National Post Barbara Kay: U of T student faces petition to revoke academic award because he is conservative

National Post - Thursday February 4th, 2021

Photo by Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network
Arjun Singh a highly intelligent and ambitious young man who has come under attack for stating views that are by no means outside the boundaries of acceptable speech

Academia is so dominated by progressive dogmas that most students and professors who hold conservative views keep them on the “down low” to avoid being censured by the thought police. But a diminishing few still boldly thrust their heads above the parapet.

We find an example of this endangered species in Arjun Singh, a University of Toronto political science student whose extracurricular activities include work as a compliance analyst with the U of T-affiliated G7 Research Group and serving as the deputy director of the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He’s clearly a highly intelligent and ambitious young man.

Singh is a recipient of the Department of Political Science’s David Rayside award, which gives preference to “students who have demonstrated commitment and leadership in co-curricular activities, on or off campus,” and who have contributed “to greater public understanding of social and cultural diversity and enhanced inclusion of historically marginalized populations.”

The latter criterion is where the canker gnaws for the U of T Equity Studies Student Union. It is calling for the revocation of the scholarship and urging students to sign a petition to that effect. After receiving a letter from Singh’s lawyer claiming the petition contains comments that are “hateful and designed to lower the estimation of Mr. Arjun Singh in the community and at the university,” ruled that it violated its community guidelines and cleared the petition of all personal references. A process is also underway to remove identifiers in a second, equally problematic petition.

More ominously, 13 2019-20 political science awards beneficiaries, including five Rayside recipients, penned a letter to various U of T honchos voicing their indignation and requesting the scholarship be rescinded. They claim Singh’s writings and social media postings, as well as his actions and beliefs, are “exclusionary and harmful” to “racialized minorities, women, Indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities (and) sexual minorities.” As proof, the petitioners adduce numerous inculpating quotations from Singh’s blog and Twitter feed.

Some of Singh’s tweets were indeed provocative. It’s entirely within bounds to hold firmly conservative views on, say, irregular border crossings, but Twitter is an unforgiving medium for unnuanced and unpopular views. Singh is smart enough to know that his in-your-face calls to action to “enforce the rule of law” at the border would be received as gratuitously inflammatory, and could easily have toned them down — unless inflaming progressives was his objective. In which case, mission accomplished, but blowback was inevitable.

The extrapolated comments from Singh’s blog posts that were included in the letter are another matter, as they are extremely misleading. Singh is a conservative, and his blog posts express ideas that are not the least bit hateful or “harmful,” as the letter claims. Taken in full, they are — or should be considered — well within the parameters of rational polemic.

For example, in their letter, the students claim Singh objects to “survivors” as a term for victims of sexual violence because, in the majority of cases, “a victim may make a physical recovery from the incident.” But Singh did not make that causal link (“because” is the word used in the letter, not by Singh).

His argument is: “Before anything else, it is necessary to make a correction in terminology from ‘survivors’ to ‘accusers.’ While this may appear pedantic, or even insensitive, it does not intend to be … appraising an issue can only begin if its parameters are correctly identified.” The word “survivor” presumes a belief in the guilt of the defendant before he has received due process. Singh’s argument is therefore valid, and not at all misogynistic.

Last spring, Joe Biden famously told a cheeky Black journalist on the campaign trail that, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” The similar problem these signatories have with Arjun Singh, I have concluded after considering all their allegedly damning proofs in the light of their full context, is not that Singh is hateful. It is that Singh is a presumed victim of oppression who refuses to act like one.

As Singh himself tweeted in accompaniment to the second petition mentioned above, “It’s quite odd that white progressives are the first to, ostensibly, ‘defend minorities’ on issues — even when most minorities themselves are indifferent or see no problem, with the actions critiqued.” (Singh has since suspended his Twitter account.)

In academia’s social justice orchestra, harmony is all. There is no latitude for dissonance. Intersectional minorities must play the notes they see on the score. Arjun Singh prefers to march to the beat of his own intellectual drum outside the concert hall. Will he fall victim to cancel culture on that account? As of this writing, the U of T’s political science department has updated its site with the heartening statement that they “have determined that all of the scholarships were awarded in a manner that was consistent with the rules set out in the application process.”

National Post

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest response from the U of T’s political science department