Hong Kong: Alarm over universities’ backing of national security law

More bad news regarding Hong Kong institutions and Chinese government repression:

The heads of the governing councils of Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities have backed a plan announced by Beijing last month to impose a national security law on the city, in an act that many academics see as ‘doing Beijing’s bidding’.

Some fear such statements on policies from Beijing emanating from universities could lead to the politicisation of institutions in Hong Kong, which are already polarised between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing groups.

China’s view is that increasingly violent protests over the past year in Hong Kong are a threat to national security. But when it was first revealed last month, the national security law took Hong Kong and the world by surprise – in particular because it would be imposed directly by Beijing on Hong Kong, in contravention of treaties allowing Hong Kong to keep freedoms separate from mainland China under the policy of ‘one country, two systems’.

A resolution was passed in the 28 May session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), to draft the law to prohibit “acts of subversion, succession, terrorism and involvement with foreign interference in Hong Kong”. It would also allow China’s security intelligence agencies to operate in Hong Kong.

The joint statement released on 1 June by the chair of the governing councils of eight Hong Kong universities said: “As residents of Hong Kong, we enjoy the protection provided by the state, and in turn have a reciprocal obligation to protect the state by supporting the introduction of legislation which prohibits criminal acts that threaten the existence of the state.”

”We therefore support the national security laws which will operate under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, to better ensure universities can continue to create knowledge through research and learning,” it added.

Council statement followed a more limited statement

But hours earlier, university vice-chancellors and presidents of five of the eight universities – Hong Kong University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Lingnan University and the Education University of Hong Kong – issued their own joint statement which said: “We fully support ‘one country, two systems’, understand the need for national security legislation and value the freedom of speech, of the press, of publication, of assembly and other rights the Basic Law confers upon the people of Hong Kong.”

The Basic Law is Hong Kong’s mini constitution.

Conspicuous by their absence were the signatures of the heads of City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. City University sources said the university administration sought to “separate education and politics” while backing the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.

A separate statement from Baptist University President Roland Chin was a more subdued version. “We highly appreciate the importance of national security and Hong Kong’s stability,” Chin said. “It is our earnest hope that the national security legislation will continue to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.”

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said: “The council is the highest ruling body in any university so adding the council means doubling down on this protestation of support for Beijing. Usually the [university] president would be enough.”

Lam said he assumed the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong had put pressure on university presidents to profess public support for the national security law. “In the NPC discussion about Hong Kong they emphasised a need to boost patriotic education, so education is very important for the Chinese government. They are very keen to have [university] presidents sign up to this profession of support for Beijing,” Lam told University World News.

“This is standard [Communist] Party strategy to prop up its legitimacy by showing its policies have ‘support’,” said another CUHK academic. “Beijing wants to show that their hated national security law has support of respected academics and academic institutions.”

A proportion of university council members are directly appointed by Hong Kong’s chief executive, who also acts as chancellor of all the publicly funded universities. The two statements came just before a trip to Beijing on 3 June by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other top Hong Kong officials, reportedly to discuss the new law.

Carrie Lam said last week her administration would fully cooperate with Beijing on the legislation, which will be enacted in Hong Kong without any input from Hong Kong’s legislature.

Precedents in issuing joint statements

Academics noted that it was not unusual for university presidents in Hong Kong to issue joint statements, though these were usually in relation to issues directly related to university affairs and student activities, particularly during the Umbrella Movement student protests in 2014-16 and student protests over the now withdrawn Hong Kong bill to extradite criminals to China, which saw weeks of unbroken protests from June 2019 to January 2020.

In June 2019, 10 university heads issued a joint statement urging calm as students began their protests against the extradition bill.

Joint statements have included a statement in November from nine university presidents criticising government demands for universities to resolve student discontent which led to major campus battles with police at CUHK and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019.

Joint statements from university governing councils are rarer, but in October 2019, in the wake of a large number of students being arrested during protests, and attempts by university heads to assist them in various ways, the heads of eight university governing councils in Hong Kong issued a joint statement saying assistance provided by universities to arrested students and staff did not represent any support for their political views.

In September 2017, 10 university presidents and vice-chancellors issued a joint statement condemning “abuses” of freedom of expression after some students put up banners advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China. “We do not support Hong Kong independence, which contravenes the Basic Law,” that statement said.

Beijing demands support

Beijing-backed groups in Hong Kong have been exhorting companies and organisations to publicly support the proposed law, including civil servants, police and immigration officers, as well as canvassing individuals to sign a petition in favour of the law.

“Calling on university administrations to back the law proposed by Beijing is not the Hong Kong way of doing things. This law is not directly part of campus governance. Instead, it is the Communist Party’s common practice of co-opting groups and individuals to show allegiance and support of the party,” said one normally outspoken academic who asked in this instance to remain anonymous. “Hong Kong’s universities are autonomous; they should not be backing political positions decided in Beijing.”

Lokman Tsui, assistant professor at CUHK’s school of journalism and communication, said via Twitter: “As a professor at CUHK I want to express my opposition to the national security legislation. I am concerned it will harm Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, press freedom, academic freedom and the rule of law that underpins these and other freedoms.”

Well-known Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai, who was arrested on 28 February, along with other major pro-democracy figures on charges of illegal assembly, and was later released on bail, referred to the joint statement by the five university heads in a tweet: “This is the end of academic freedom in HK. Higher education was once a paramount institution in defending our freedom to pursue knowledge.”

As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

This article, like so many, would benefit from some hard data to back up the assertions. Are there any studies on the number of university students without a computer? Without web access? Are international students less likely to have computers and web access than Canadian ones? Unlikely, given how they remain in contact with family.

Not to say that there are not digital and other divides but more than anecdotal evidence required before advocating for greater resources:

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that in times of turmoil, decisions made for the greater good can have collateral impacts. It’s becoming evident that efforts to contain the virus and limit social distancing are increasing precarity for some people, especially those already in socio-economically disadvantaged positions. Universities are not immune to these collateral impacts, and last week’s decision by most Canadian universities to finish the current term by moving pedagogical components online is one of those times when a small segment of students will be neglected in a move meant to benefit all of them.

The decision is a show of resilience and solidarity by our higher education institutions. But the problem is the digital divide among students. Even in our great cosmopolitan country, not everyone has equal access to the web and all its resources. This digital divide was on the radar a few years ago, with a push to bring broadband to remote constituencies. But less attention has been devoted to the divide in urban settings, and especially within the hubs of knowledge that are universities.

Yet, as is becoming apparent to education professionals like me, the digital divide exists among our students, and, like everywhere else, it reflects deeper socio-economic, gender and race inequalities. Existing disparities influence who are the “haves” and “have-nots” of information and communication technology. Our universities and student bodies are a microcosm of broader society; they reflect society’s divisions. Though digital disadvantage affects Canadian students, we also have a class of students, often from abroad and often women, with little to no economic safety net in Canada, who can be more cut off from the privileges of our affluent and digitally connected world. Though they are not alone in being affected by the digital divide, they are a group of students at risk of being more hurt by the online migration of teaching components.

