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Principal Fortier is the Hero McGill University Needed

  On February 13th, the board of directors of the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) rejected a motion that would have removed Arts Undergraduate Society representative Igor Sadikov from the board. This was in response to a tweet that Sadikov had sent out on February 6th, which encouraged people to “punch a Zionist”. While Zionism can be seen as a contentious issue, it is not the political connotations regarding Zionism that should have been questioned. What should have been the focus of the situation was that an elected representative of the McGill University student body incited violence towards some of the very members he represents.   At the February 13th meeting, representative Jasmine Segal came under fire for simply stating that Sadikov’s tweet was hateful. Supporters of Sadikov were present in the gallery at the time of this meeting, and had the audacity to call for the removal of Segal based purely on her support for Zionism. Simultaneously, none of the Executive members of SSMU had the courage to condemn the comments being made towards Segal.   At this point it was clear that SSMU had failed Jasmine Segal, failed Zionists, and failed the McGill student body. McGill University became the laughing stock of Canada, as it managed to garner enough attention that satirical news source The Beaverton published an article on the situation. Luckily for McGill students, McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier had the courage to stand up to SSMU. Reports indicate that Fortier had informed the Executive members of SSMU, that if they did not recommend the resignation of Sadikov, she would issue a public statement condemning SSMU’s inaction and would consider taking legal action against them, resulting in a loss of funding.   Yesterday, February 17th, hours after meeting with Fortier, days after the vote not… Read More

Why universities should cherish the civil liberties

Some people want others to refer to them using non-gendered or atypically gendered pronouns. Some hold that neither “he” nor “she” accurately applies to them. Others prefer that our common language didn’t irrelevantly indicate one’s sex. Favourite non-gendered alternatives are “they” and “ze,” while “he,” “she,” and “vhe” allows for a third sex or gender. University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson has stated publicly that he will not honour student requests to use non-standard pronouns. One line of argument behind Peterson’s refusal is his view that there are just two human sexes, not three or four or a continuum, and that no one is both male and female. To refer to someone as “vhe,” then, is to imply something about them that one might believe to be false. The University of Toronto has directed Peterson to accede to students’ requests to use their preferred pronoun. In a letter dated October 18th, Dr David Cameron, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, and Dr Sioban Nelson, the Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life, tell Peterson that “the refusal by a teacher or colleague to use the personal pronoun that is an expression of the person’s gender identity can constitute discrimination.” Refusing requests by transgendered people is, they add, “contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination.” If I had my way, every university in Canada would commit itself to supporting any member of its community who through exercising a civil liberty becomes the subject of a human rights complaint. I want to make three points about Cameron and Nelson’s position. 1. It is far from settled whether current or pending human rights legislation implies that failing to honour people’s pronoun preferences constitutes wrongful discrimination or harassment. 2. By insisting that such behaviour is wrongfully discriminatory… Read More

National Debt Clock Tour Raises Awareness

  When considering students and debt, most tend to think about student loans. However, members of one student organization tend to think more of the big picture; they see students as future taxpayers who will one day inherit the governmental debts from current and previous generations. And this group is pulling out all the stops to make sure that other students see with their own eyes the dire state of government finances across Canada.   Generation Screwed is a non-partisan student group that operates on 27 university campuses across Canada. Working as an initiative of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation (CTF), they argue that debts, deficits, and wasteful spending today will all have to be paid off later by coming generations with interest. These advocates for fiscal responsibility stress that governments are spending away their futures.   To convince others of this rallying cry for fiscal prudence, Generation Screwed launched the Generation Screwed Debt Clock Tour across several university campuses. On this tour that ended last Friday, they partnered with the CTF to bring the “National Debt Clock,” to campuses in Quebec and Ontario.   Leading this campaign was Aaron Gunn, the CTF’s Director of Special Projects and the Executive Director of Generation Screwed. According to Gunn, the purpose of the tour was to “…raise awareness to students who don’t realize how big of a burden they’re being left by politicians spending money out of control.”   The tour functioned by bringing the debt clock to university campuses where local Generation Screwed coordinators showcased the size and the real-time increase in the federal (or their province’s) debt. This put the debt situation into context for students who may not otherwise be aware of the size and gravity of the situation.   And, for the most part, the reception from students was… Read More

