the Truth About Africa, also denounced anthropologist Cannizzo personally.

Insults: The denunciations continued in the fall of 1990, when Cannizzo started teaching at the University of Toronto. On one occasion, a black student shouted insults at her in her classroom, while other students attacked her about the exhibit. Cannizzo, who said that she was shattered by the experience, subsequently left the university on an extended medical leave of absence.

At the University of Western Ontario, Rushton continues to be dogged by protests. Rushton has claimed that there is a link between race, intelligence and sexual behavior, and many students and faculty members say that he should be removed from the university. Rushton became the target of protests in 1989 after he presented a paper outlining his racial theories at a scientific conference in San Francisco. Rushton, who is still conducting his research at Western, claims that on average, Orientals rank highest in intelligence, while whites come second and blacks last. Although there have been strong demands to dismiss Rushton, Western’s Jackson said that some staff members have defended Rushton’s right to state his views, no matter how objectionable they might be to some people. Said Jackson: “There is a prevailing sentiment against Rushton. But cooler heads saved him from politics.”

Meanwhile, academic observers say that federal and provincial employment-equity policies have become a major force in challenging the dominant role that white male professors and administrators have traditionally played at universities. Under the Federal Contractors Program, any institution receiving a federal contract of more than $200,000 is required to bring the number of men, women, members of racial minorities and handicapped persons into a ratio that reflects their representation in the Canadian workforce as a whole, which is still dominated by Canadians of European background. Because 29 of Canada’s 56 universities receive at least

$200,000 a year in federal contracts, the program has had a dramatic effect on the makeup of university staffs. But while the sexual balance among university teachers is rapidly changing, men still dominate the profession.

Still, some male academics claim that hiring quotas are destroying merit as the principal basis for hiring and promotion. As a result, about 200 Ontario academics signed a petition asking Premier Bob Rae’s NDP government not to include Ontario universities in its employment-equity program. (Rae’s government is

considering the petition.) Some male faculty members say that forced hiring quotas are fracturing the university along gender lines. The process, said Cameron MacKenzie, a philosophy professor at the University of Alberta, is “tribalizing the university.” As a result, Wubnig says that many academics—fearing that codes of conduct and the prevailing politically correct atmosphere will leave them open to attacks similar to the one launched against Cannizzo—have been silenced. She said that many male professors now will interview female students or talk with some female faculty members only in the presence of witnesses. And MacKenzie said that some profesS sors on his campus who =1 oppose the forces of change u are reluctant to reveal their I attitudes. MacKenzie said e that a petition signed by 137 members of the teaching staff at the university last month demanded that the university hire and promote only on the basis of merit. But he said that many professors refused to sign. Added MacKenzie: “Lots of people with tenure are scared to speak up.”

‘Bigots’: Meanwhile, some university students say that white male faculty members have simply been asked to step aside and allow other viewpoints to surface. Gregory Sewell, editor of The Varsity, the official University of Toronto undergraduate newspaper, said that students will no longer accept a traditional curriculum based on the assumption that male-dominated Western civilization is unassailable and represents the highest level of human achievement. Said Sewell: “All we are saying is that people can't be bigots anymore. What a shame.”

Still, those who oppose the forces of political correctness say that they fear the new reformers will stifle democratic processes—and bury a rich cultural tradition in the name of equality. The reformists, said MacKenzie, pose “a threat to democracy. There is a hatred of Western tradition among many intellectuals. They are saying that our entire intellectual tradition is wrong. What arrogance.” But as the struggle between the two sides intensifies, Canadians will increasingly have to occupy the middle ground— taking the most worthy ideas from the 5 reformers, while keeping the best of the Western tradition.

TOM FENNELL with correspondents’ reports