We have made the right decision, driven by financial reasoning and the pursuit of diversity, to open our higher education institutions to increasing numbers of international students, including from the developing world. Yet we have not always reflected on the hardships many from the Global South face once they arrive in Canada, including high tuition, lack of funding during the summertime, and their need to support dependents here and abroad, which is often the case.

A number of our students cannot afford the technology that allows full access to university resources. Some students do not have data plans or connection speeds that would allow them to follow online courses, take part in virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom, or have access to the suite of online resources the university has for research.

A 2018 American study showed that students often have the basics such as a cellphone, but 20 percent of students had difficulties accessing information because of hardware, data limits and connectivity issues. Underprivileged groups were likelier to fall within this percentage. For some, their reality is far from the privileged student we often imagine, the one who can go home and be highly connected to all the digital university has to offer.

Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment?

The decision on the part of universities to move all teaching components online is thus leading to heartbreaking decisions – some of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my career. These include: Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment? There are no simple answers. Most professors are adopting a two-tiered strategy: teach online to the many, offer alternatives to the others. In doing so, we are unwillingly reproducing the digital divide and the deeper inequalities that undergird it.

We are working hard to make sure no one will be left behind, but remedial solutions are always second-rate. We can send summaries of online discussions to students who cannot join; we can offer to take questions by email, text or phone. But they pale next to discussions online or recordings of entire lectures.

And, of course, campus libraries, labs remain open – for now – in many cases. Some people will ask: “Couldn’t these students go to campus to avail themselves of wi-fi there or research course material on university equipment?” But with people being told to stay off campuses, this is tantamount to asking our already underprivileged students to accept greater risks to their health and their family’s health so they can keep up with connected students. I have worked in parts of Africa (Great Lakes region, Francophone West Africa) over the last 15 years, and I have seen how the burden of risk is often shifted to those who are most disadvantaged.

Universities have other alternatives, from adopting one low-tech strategy for all, assigning term papers and exams that are less reliant on access to online resources, for example, to simply cancelling the term. Different strategies are being discussed. But for now, courses continue, papers are still due and exams will take place – most of this happening electronically. Digital divide or not, students need to keep accessing information. And they will in all likelihood continue to do so as we begin talking about Spring and Summer terms going online.

To be sure, not all university policies related to COVID-19 have neglected those who face structural discrimination. Many institutions have taken charge of students in residence who cannot return home, though, as of writing, universities are being increasingly more strict about who they agree to keep on campus. But the decision to steadfastly move ahead with an online end of semester is one that reminds us instead that these great institutions of higher knowledge, which we often take be built on a mission of equality and access to all, remain built on important divides and forms of discrimination.

There is little we can do immediately to address these structural inequalities in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But eventually we must reflect on divides, digital and other, that are woven into the very functioning of our higher education, to address this discrimination and close the digital divide.

A first step would be to cultivate a greater awareness of the structural biases our students face. Universities talk of inclusion and like to show that students are welcome, but they fall short of understanding the real constraints some students live with, and how some of these are grounded in socio-economic, gender and race inequalities.

Measures could then be put in place, for example, to fund laptops, high speed home Internet or cellular data packages for low income students living off campus. The creation of robust funding packages throughout the year could help support international students from the Global South.

The coronavirus crisis reminds us that the use of technological tools can exacerbate exclusion and inequality. Once we have cared for our sick and moved beyond the immediate emergency, we should use our momentum for action to strive for more structurally inclusive higher education institutions.

Source: As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Of note:

Sonia Zhao had to lie, in effect, when she left China to teach Mandarin at an Ontario university.

The contract she signed with the Beijing-run Confucius Institute indicated that Falun Gong practitioners – people like her – were barred from the job. But she kept her beliefs secret and hoped she could find more freedom in Canada. It was not to be.

She says she was trained beforehand to spin Beijing’s line if students asked about Tibet and other taboo topics, while Chinese staff at McMaster University’s branch of the institute made clear Falun Gong was poison. After a year, she quit and sought asylum here, becoming perhaps the world’s first Confucius Institute whistle-blower.

“I think they’re aiming to build a really beautiful, healthy image (of China) among those students,” Zhao said about the institute’s ultimate purpose. She believes Canada should have nothing to do with the agency. “It isn’t worth it to give up your freedom of speech or freedom even of thinking just to learn about a different language or culture.”

Her experience in 2011 did lead McMaster to end its relationship with the institute, a division of China’s education ministry that pays for Mandarin-language and cultural programs worldwide – and has long been embroiled in controversy. Advocates call the organization a generously funded cultural bridge, critics decry it as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese propaganda and influence.

But 10 other universities, colleges and boards of education across Canada still host their own Confucius outlets. And a National Post survey of the closely guarded contracts they signed found little in them that might prevent the kind of censorship and discriminatory hiring highlighted by Zhao.

Only one of seven agreements obtained by the Post includes any protection for academic freedom.

Several of the contracts indicate the local institutes must accept the agency headquarters’ assessment of “teaching quality.” One at the University of Waterloo-affiliated Renison College says any disagreements about running the institute should be referred to the Beijing headquarters, called Hanban.

Almost all bar the institutes from contravening Canadian or Chinese law, the latter routinely excoriated for its abuse of basic human rights. They also require compliance with the institute’s own constitution and bylaws. To this day, Hanban’s website says overseas teachers must have “no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations,” a clear violation of Canadian constitutional and rights law.

Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., even pledged to find a “prominent location” to erect a statue of Confucius to advertise the institute’s presence.

“I would say (Confucius headquarters) have absolute control,” said lawyer Clive Ansley  after reviewing some of the contracts. The former China studies professor practiced for several years in the country. “Any decision on what they call teaching quality, teaching materials, it’s all going to be made by Hanban.”

Ivy Li of the group Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said she was struck by the different roles set out in the contracts she perused at the Post’s request.

The Canadian hosts agree to provide office and classroom space and a steady supply of students, and in some cases to promote the program. Most of the contracts also say the Canadian school will provide funding, directly or in kind, at least equal to what the Chinese government contributes.

Hanban, the contracts stipulate, supplies the content – Mandarin teachers, textbooks, course software and other educational materials, which Li said come with Beijing’s particular spin.

“Even purely from a business point of view, it’s a very bad deal,” she charged. “Our universities are being used as a platform to promote (China’s) message, and that message is disinformation.”

But administrators here argue that despite what the contracts suggest, China does not actually interfere in the arrangements – arrangements they argue are an important conduit between the two nations. Meanwhile, they say, political issues never arise in the type of activities – from language training to Tai Chi – the institutes oversee.

“We have not had any pressure from China to do anything other than enhance cultural understanding,” said Lorne Parker, an assistant superintendent with the Edmonton public school division. “We are looking at our relationship with (Confucius Institute) as building a cultural bridge and not a wall. You can have more influence … by having those bridges.”

Launched in 2004, Confucius has opened 540 branches around the world. Unlike Alliance Francaise, the Goethe Institute and other cultural-outreach groups funded by some European states, it is an actual department of government and embeds itself, uniquely, inside foreign educational bodies.

