This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Another Tempest in Academia

"These concerns relate to the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting and, in some instances, time that you are spending on these issues in the classroom."
"The university has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment."
"The nature and frequency of these complaints and the significance of the allegations is concerning for the university, and we have determined the necessity of proceeding to a formal investigation."
Heather Hemming, vice-president academic, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Acadia University Hall in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Peter Bleakney
"I would have no problem if people refuted me and told me I was being unreasonable, that is perfectly fine. I would love it if students just told me I'm wrong."
"I made sure I told students they wouldn't be tested on the specific materials, I just want them to think about these concepts."
"[A study showed men prefer more competitive careers] whereas the women on average tended to prefer spending time in the community."
"I'm open to criticism but the problem with the letter [from Dr. Raeside] is it's basically telling me what to do in the sense of micromanaging how I run my courses without taking into consideration it's my area of expertise."
"[Have I made racist or transphobic remarks?] Perception is very subjective. I take those issues very seriously, given my own background as a first-generation Canadian and having grown up with racism, I'm not going to do that in the classroom."
"Even if I didn't have that life experience, I just know it's morally wrong to do that in my position as a professor. For those of you following my story, let me be clear: I loathe both racism and violence in all its forms. What I DO stand with is the right of ANYONE to free speech, regardless of how reprehensible I may find it."
Rick Mehta, Associate professor of psychology
Rick Mehta.Rick Mehta/Facebook

His intention as a university professor -- lecturing and introducing students to thought concepts -- was to guide them toward becoming critical thinkers and informed citizens. Dr. Mehta has distinguished himself by being an outspoken academic on campus and on social media in a range of issues seen to be contentious; decolonization, immigration, and gender politics. He has his supporters and oppositionally, there is a contingent of 'progressives' who happen to be in the academic majority who deplore his public utterances.

Stating that multiculturalism is a scam has gained him few friends in the academic community where political correctness has become de rigueur. Stating that no wage gap exists between men and women in the work force yet another issue that irks against the grain, as is his comment that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has succeeded in helping to create a victim narrative prompting "endless apologies and compensation". His mission, he says, is that of a free-speech advocate attempting to build bridges.

"He's just sort of parroting the much more popular Jordan Peterson. He's very clearly just trying to piggyback on that to gain a certain notoriety", claims Matthew Sears, associate professor of classics and ancient history, University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, scornfully referring to the University of Toronto professor who has emerged as a celebrity after weathering a storm of criticism over his refusal to respect and use gender-neutral terms. What they both do have in common is that both are psychology professors.

Dr. Mehta's defenders value his voice as an antidote to political correctness; his critics insist he attacks the marginalized, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. The storm that has erupted yet again circling around free speech and political correctness represents another expose of the challenges universities face to balance the exchange of ideas with their perceived responsibility to keep students safe and supported; as though young adults in an academic setting require protection from challenges to the socially acceptable from iconoclasts like Drs. Mehta and Peterson.

Dr. Mehta's department head set out the details of some of the complaints students have levelled against him, emphasizing the high level of anxiety in the class that has led some students to cease attending classes, distressed by hearing provocative comments in class. The very fact that many students hear clearly politically provocative comments issued by 'progressive' professors in their classes, comments that have become the accepted norm from the perspective of the politically correct environment, and feel forced to gulp them down, represents the other side of the ledger.

"The students have not expressed in writing the precise details of the racist and transphobic comments", wrote department head Rob Raeside, "but it is clear from their interactions with me that they are extremely disturbed by your comments, some to the point of not going to class". Students, according to Dr. Raeside, have accused Dr. Mehta of spending excessive class time on non-class-related matters; using non-academic sources for lecture content; testing on content not dealt with in class or in assigned readings; and making provocative comments in class. Horrors!

"I fully understand that university teaching should expose students to a range of viewpoints and especially in a discipline like psychology some of these perspectives may be challenging to students. However, in a first-year class it is imperative that the approach be well-balanced and must be in line with published resources", emphasized Dr. Raeside rather patronizingly, urging Dr. Mehta to "stay on topic"; digressions on non-psychology topics must be relevant, never exceeding ten percent of class time.

Fortunately for healthy academic life still surviving in some Canadian universities, Dr. Mehta has his defenders:
"I hope that any student that goes to any university is made to feel uncomfortable many times. Universities are not places to go to be comfortable."
"They're places to go to be uncomfortable, to have your views challenged."
Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, Professor Ken Coates, University of Saskatchewan

"I have read many of Dr. Mehta's postings and it is difficult to see how anything in them could be construed as discriminatory or harassing. If Dr. Mehta's ideas are false or pernicious, they could be shown to be so through discussion and better ideas."
"[Acadia University's investigation represents a] frontal assault on academic freedom."
Mark Mercer, president, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, professor and chair, philosophy department, Saint Mary's University, Halifax

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