Academic freedom is under attack (National Post, January 12, 2005)

Canadian students in the arts and social science departments of our universities are being recruited to the hyperorthodoxies of multiculturalism, feminism, Marxism, postmodernism and bio-politics. Proponents of these ideologies prefer social engineering and the subversion of Western values to the advancement of learning and respect for Western achievements. Furthermore, today's welfare campus fosters a culture of comfort/grievance for women, aboriginals, other visibly distinct races and all sexual orientations: for everyone, that is, except Americans, Israel-sympathizers and heterosexual men of European descent.

Last month I posed a series of questions about ideological harassment in academia. I asked students if it is still possible to get a classic, broadening education in public universities today. The vast majority of the 100-odd respondents to my unscientific poll say no. More than 90% agree that campus political correctness generates a frosty anti-intellectual climate hostile to academic freedom.

Out of 500,000 university students in Canada, 100 responses is a picayune representation. Yet every anecdote reflects an opinion or behaviour exposed to a classroom of between 20 and 300 students. Multiply that figure by every class the same instructor offers per semester, and then factor in a lifetime of teaching. Consider how many students are actually affected when an individual student reports that:

- Comparative Politics teachers wouldn't admit The Economist (in one case) or Fraser Institute reports (in another) as source material because of their "right wing, biased writers";

- An International Relations professor pronounced political realism as a method of inquiry "dead" and inadmissible in argumentation;

- Political Science students taught by a feminist were not permitted to use statistics to bolster an argument because "mathematics is a male construct for a male-dominated world";

- A professor in a course on terrorism said: "No educated person can support Israel ... educated people don't have those kinds of views."

- A feminist teacher in a school of nursing insisted that her male students participate in a "Montreal Massacre" commemoration. When one refused (on the grounds that he is no more responsible for Marc LePine's sins than his teacher is for Karla Homolka's), he was made to submit to corrective counselling.

My poll tells me that students are no longer offered "the best which has been thought and said in the world," the traditional mantra of humanities professors. Left-wing ideologies have turned all but the hard sciences into hustings for the social empowerment of collectivities rather than groves of academic freedom, where individual students are owed -- with scholars hired on merit to teach -- a liberal education.

I didn't hear only from students. Ideological harassment is a two-way street. Several academics wrote with harrowing tales of university careers derailed or ended by well-coached (and anonymous) student grievance collectors, and some even by their colleagues and/or university administrators. Graham L. Smith, a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario, won an award for excellence in undergrad teaching, yet, "I have had my course grades changed arbitrarily, been accused of being a fascist and been told I am brain-washing students, all because I present a dynamic perspective that challenges the hegemony of the present paradigm."

The "present paradigm" is bound to blunt the ambitions of any young academic striving to meet a traditional ideal of ideological neutrality. Last semester a McGill student took "Canadian-American Relations since 1939." Her instructor, a PhD candidate, was "the most gifted teacher I've encountered at McGill ... I haven't the faintest idea where he stands politically.... and that's exactly how it should be.... he received outstanding evaluations." She goes on to say that he was replaced this semester by a "more qualified" teacher who said all Canadian-American relations since 1939 would be viewed "through a gay/lesbian/transsexual lens" and that they would devote part of the course to "lesbians who are claiming refugee status in Canada after Bush's re-election." How long will it be before the "gifted" teacher gives up, and abandons -- or is pushed -- from academic life?

Parents of students wrote to remind me that indoctrination begins well ahead of university, citing instances of secondary school aggression their children are ill-equipped to resist. In one case, a mother of a Grade 12 student sent me a copy of a simplistic questionnaire her son's class was made to fill out to assess their respective stances on social issues: "[B]ased on the answers to 10 or 12 questions [they] were categorized as to their political sympathies. [My son] was humiliated when the teacher publicly labelled him a Nazi for having a conservative viewpoint."

In a recent Post column, Susan Martinuk quoted Abraham Lincoln: "The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of governance in the next." Not a comforting thought in the age of political correctness, but my job isn't to comfort. I will be returning to this subject in future columns.

© National Post 2005