The organization is hosted in Canada by two school boards – Coquitlam, B.C., and Edmonton – plus two colleges – Montreal’s Dawson and Toronto’s Seneca – and six universities – Saint Mary’s, Carleton, Waterloo, Brock, Regina and Saskatchewan.

The official stated goal is to teach Mandarin and spread the good word about Chinese culture and traditions. But even Xu Lin, Hanban’s director general, has said Confucius Institutes are “an important part of our soft power.”

“We want to expand China’s influence. This relies on our instructors, Confucius Institutes and language,” she told a conference in Beijing.

After a burst of expansion in Canada, there has been some retrenchment in recent years. Both McMaster and Quebec’s Sherbrooke University shut down their institutes amid controversy, while New Brunswick is in the process of closing the Confucius program run through one of its school districts. Toronto’s board killed the institute in 2014 just as it was about to launch. The B.C. Institute of Technology’s branch has been suspended.

But the program appears to be going strong elsewhere. To understand what the remaining hosts agreed to in exchange for Beijing’s largesse, the Post asked all for copies of the contracts they signed.

Three refused. Carleton University and Seneca College offered no reason for the denial; St. Mary’s University in Halifax said its contract is “with an external organization, and is a record that is not publicly available.” A university spokesman suggested the Post file a freedom of information request, a process that typically takes months, with no guarantee of success.

In fact, several of the Confucius contracts contain non-disclosure clauses.

Other schools said they had secured Hanban’s permission to release their agreements, or the documents had already been disclosed to local media after freedom of information applications.

All set up an arrangement between the Canadian educational facility and a partner college in China, with a director appointed from each side and a board to oversee the institute. In almost every case, Hanban agrees to supply Mandarin teachers, as many as 3,000 textbooks and other teaching material. Some mention start-up funding from Beijing of $150,000 to $250,000.

China provides about 15 teachers at a time to the Edmonton school district, though they act as “supports” in Mandarin classes that are led by the board’s own staff, said Parker.

“We received about a million dollars’ worth of books and materials from Hanban,” Bob Lajoie of the Coquitlam School District enthused to filmmaker Doris Liu in her documentary In the name of Confucius.

The nature of those books is a concern for some institute critics. Terry Russell, a senior scholar in China studies at the University of Manitoba, said institute texts he’s seen talk of Tibet being “liberated” by China and Taiwan forming part of the country.

“The perspective that is set out in the teaching materials is very much the Chinese perspective,” he said.

Most of the contracts also contain a clause that says “the institute must accept the assessment of the headquarters (Hanban) on the teaching quality.”

It suggests a degree of control by Beijing that director general Xu spelled out openly in an interview previously posted on the organization’s website.

“We haven’t lost education sovereignty,” Xu said. “It’s like the foreign universities work for us.”

Zhao said training before she left China was clear: never mention sensitive topics and if asked about them, offer Beijing’s standard line, that “Tibet is part of China and the government is treating them nicely, that Taiwan is part of China.”

When she and other Confucius teachers at McMaster watched and discussed the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet – a critical look at China’s treatment of the region – their Chinese director said “if we kept talking about those things or watching those things, we need to write a report about our thinking because our minds, our thoughts are not following the Communist party.Institute staff immediately tossed in the garbage a Falun Gong pamphlet brought in by a student, she said.

But Edmonton’s Parker said Hanban does not assess the teaching work there, and suggested the clause was included only to ensure the agency’s teachers provide good-quality instruction.

A Coquitlam spokesman said that its Confucius staff are hired locally, without the agency’s input, and Hanban has never visited the district to perform assessments.

Institute administrators in Canada also deny having to abide by any aspect of Chinese law or Hanban rules, despite what the contracts say.

“I’m not aware of any of those restrictions,” Parker said when asked about the Falun Gong teacher ban.

But if some Canadian Confucius partners dismiss any suggestion of undue influence from China, and their contracts erect limited firewalls against potential Beijing meddling, there is at least one exception.

When the University of Saskatchewan renewed its agreement with Hanban in 2016, it managed to include a provision that said the institute’s activities “will respect academic freedom and transparency, as well as University of Saskatchewan institutional values, priorities and policies.”

Without that caveat, the contract would not have been extended, Karen Chad, the university’s vice-president research, said in a statement.

But critics of the Confucius Institute question whether it will have much impact. To achieve its goals, they say, the institute has never needed to overtly propagate Chinese propaganda. It has taught Mandarin and presented Chinese culture in a way that simply avoids mention of religious persecution, censorship and other topics unflattering to the Communist regime.

“The Canadians get duped as they most often do when they deal with the government of China. They get duped into thinking these things are just cultural institutions and ‘Hey it’s a good idea to have a lot of Canadians learning Mandarin,’ ” said Ansley. “That’s not the Chinese goal at all … The goal is soft power, to promote a favourable image of China in the minds of Canadians.”

Source: Chinese government’s Confucius Institute holds sway on Canadian campuses, contracts indicate

Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters

Sigh. As some have noted, has potential implications in terms of how other countries treat Chinese degrees:

It wasn’t just the fact that one of China’s best universities had changed its charter last December to emphasize loyalty to the ruling Communist Party that raised eyebrows. Shanghai’s Fudan University also deleted principles like freedom of thought, and did so publicly, as if expecting praise.

Furious students staged a rare and risky protest in the school cafeteria in December. They sang the school’s anthem, which praises academic freedom.

“Everyone was enraged,” one of the student protesters told NPR. She withheld her name because of the almost certain repercussions for speaking publicly on the matter.

To disguise their protest plans, the students publicized the event as a marriage proposal.

Fudan is one of at least three universities that have revised their charters since 2018, emphasizing unswerving loyalty to the Communist Party, an NPR analysis found. They have downgraded or erased language about academic freedom from their charters, while adding a new clause: “The university Communist Party committee is the core leadership of the school.”

The move is part of a broader trend that has been growing since 2013, the year Xi Jinping became China’s president. From 2013 to 2017, at least 109 universities unveiled their first-ever charters, affirming party leadership, according to NPR’s analysis.

The new charters effectively hand the party ultimate control over the schools’ administration, mirroring how the party dominates government agencies.

Some of China’s most prestigious universities, including Beijing’s Peking University and Renmin University, have new charters. And Nanjing University, which amended its charter in December, has a prominent international studies program jointly administered with Johns Hopkins University.

Academic freedom has always been precarious in China, although the 2000s saw a brief liberalization. But since Xi took office, academics say, ideological constraints have intensified, stifling discourse and innovation at home even as China seeks a global footprint in academia.

There are still some holdouts. For example, East China Normal University and Wuhan University — which have joint-venture campuses in the Shanghai area with New York University and Duke University, respectively — have not amended their charters, which still contain commitments to academic freedom.

But at the universities that have adopted pro-party charters, say academics interviewed by NPR, the rule change encapsulates some of the difficulties that educators face in China.

“I think it is a good thing that charters now reflect reality more accurately,” says Qiao Mu, who once taught journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He left China for the U.S. in 2017 after his career was stymied because of his political outspokenness. “Why include all this pretty language about democratic freedom and freedom of thought if there is none of that?”

