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Friday, November 14, 2008

Academic freedom is under attack in Calgary

Western Standard guest columnist Joseph Quesnel reports on a troubling case of academic censorship in Calgary.

Mont Royal College political scientist Frances Widdowson believes she attracted the attention of the Women’s Caucus within the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) after giving a presentation on aboriginal policy at the CPSA’s annual meeting in June 2008. The Women’s Caucus has now introduced a motion to regulate "hate speech" at academic conferences and enforce guidelines for professional conduct at panels during annual meetings that would cover all participants.

Quesnel writes that...

The motion is believed to stem from an academic presentation by Widdowson on aboriginal issues, in which she commented on the negative influence of political correctness in academia, particularly within the area of aboriginal politics. Things have gotten so bad, she said, that scholars are presenting indigenous spiritual wisdom on the same level as research based on rigorous scientific standards. She also argued that in their rush to promote aboriginal “liberation,” academics are actually contributing to ongoing marginalization of aboriginal peoples by ignoring notions of historical progress or evolution, as well as the “development gap” existing between aboriginal hunter-gatherer societies at the time of colonization and European civilization. Widdowson also argued that these claims were part of creeping “post-modernism” within academia that denies verifiable truth, even within science. Truth is not universal, post-modernists often claim, but socially constructed. And to ‘de-colonize’ political science, one must include indigenous ways of viewing the world, even if these ways are rooted in spiritual concepts or outside physical reality.

“I am still trying to get to the bottom of this, but it is difficult because the CPSA's Women's Caucus is an amorphous body, which means that no one has to take responsibility for anything,” says Widdowson. “Attempts to crack down on ‘offensive speech’ are highly subjective and can be used to stop people from saying things that are scientifically valid, but unpopular."

For the full story, read “Academic freedom is under attack in Calgary” here.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on November 14, 2008 in Freedom of expression | Permalink


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Great job on digging this up. Somehow it all seems eerily familiar...

Posted by: Emrys Graefe | 2008-11-14 11:12:33 PM

Good god, I hate left-wing academics.

But credit where credit is due: Charles Taylor, a Canadian, leftish philosopher (as I read him) resists the idea that western, "theoretical" (including scientific) understanding is superior to more traditional modes of understanding...but even he admits that the theoretical way of understanding the world gives you a pretty big bang in terms of the way it eventually allows you to _control_ the world in increasingly sophisticated ways.

Being able to control nature may not be "everything", but it is certainly a lot. It's hard to argue that there isn't a connection between understanding nature in terms of a set of increasingly comprehensive laws and being able to control it.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-11-15 1:22:24 AM

We were getting smarter up until about 1950 then we have been getting stupider ever since and this is more evidence of that phenomenon.

Posted by: John V | 2008-11-15 11:14:41 AM

This is so typical of our leftist fascists. When you do not like the truth, call it hate speech and make it illegal. It used to be that if an educated person disagreed with a statement, the person would provide evidence that the statement was not true. Of course that required intelligence and effort.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-11-15 6:26:36 PM

Terrence, relativity and quantum mechanics put paid to the idea of an easily comprehensible universe a while back, so - with respect - I am not sure that's the most useful way to unpack this particular issue.

Essentially, scholar Widdowson brought up a forbidden topic: The role of political correctness in robbing aboriginal peoples of the benefit of constructive criticism of attitudes, values, beliefs, ideas, and policies.

Put simply: If we can't fail, we also can't pass. If we can't be wrong, we also can't be right. If we can't have bad ideas, we also can't have good ideas.

Lots of folk in academia benefit from the can't-fail, can't-pass world - I would hardly be surprised if many of them are not even aboriginal.

I am even less surprised if some beneficiaries experience a serious critique of their comfy world as "hate speech."

But I think that aboriginal Canadians, given an opportunity, can respond effectively - not merely defensively - to critiques. That's the best way to benefit from them.

Posted by: Denyse O'Leary | 2008-11-17 4:39:52 PM

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