Technology has a place in classrooms, but it shouldn’t be a crutch used by lazy professors

My article “Pass, Fail” in The Walrus seems to have triggered a massive response from readers, most of it approbative but some of it highly critical, in several instances verging on being ad hominem. Happily, this not the case with Darryl Whetter’s “The Kids Are Alright.” He does not agree with my argument, but nor does he condemn it. Rather, he attempts to think about it critically. I offer the following brief remarks in response to his concerns. Darryl Whetter’s criticism of my article consists of two substantial assertions and two corollaries. First the assertions: (1) Technology has not had the deleterious effect on education I claim it has; (2) neither student ability nor university education per se has declined over the past several decades in the way I suggest. As to the corollaries: (1) Professors who endorse either or both of these assertions may be nostalgic, narcissistic, and perhaps even ill-inclined toward contemporary students; (2) my article indicates that I am such a professor. I’ll address Whetter’s substantial assertions directly; I’ll leave the matter of the corollaries to the readers’ judgement. First, nowhere in the article do I offer a wholesale critique of technology or of its role in university education, as Whetter suggests. Nor am I against technology in the manner in which the comparison of me with Bernard of Clairvaux implies (the prostitutes aren’t “student e-distraction.” The students are the mill workers. The prostitutes are those who profit from their misfortune—the lower ranks of the administrative cast, the student services cabal and the e-cheerleaders.) Insofar as I have a critique of technology, I’d be inclined to agree with Jaron Lanier—technology is merely a tool, and should be thought of and used as such. To think of it as being more than this—as salvation, as the most important… Read More

The rise of the “activersity”

It’s an uphill job, the campus social justice circuit. It isn’t just a matter of showing up with some signs and megaphones and hollering, maybe disrupting the odd speech with a little horn-blowing or firebell-ringing. It takes organization and passion and energy. Most of all it takes time. Righteousness can even take a toll on one’s health, it seems. I happened upon a recent article in the Brown University Daily Herald, entitled “Schoolwork, advocacy place strain on student activists.” Here I learned from an undergraduate identified only as David, who confronts issues of racism and diversity on campus, that “There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on.” David himself is a good example. He confides to the reporter that his commitment to social justice has resulted in dramatically reduced grades, lost weight and a regimen of antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills. Another student, Justice Gaines, has similar problems. Once, feeling compelled to take part in a protest, xe (sic) “had a panic attack and couldn’t go to class for several days.” What helped Gaines to manage both xyr (sic) schoolwork and activism was deans’ notes deferring assignment deadlines. Usually deans are quite amenable to issuing these notes and professors equally amenable to accepting them. But sometimes - sometimes - they are not. It was a Thursday, as student Liliana Sampredo remembers it. She had a research presentation that was supposed to be completed that week. But she was also part of a group that was activating for revisions in the university’s “diversity and inclusion action plan.” She felt her activism should take precedence on her schoolwork, so “I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week.” But the professor denied her request. And… Read More

Parliament, not student unions, should vote on boycotting Israel

Students at McGill University will soon vote, once again, on whether the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) should endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks to place an economic boycott on the state of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.  Members of Parliament will soon vote on the same issue.  For Parliament, this is an important international question, entirely within the federal government’s responsibility over foreign policy.  For a student union, it’s juvenile grandstanding. McGill is not alone.  Student unions at York, Ryerson, Concordia and others have all passed motions endorsing BDS, thus diverting student union money and resources towards ideological goals that not everyone agrees with. BDS is not the first issue to be taken up by Canada’s student unions. In recent years, student unions have also endorsed positions on bottled water, abortion, “Silent No More,” Pride, “misandry,” fossil fuels, “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land,” and a not-so-diverse collection of other issues.  Some student unions go even further by placing an outright ban on groups, lectures or events representing alternative views that don’t align with the views of student politicians.  This has made it necessary for two university campus clubs, Speak for the Weak and Students for Life, to sue their respective student unions at the University of Toronto Mississauga and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.  In both cases, the student unions denied club recognition to these student groups because of their pro-life stance on abortion. Successful endorsements enable activists to claim that they represent the entire student body in wanting to boycott Israel, or ban water bottles, or support Pride. They obtain a form of “democratic legitimacy,” in spite of the fact that fewer than twenty percent of students actually vote in student union elections. The result is that a very… Read More
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