Teachers punished

Cao Zhenhua has experienced the restraints firsthand. In 2018, he was fired as a lecturer at Guizhou Minzu University after being accused of questioning the current relevance of Marxism in a seminar.

“The university party secretary, institute director and local party officials tried to move me to library duties because of my political problems, but I put up a huge fight,” Cao remembers. Four professors were docked pay, but because Cao pushed back on his punishment, he was dismissed.

“This kind of ideological thinking is like that of the class-struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution,” Cao says, referring to a violent period in the 1960s and 1970s in China when Chairman Mao Zedong sought to root out political enemies.

Universities’ local party representatives, backed by an emboldened public security apparatus, increasingly call the shots at school. When Yang Shaozheng, a former economics professor at Guizhou University, came under fire in 2018 for writing and commenting critically on Chinese politics, public security officials called him in and reprimanded him.

“They said, ‘You can no longer use case studies drawn from reality in your lectures. You also must stop publishing political essays online.’ They told me, ‘Shut your stinking mouth.’ I told them, as a university professor, what I choose to talk about is my right,” Yang recounts, his voice rising in anger at the memory.

University administrators did not defend him. Yang was fired that August.

Campus party informants

Much of the control on campuses is implemented through low-tech means: human monitors. Students say classes are quietly seeded with student party members, who secretly report what teachers and students opine during lectures to party committees and school counselors.

“It took so much effort to say even one phrase. You had to pay attention to people’s expressions. One person might hear me and agree. But another person might hear me and report me. I could not give lectures in such circumstances, short of simply reading from the textbook,” says You Shengdong.

You, an economics professor, was sacked in 2018 from Xiamen University, he says, after unknown students reported him for criticizing slogans used by Chinese leader Xi and the growing role of inefficient state-owned enterprises in the economy. Administrators, threatening to draw on footage taken from cameras installed in his classroom, sided with the students who reported him.

Notices at Shaanxi Normal University, one of the three universities that publicly changed their charters to reflect party loyalty in December, detail the responsibilities of student spies, or “information officers,” as they are officially called. These informants must possess “a certain level of political sensitivity,” the notices say, and must report on student and teacher opinions regarding school and national policies as well as any “major social events.”

“We simply keep an eye on things,” says an undergraduate information officer at Peking University who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of this work.

December’s anthem-singing protest at Fudan University illustrates just how such a monitoring network can mobilize to quickly control small-scale incidents.

A student who created the chat group to organize the protest deleted the group from WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app, in the early morning hours before the event, after his school counselor got wind of the scheme and pressured him to withdraw.

University counselors assigned to students are responsible for their “political thought education,” to make sure they are both on track academically and also steering clear of political activities, according to university hiring notices.

The day after the singing protest, members of the party youth league at Fudan University posted a prewritten statement on WeChat: “The school anthem remains the same. Not only does Fudan have academic independence and freedom of thought, but it also educates the country’s future leaders, strengthens the university and protects the country. The determination that led us to Fudan in the first place hasn’t changed. If given a second chance, I’d still choose Fudan.” Professors who posted veiled statements of support for the protest on WeChat were told to take their posts down.

“I thought Fudan was relatively free. But oftentimes, what the students are told has already been censored from above,” says the Fudan student protester.

“How can innovation happen in a society like this?” asks Shi Jiepeng, a classical-Chinese expert who is now a visiting scholar at University of Tokyo. Shi was also singled out by party inspectors three years ago because of remarks he had made about deceased Chinese leaders such as Mao and Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.

Anonymous calls from people allegedly offended by his comments also began pouring into his department’s office phone. Online trolls heaped abuse upon Shi on WeChat and another popular social platform, Weibo. Shi was eventually fired in July 2017 from his position as assistant professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University.

He says his managers had received numerous complaints from students about remarks he had made in lectures in previous years, but his managers only quietly reprimanded him before dismissing the claims. “The problem is not that Chinese students and colleagues are reporting their professors. That phenomenon has always existed,” says Shi.

But now, Shi says, China’s political environment has changed in such a way that university administrators are receptive to such complaints and are pressured to take immediate action. “The problem is that the political winds have shifted at the top,” Shi says, “and that shift has been orchestrated by the political leaders themselves.”

Source: Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters

How a false W5 story 40 years ago became a watershed moment for Chinese-Canadians

Good historical reminder:

It still baffles me, the casual racism of the newscast.

The opening remarks of W5 host Helen Hutchinson sounded the alarm, her voice dripping with concern about a “scenario that would make a great many people in this country angry and resentful.”

In universities across the country, “foreign” students were taking the place of real Canadians in professional schools such as medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

The camera panned to a pharmacy class at the University of Toronto showing the six Chinese students who were supposedly taking up space from Canadians. The problem was the featured “foreign students” were Canadians who were either born in Canada or had become citizens.

The statistics were also misleading: W5 said 100,000 foreign students were crowding Canadian schools when the reality was less than half that, with only 20,000 in universities. Besides, in some professional faculties such as pharmacy you had to be an Ontario resident to apply. Foreign students were not eligible.

Forty years ago in September, it didn’t make sense to the professional journalists on the nation’s most watched investigative news program that a student of Asian descent could also be Canadian.

The intention was clear: real Canadians couldn’t get into professional schools because of foreigners. A white student was interviewed who said she had good marks but couldn’t get into pharmacy because outsiders were taking her place.

But how could they have got it so wrong?

The story had an all too familiar angle. Earlier racist legislation used in the defence of a turn-of-the-century head tax against the Chinese community had warned that foreigners were taking away jobs or opportunities from Canadians. The W5 story was a new spin on the same wedge issue. Get ready to build that wall. Go back home to where you came from.

It did have one major but unintentional effect: it united a community. The segment would be a watershed moment for Chinese-Canadians, awakening a social and political consciousness that reverberates to this day.

Four decades later the media has evolved: seeing not one, but two Asian anchors nightly on CBC’s The National is a revelation.

But we are still grappling with issues of race. In an era when the president of the United States can use racism as an election platform, doubling and tripling down on telling four American congresswomen of colour to “go back home,” the lessons of W5 are worth repeating.

The “Campus Giveaway” story should be a required part of the curriculum of every journalism school. Because those lessons, it seems, aren’t easily learned.

Maclean’s in 2010 essentially recycled the “Campus Giveaway” story with a “Too Asian” cover story that controversially followed the plight of white students who didn’t want to study at a university with, well, too many Asians.

And in 2014, CTV seemed to learn nothing from past transgressions after I broke a story about racist tweets from a producer of one of its sitcoms, Spun Out. The network decided, as it did decades earlier, to stonewall on accepting responsibility, hoping it would just go away.

It’s a reminder that inclusivity is a work in progress. The Star most recently struck a diversity task force looking at how we report and how to include more diverse sources in our reporting, especially with the upcoming election. Unconscious bias is real.

But Asian Canadians have much to thank CTV for decades later.

The W5 show ignited a firestorm of protest from a once silent community, which picketed the broadcaster demanding an apology. It brought together the community in a way that events never really had before.

There is so much wrong with the program it’s hard to figure out where to begin. That includes outrageous shots of a Chinese-Canadian students association meeting with a voice-over stating, “There are so many foreign Oriental students it’s like there are two campuses … at this meeting not one Canadian student attended.”

The story also attracted the key support of political leaders such as Bob Rae and Stephen Lewis, who narrated a devastating rebuttal of the show.

On a personal level, it encouraged me to apply to journalism school. It made me understand that voices matter. Change is a slow burn. When I started at the Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, I was the first staff writer of Chinese descent, which was surprising since it was 1987, not 1887.

CTV’s bungled attempt to create division and controversy under the guise of investigative journalism helped fire up a generation of superstar leaders including Dr. Joseph Wong, who would earn an Order of Canada for his community work, and Susan Eng, who would end up as the chair of the Toronto police services board. Significant community and political leaders such as former MP Olivia Chow; Dora Nip, the president of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario; and the civic firebrands and sisters Amy and Avvy Go rose from the ashes of protest.

The influential civil rights group the Chinese Canadian National Council was also formed because of the show. The organization, headed by the dynamic Wong as the first national president, would crucially go on to fight for other issues, including a redress for head taxes on Chinese Canadians and to support other marginalized communities. To mark the 40th anniversary of the W5 program, Wong said the CCNC would be rebooted, with a particular interest in youth, social justice and equality issues.

CTV did eventually apologize, months later, under threat of a lawsuit.

“Right after the program was broadcast our critics, particularly Chinese-Canadians and the universities, criticized the program as racist: they were right,” said CTV executive Murray Chercover at the time. “There is no doubt that the distorted statistics combined with visual presentation made the program appear racist in tone and effect.”

Given the heated and divisive rhetoric over immigration at home and abroad, it’s a lesson worth remembering decades later.

Conservative Universities and Intellectual Diversity

Some interesting reflections on academic freedom and constraints, along with the risks of further political and ideological separation:
“Academics, on average, lean to the left. A survey being released today suggests that they are moving even more in that direction,” began a study released in 2012. By 2014, another study reported, the ratio of liberals to conservatives among American college and university faculty was 6 to 1 nationwide, and 28 to 1 in New England. Still more recent research suggests that the overall national trend may be moving further to the left. As Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College recently learned, even just pointing out these tendencies can land you in troublewith students and peers.So if you’re a conservative scholar who cares about the American academy and wants to participate in it, what are you to do? One recent suggestion: Start your own university.

In National Affairs, Frederick M. Hess and Brendan Bell make the case for a new university hospitable to conservative thought:

What is needed, then, is a place where serious scholars can have the space to pursue questions and subjects that don’t fit the progressive orthodoxy at today’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning. We need an incubator where promising young intellectuals could pursue their research without being forced to conform to the prevailing ideology, and where they can find the scaffolding—employment, funding, networks, and publication outlets—to enable them to achieve independent viability. What is needed is an ivory tower of our own.

Hess and Bell frame their proposal in largely constructive and unresentful ways. We might note that their express concern is not to enforce a conservative orthodoxy, but to free scholars from obeisance to a progressive one (“without being forced to conform to the prevailing ideology”). Later in the essay, they write, “Though there is no doubt that conservative thought is unwelcome in the academy, it is a mistake to imagine this is the product of a concerted, organized effort to expunge it. The issue is not one of conspiracy but a matter of rhythms, routines, and behaviors that add up to what those on the left might, in another context, term ‘implicit bias’ or ‘progressive privilege.’” The reluctance to invoke a vast left-wing conspiracy to explain the disparities is welcome, in the way that the reluctance to invoke vast conspiracies to explain anything is generally welcome.

And later still, they make an important distinction: “The aim is to create an incubator—not a sanctuary. Talented graduate students and junior faculty who might be marginalized elsewhere would have an opportunity to find accomplished senior colleagues eager and able to mentor them—allowing them to develop the kind of body of work that would give them a meaningful shot at success anywhere in academe. The goal is to spawn scholars and public thinkers equipped to thrive in other academic institutions and to contribute to the public discourse.”

What Hess and Bell are trying to do here is steer between the Scylla of being insufficiently different from existing universities and the Charybdis of imposing another set of political orthodoxies that merely mirror the existing ones. It’s not easy, and few conservative critics of the academy have managed it.

For instance, Warren Treadgold of St. Louis University recently published a book titled The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, in which he called for a university that is “traditional in character but not specifically ‘conservative’ in politics”—which sounds good. And yet, in a recent blog post, Treadgold wrote about the need for such a new university to “hire the right people,” and described those people in this way: “From what I know of the best conservative scholars, if they were hired and supported at a leading conservative university, they would be delighted to produce research combating multiculturalism, radical feminism, identity studies, the diversity doctrine, the idealization of victimhood, socialism, sustainability, and postmodernism.” It’s hard for me to see how a university composed of such people would not be “specifically ‘conservative’ in politics,” though I suppose that would depend on how you define conservative.

But what I find more concerning about Treadgold’s model university is how self-consciously polemical he wants it to be, how strongly he wants it to define itself by what it opposes. He warns, in martial language, of “moderates afraid to combat the leftist ideas that have devastated higher education,” and avers that “only a conservative research university could free conservative scholars to combat leftist ideology.” I think Hess and Bell do a much better job of emphasizing what such a new university would be for: academic freedom, the freedom to explore potentially conservative ideas without fear of reprisals from the guardians of unwritten—and perhaps, these days, actually written—orthodoxies.

But as Peter Wood points out in the post to which Treadgold is replying in his post, it’s impossible, in the current climate, to pursue that kind of freedom in a non-polemical way. One cannot, in fact, steer between Scylla and Charybdis—one of them will get you. Wood agrees that “multiculturalism, radical feminism, identity studies, the diversity doctrine, the idealization of victimhood, socialism, sustainability, and postmodernism” are “forces that cannot be excluded by a university simply deciding that we won’t give those doctrines a place in the curriculum. Those doctrines will be imposed, welcome or not, if the university doesn’t make the decision from the outset to oppose them root and branch.”

But if a university decides ab initio to exclude such ideas, then what becomes of academic freedom? Wood clearly shows the double bind: “The new university will have to compromise its commitment to the liberal arts and open inquiry from the very start. It cannot be ‘open’ to the ideas that will destroy it. But if it is not open to those ideas, it cannot be a truly liberal institution.”My own conservative credentials are dubious enough that I might not be acceptable at such an institution—or so I think, living and working as I do in Texas. (On the other hand, if I were at Sarah Lawrence … let’s just say that at Sarah Lawrence I would be, as the saying goes, seen as rather to the right of Attila the Hun.) But I think I have some experience that might suggest a way out of the bind that Peter Wood has rightly identified.

That way out will require some conceptual adjustments, and a willingness to learn from institutions that have had to deal with similar issues. I am thinking of religiously based colleges and universities; I know something about them because I have worked for them all my adult life (after being educated in public institutions). The adjustments begin with reconsidering what we mean, in an academic context, when we talk about “freedom” and “openness.”

Often over the years, I have found myself quoting a passage from an essay by Stanley Fish titled “Vicki Frost Objects.” Fish, taking up his occasional role as legal scholar, was reflecting on a fundamentalist Christian who protested that her local public school was “indoctrinating” her children in secular thought. In the process of explaining why the usual way people think about this kind of conflict is wrong, Fish made a telling point:

What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the divinity of Christ and a so-called nonideological school which disallows discussion of the same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (Christ is not God or he is). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed.

What Fish helps us to see is that academic freedom is a concept relative to a given faculty member’s structures of belief. As someone who believes that Jesus is Lord, I feel very free when I’m teaching at schools that let me say that, even in class. If I were a socialist atheist, I might be rather uncomfortable. If I were a socialist atheist, Sarah Lawrence might be a better fit.

With respect to the issues under discussion here, the real difference between an explicitly Christian school such as the ones I’ve taught at, or a Jewish institution such as Yeshiva University, and a school such as Sarah Lawrence is this: The religious schools are explicit about their commitments; Sarah Lawrence isn’t. No Sarah Lawrence job announcement is likely to contain the sentence “Conservative Christians”—or Jews, or Muslims, or even atheists, probably—“need not apply.” But then, it doesn’t have to, does it? Especially after l’affaire Abrams.

The general conclusion to be drawn here is simple and straightforward: Academic freedom is always constrained in multiple ways. It is constrained by law; by a given discipline’s sense of its own professional standards and practices; by a given university’s sense of institutional mission. (This is one of the main reasons Jonathan Haidt’s straightforward contrast between two types of universities, Truth U and Social Justice U, doesn’t really match the conditions on the academic ground.)Fish’s point doesn’t render academic freedom illusory or insignificant—indeed, in my experience it has been vital, because at several points in my career, I have written essays that angered influential donors to the institutions where I worked, and if I had not had the protection of tenure, I might have lost my job. Or, more likely, if I had not had the protection of tenure then, fearful of reprisal, I wouldn’t have published those essays in the first place—even though I believed very strongly in what I wrote.

Nevertheless, academic freedom remains constrained. If you make social justice (as it is typically defined) a key component of your institutional mission, then you will deny employment to people who think social justice (as it is typically defined) is a load of hooey. And if, at the level of institutional mission, you think that social justice (as it is typically defined) is, if not necessarily a load of hooey, then at best a highly debatable concept, then you will deny employment to people who insist that they know what social justice is, that you can find it on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter feed, and that its core principles are not up for discussion.

There is, therefore, no need for people who want to found a conservative university to insist that their principles do not put them at odds with a commitment to academic freedom. Their principles, like those of every university, will require a partial and mission-limited commitment to academic freedom; they will differ from the Sarah Lawrences of the world not in that they have limits, but in their openness and honesty about those limits.

To be sure, those commitments create problems. What happens if someone hired to teach free-market economics at a conservative university reads Thomas Piketty and becomes a socialist? Presumably the same thing that happens to a professor at a Christian college who loses his faith in Jesus, or a professor of social justice who finds her eyes opened to new and different truths by a close reading of Atlas Shrugged. It’s a problem. But it’s a problem for all universities, not just conservative or Christian ones.

So the academic-freedom issue is something of a red herring. The larger issue that proponents of a conservative university must face is that of intellectual diversity. Were a few conservative universities to pop up, we might indeed see a net increase of intellectual diversity in American higher education taken as a whole, taken as a single entity. But we would surely get even less intellectual diversity than we currently have within any given institution. This would not be an altogether unappealing future for people, like me, whose stated positions on religious and cultural matters make them unemployable in perhaps 98 percent of American colleges and universities. But would it be good for the country as a whole?

It is easy to foresee, after this institutional fissiparousness, a future in which children attend ideologically monolithic high schools, pass from there to ideologically monolithic colleges, and afterward go on either to ideologically monolithic graduate programs or to ideologically monolithic workplaces. All of which would bring Americans several steps closer to a fundamental and permanent political separation. People would go through their lives never seriously confronting alternatives to their most cherished beliefs—and, yes, that happens all too often already, but that surely is no reason to press still harder on the accelerator that would take us to that particular future. One can see the appeal of a supposedly (though surely only temporarily) more peaceable future, but that would be a very sad way to see the American experiment come to an end.

Source: Conservative Universities and Intellectual Diversity

Professors owe their graduate students more than what Lindsay Shepherd got: Clifford Orwin

One of my better former professors on the Shepherd case:

With the stunning revelation that there never were student complainants against teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd – not even one – the reputation of Wilfrid Laurier University should hit rock bottom. Ms. Shepherd’s hectorers were lying to her, like cops trying to extract a confession from a suspect, and they knew they were lying to her.

Rather than complainants, there were merely students overheard discussing Ms. Shepherd’s class. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen at a university, students discussing their courses (hopefully with some animation)? Even taking strong stances pro and con about the teachers and their presentations? My dream of the perfect end to one of my lectures would be a vast crescendo of buzz, indicating that the students will carry the discussion far beyond the lecture hall. If that was Ms. Shepherd’s effect on her students, then some Canadian university should snap her up. One doubts that it will be Laurier.

That there were no student complainants is, as far as it goes, encouraging. Yes, there’s this culture of outrage on our campuses, and the multiplication of groups dedicated to squelching those who offend them. But only a tiny minority of students believes that to disagree with them is an affront (or even a threat) to them. Most are grateful to teachers who introduce them to opinions other than their own. They recognize this as an integral (even the most important) part of a true education. I’ve been disagreeing with students for 43 years now, and they have thanked me for it.

To confront Ms. Shepherd with these phantom complainants was indefensible. You hear a lot about vulnerable groups on campus; you can count graduate students among them. Begin with their material problems: They are faced with a declining job market and the rising costs of education.

This economic reality aggravates the predicament of graduate students in other ways, including their dependence on the opinions of their supervisors. The temptation is to play it safe in the hopes that the jobs will go to those who have done so. (This, too, was an anxiety on which Ms. Shepherd’s supervisors were playing: conform or find yourself professionally toxic.)

In these difficult times, professors are called more than ever to perform their duty of mentorship. Whether in supervising students’ theses or their teaching, we must put their intellectual development first.

In the case of teaching, that means both modelling best practices on the one hand and encouraging our teaching assistants (TAs) to find their own voices on the other. Here Ms. Shepherd’s teachers set bad examples in both regards. They sought to crush her budding intellectual and pedagogical independence; attempted to coerce her into agreement with them concerning both the substance and the methods of their course; banned her from bringing further videos into her classroom and required her to submit all future teaching materials for their prior review. This was an object lesson in how not to treat a graduate student. Did it not occur to them that a TA as engaged and lively as Ms. Shepherd was a blessing to their program?

Every large university course is a collaboration between the lecturer and the teaching assistants. Of course there must be co-ordination, and the TAs must avoid contradicting the lecturer in ways that might confuse the students. But the success of any large course depends on the TAs’ contribution as much as on the lecturer’s. That contribution should not be micromanaged. The lecturer should offer them advice where they solicit it, leave them to spread their wings where they don’t. Should an issue arise between a student and a TA, then of course I must look into it. Otherwise, the lectures are mine, the tutorials are theirs. The course will succeed only if they buy into this arrangement. If I treat them like Lindsay Shepherd was treated, they won’t.

via Professors owe their graduate students more than what Lindsay Shepherd got – The Globe and Mail

Sensitivity framing is crucial in the classroom

Sensible suggestion on greater awareness and appropriate framing by Mitu Sengupta of Ryerson University. But students also need to learn how to speak up; if not in the class, then after with the instructor, prior to filing a complaint:

The panel convened to respond to this complaint shouldn’t have rebuked Ms. Shepherd for failing to voice disagreement with Jordan Peterson, the professor in the controversial video. She was under no obligation to do so. What the panel might have done was to simply advise her to show more regard in the future for students who might feel distressed by any aspect of a difficult class discussion. This might involve nothing more than uttering a few short sentences at the start of the session, such as, “For some of you, our discussion today might feel very personal. If you feel upset by the conversation, please come speak to me after class.”

I do this quite often, taking my cue from the eminent Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, who was my favourite undergraduate professor at McGill University more than 20 years ago. I remember we were discussing colonialism, and Prof. Taylor read out the following excerpt from British historian Thomas Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education: “A single shelf of a good European library [is] worth the whole native literature of India.” Prior to doing so, however, Mr. Taylor went red in the face and said, “This is embarrassing and a horrible thing to repeat.”

I was the only Indian in the room. I remember feeling acknowledged, grateful. It wasn’t much, but Prof. Taylor had given me relief from the weight of Macaulay’s scathing, racist remarks. I felt better able to listen and more willing to engage.

We are taught to have the highest regard for free speech, the cornerstone of our liberal democracy. We receive less instruction, however, in understanding that free speech is still an ideal, not a reality.

We should recognize speech is usually more “free” for some people than for others. This may not be due to any tangible constraint, and may even occur despite our best efforts. In my classes, for example, I try to provide a supportive environment for everyone, but find that men consistently speak up more often than women. This is unsurprising. People who command social power – derived from their class, race or gender – tend to have more confidence while speaking, and are better at getting themselves heard. While I’m not recommending that anyone be shut down, we do need to be wary of how the ideal of free speech plays out in practice, in our very non-ideal world that is rife with deeply rooted inequalities.

We have a problem when the ideal of free speech imposes a heavier burden on some more than others – women, people of colour, sexual minorities – who constantly find themselves on the defensive in discussions about class, race and gender. This can be an extraordinarily taxing, alienating experience, and sometimes the safest option for the person involved is to mentally exit the conversation. This, of course, is terrible for the “debate” in progress, not least because you do not, in fact, get to hear “the other side.”

To me, the power and privilege of being an educator comes with the special responsibility of keeping an eye on the well-being of students who are likely to find certain conversations especially stressful, and taking a few extra steps to ensure that they feel recognized and included. Far from snuffing out debate, doing so enriches the conversations that follow.

I think that our younger generations actually have a better grasp of the complexities and challenges surrounding free speech than do our older generations. I remain astounded by the compassion with which my students treat each other. They are creating a kinder and more open learning environment than the one that was thrust upon me during my undergraduate years. And, if students are pushing back against any perceived insensitivity on part of their instructors, I applaud them for taking ownership of their education, and for having the courage to actively protect their self-esteem.

via Sensitivity framing is crucial in the classroom – The Globe and Mail

Jordan Peterson and the big mistake of university censors: Maher

One of the better commentaries:

Unfortunately, it is time for people outside the academy to stand up for the free speech rights of Jordan Peterson, the irritating University of Toronto psychology professor who has become a star by producing tedious YouTube videos complaining about people trying to silence him.

Peterson, who is wrong about almost everything, is right when he says, over and over again, that he has a fundamental right to speak. The well-meaning people who try to silence him are making a big mistake, and need to listen to people outside the ivory tower.

On Nov. 1, Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, showed first year Communications Studies students a video clip from TVO’s Agenda, in which Peterson debated the use of non-gender-binary pronouns with another professor.

The classroom discussion must have upset a student, because Shepherd was censured by faculty and diversity and equity officials, who said she was “transphobic” and had created “a toxic climate.”

Shepherd is afraid that the university may fire her.

“Universities are no longer places where one can engage with controversial ideas,” she told the Waterloo Record. “They are echo chambers for left-wing ideology.”

Shepherd is right and the scolds at the university need to stop their censorious ways, not least because they are playing Peterson’s game.

Peterson, who makes tens of thousands of dollars a month fund-raising online, became famous in basements around the world when he spoke out against a University of Toronto policy requiring professors to use non-traditional pronouns like “ze” to address non-gender-binary students.

He argues that the university shouldn’t force him to use language he doesn’t like—misusing the plural, for goodness sake—and that his academic freedom is imperiled by the social justice warriors running the universities.

I think he’s wrong. Professors should do what they can for students who fall outside traditional gender categories, who have a much tougher life than powerful straight white men like Peterson. If that means that professors need to spend a little effort wrapping their tongues around new words, too bad.

I think it’s difficult for many straight, cisgendered people to deal with trans people because thinking about gender identity threatens their own identity in some way, and it’s lazy and selfish for them to refuse to deal with their own issues. Because gender is so emotional, young trans people face huge challenges being accepted, which is a matter of survival.

Peterson is the very picture of white straight male privilege, griping about being told what to do by people that were once subordinate to people like him, ignoring the pressing needs of people who need to be accepted if they are to survive.

For that reason, though, he is performing a valuable function. When society changes, as it is changing now, thankfully, in the way it treats trans people, we need to have a debate about it. To have a debate, someone has to be right and someone else—Peterson, in this case—has to be wrong.

What is worrying is that universities are trying to stop the debate from taking place.

Activists, who are right to demand that society treat trans people with respect, are wrong to think that that respect should extend to silencing those who disagree with them.

This seems to be half the point of a lot of left wing campus activism in the 21st century: trying to prevent people you disagree with from speaking. It is mistake, because it plays into the hands of the troll army of hateful troglodytes who lose every argument so long as you don’t try to force them into silence.

I get it when the people you disagree with are actual Nazis, like Richard Spencer, and I can see why exuberant young people aren’t always scrupulous about the distinction between showing up to oppose a speaker they dislike, which is healthy, and trying to stop that person from speaking, which is not.

But there is something sick-making about the growing bureaucratization of safe spaces, the culture of human resources departments imposing itself on campus, the idea that the universities must protect students from being confronted by uncomfortable ideas.

You can’t learn to think without debating. Learning to think doesn’t mean having your head stuffed full of whatever orthodoxy the profs have settled on this week, because you can be sure that will change, and then what will you do? Go back to school for re-education?

Learning to think means learning to entertain opposing ideas, defend your views and discard the ones you can’t defend.

There is no room for compromise on this, and that means there’s going to have to be a nasty fight with well-meaning but mistaken censors.

Campus activists have weaponized fragility, imposing the safety culture of the elementary school where it does not belong.

An earlier generation of activists made gains by forcing society to confront their reality. They said Black is Beautiful, or We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it! Today’s activists seem to invest a lot of energy in prosecuting micro-aggressions, preventing offence, imposing orthodoxy.

There’s something disturbing about this, beyond its implications for free speech. As a society, we are becoming increasingly risk-averse, embracing safety as the highest value, wrapping our children in bubble wrap, helmets securely strapped to their chins, safe from sexism, transphobia, bullying and peanuts.

It’s hard to speak out against any of it. Helmets are a good idea. Transphobia is bad. Peanuts are life-threatening for some kids.

But the world is not an elementary school, and we’re not doing students any favours by pretending that they can go through their lives without ever having their feelings hurt.

via Jordan Peterson and the big mistake of university censors – Macleans.ca

Massey College and insidious racism on Canadian campuses – Abdullah Shihipar

Some context for this article: visible minority students are more likely to have a university education compared to non-visible minorities.

While there are issues, it does not appear to be holding back visible minority educational achievements:

While U of T weathered the Massey controversy, student leaders are beginning their terms across campus. They’re now busy working with their teams to plan for the new year and navigating racial tensions is bound to be a topic of discussion. Dealing with these situations would be difficult enough for anybody, but people of colour face an additional burden when taking on leadership roles.  I can relate to the latter experience.

I am of Sri Lankan descent. From 2014 to 2016, I served as the President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) at the University of Toronto, one of the largest academic student unions in North America. As president, I led a team of seven executives to advocate to the faculty on behalf of students, as well as run campaigns, services and events. My time at ASSU proved invaluable in my personal development, shifting my politics and dramatically changing not just how I saw the world, but how I interacted with it too. As much as I loved being president, the experience exposed me to subtle ways that racism operates. Too often, we think of racism in terms of extreme—the slur said on the bus or the mosque that was torched. More often than not, it’s more insidious.

Racism manifested itself to me mainly as a set of double standards. Student leaders are minor public figures on a university campus, so some criticism is to be expected. But during my tenure, it quickly became obvious which representatives were under the most scrutiny. For example, while it was commonly accepted that  representatives could be compensated for their labour, there were those who sought to challenge a meager honorarium I received.  These conversations happened in meetings and in face-to-face conversations, where I was made to feel guilty about collecting something that others were taking without challenge. These challenges did not seem to happen when the representative in question was a white man.

Leadership often requires making tough decisions on behalf of the student body. When you are a person of colour, you constantly wonder how your calls will be construed. From what I have seen on campus, people of colour are more likely to be accused of corruption, of not being transparent and, crucially, not being representative of the student body. This frequently manifested itself when student representatives would use their role to advocate for marginalized people and their causes. Just this past summer at Ryerson, two executives—who happened to be Black and Indigenous—at the Students’ Union launched a Colonialism 150 campaign in response to Canada 150 festivities. Other members of the unions’ executive complained of being allegedly kept out of the process and not consulted, adding that they would have taken a different direction had they been involved.

When you are agreeable, your race is rarely an issue. It’s only when you offer pushback or articulate policies that are deemed “too radical,” that you face harassment. Caricatures are created and  quickly posted on online message boards like reddit. White men are praised for strong leadership. But people of colour, myself included, are described as “bullies,” “aggressive” and “angry.”  In my case, more than one anonymous commentator on reddit thought it appropriate to call me a “dictator” and “tyrant.” Society already views people of colour, specifically Black and Brown people, as more violent, so it should come as no surprise that we are being described this way when we disagree. This sends a chilling message to representatives of colour—agree or be subjected harassment.

While people of colour can face harassment, on other occasions they’re simply not taken seriously at all. Ondiek Oduor knows all about what that’s like. Oduor, served as President of ASSU from 2016-2017 and as Student Head of Non-Resident Affairs at U of T’s Trinity College in 2014.  That year, the Student Heads team, who ran Trinity’s student government, wanted to implement equity reforms.  When it came to selling these ideas to the student body and the administration, the team made a strategic choice about who would speak.  “We collectively made a choice for the Male Head of College, who happened to be a white man to speak on these issues,” he says. “We knew it would be taken more seriously coming from him, rather than from person of colour or a woman.”

Ondiek, who is Black, describes his involvement at Trinity as “frustrating” and says everyday interactions made him acutely aware of the fact that he was in white space.  Frequently, when attending parties as a student leader with alumni at Trinity, some of the older alumni would often ask him “where he was from” or explicitly reference how rare Black students are at Trinity, whereas white student leaders would be asked about their studies.

Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer for Justicia for Migrant Workers, echoes some of Ondiek’s concerns about representation. Serving as President of the Student Administrative Council at U of T (now known as the University of Toronto Students’ Union) in 1998,  Ramsaroop says whenever people of colour raised concerns to those in the administration or to their peers, they were met with token gestures that were meant to pacify dissent. After a scandal surrounding Professor Kin-Yip Chun allegedly being denied a tenure track job because he was Asian, the university committed to reviewing its practices, but the promises were forgotten when student leaders inevitably ended their terms and passed responsibility to their successors.

If the consequences of getting involved in student politics are high for people of colour, then they are disproportionately high for women of colour.  Najiba Ali Sardar, a first generation Bangladeshi-Canadian activist served as Vice President Equity for the University of Toronto Students’ Union from 2014 to 2015. She says she found being a woman of colour in a students’ union to be one “one of the most taxing experiences of her life.” During her time as a student leader, a campus society decided to throw an insensitive “Mexican-themed” party. As VP Equity she started a dialogue around the event to explain to individuals why it was offensive. Rather than listening to her, she was attacked and harassed for weeks. Later, when the society did make changes, she found that her contributions to the discussion were not acknowledged. “It’s a bit disheartening to put all of your time, labour, and energy towards issues you’re incredibly passionate about, just to have all of that be disregarded.”

Racism in student politics is rarely visible to the average student, but takes its toll on student representatives. Accused of playing the race card, representatives are more likely to recede and play less of a role in the future; almost everyone I interviewed referenced being burned out.  This discourages people of colour from pursuing leadership roles in the future. If student leaders, a privileged group of students, are undergoing this type of harassment, then chances are, members of the student body are too. The people who contribute to this climate may not be bad individuals or may not intend to be racist, but that is how systemic bias works, it operates under the radar. This is not about accusing people of wrongdoing but rather about actively confronting these biases.

Universities can start to take steps to tackle this problem. The collection of race-based data is a first step, which some universities, like U of T, have committed to implementing. It will allow for better, targeted policies. To mitigate the barriers that prevent marginalized groups from getting involved in student government, universities and student organizations must work together to introduce bursaries, awards and honorariums to people of colour, especially for those who demonstrate financial need.  Finally, once in their roles as leaders, people of colour need access to support systems and student organizations need to ensure they have robust harassment policies that work.

When we talk about representation, whether at the workplace or at our universities, we have to talk about what that actually looks like; there is no use in having a diverse board if you don’t value the contributions of the people on it. We have a choice, we can either choose to do the hard work of achieving meaningful diversity, or we can continue on this unproductive path of tokenism.

Source: Massey College and insidious racism on Canadian campuses – Macleans.ca