Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 3 of a Series]

 

Canada—University of New Brunswick St. Johns

Ricardo Duchesne, a sociology professor for more than two decades at the University of New Brunswick Saint Johns, wrote an article “that suggested an increase in Asian immigrants was threatening Canada’s traditional European makeup.” The article received national attention, and Kerry Jang, a faculty member at the University of British Columbia who is also a  Vancouver city councillor, filed a formal complaint with the University of New Brunswick. Asserting that the opinions expressed by Duchesne are based on nothing more than stereotypes that are both “racist and inaccurate,” Jang argued that Duchesne was “using his university credentials to legitimize his own personal views” and ought to be censured for what amounts to an abuse of academic freedom: “’With academic freedom comes great responsibility so to talk about these things, you must also talk about alternate perception. You have to provide a full range of views and he has not. . . . We’re a country of immigrants and we embrace all cultures. Times have changed and we should be treated exactly the same. That’s progress’” (“UNB Saint John Professor . . .”).  In response to his complaint, Jang asked that the university “review what Duchesne is teaching to his students so that his classes are balanced and informative” (“UNB Saint John Professor . . .”).

But both Robert MacKinnon, the vice-president of the University of New Brunswick Saint Johns, and Miriam Jones, president of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers, stated unequivocally that Duchesne’s opinions are protected by academic freedom. In his statement, MacKinnon did not dismiss the concerns raised by Jang out of hand: his “statement said the university’s mission statement values and supports the freedom of thought and expression while maintaining the highest ethical standards and a respectful environment”; “the statement also said any concerns brought to the institution’s attention are taken seriously, [with] each [being reviewed in an effort to balance a mutually respectful environment while providing the thought-provoking learning experience expected in a university setting.” Aware of the statement issued by Jones, MacKinnon endorsed it: “’ As Dr. Jones has indicated, academic freedom is a foundational principle of university life. Often, such academic debate expresses views that may be perceived as controversial and unpopular’” (“UNB Saint John Professor . . .”). Jones’s statement included the following points: “’We take the issue of academic freedom extremely seriously. Academic freedom is foundational to our profession and must be defended, particularly in these times when it is under attack from the federal government on down. Our whole profession relies on conversations about ideas and research, and anything that limits conversation, limits knowledge. Some ideas are offensive – sometimes very offensive–but the remedy is to expose those ideas, not to suppress them” (“UNB Saint John Professor . . .”).

The controversies surrounding Duchesne’s views were stoked by the attention to a YouTube video, which was apparently filmed on a beach and “posted online by a controversial group called Students for Western Civilisation, which has called for a ‘white students’ union’ at Toronto universities (“Professor Defends . . .”). In the video, Duchesne states that the education system makes it OK to praise ‘non-Europeans or non-whites’ while making students read textbooks that ‘put whites in a bad light’”: “’I believe there is a willful intent to create a mindset among students so that they turn against their heritage. I believe we are at a point at which we might have to call the university system corrupt’” (“Professor Defends . . .”).

In response to the escalating attention to Duchesne’s views, ten of his colleagues in the sociology department at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, penned an open letter which they sent to the Toronto Star, disassociating themselves and their department from Duchesne’s views. The group made a point of emphasizing that it was “exercising its academic freedom by speaking out against Duchesne’s remarks, which they [said were] ‘void of academic merit’” (“Professor Defends . . .”). The letter was signed by professors Gary Bowden, Dan Crouse, Tia Dafnos, Nick Hardy, Catherine Holtmann, Jacqueline Low, Nancy Nason-Clark, Paul Peters, Lucia Tramonte and Maria Costanza Torri. Peters, an associate professor of sociology and a Canada Research Chair, went so far as to assert that “Duchesne’s research in western civilization and white society isn’t academic and those views wouldn’t be accepted in peer-reviewed publications”: “’I’d say that hate speech couched in academic jargon is still hate speech. I draw the line there. I believe that what he’s discussing borders on hate speech. Hate isn’t covered by academic freedom’” (“Professor Defends . . .).

 

“Professor Defends Comments on Bias against ‘White History.’” Time and Transcript [New Brunswick] 23 Sep. 2015: A, 8.

“UNB Saint John Professor’s Immigration Views Come under Fire.” Daily Gleaner [New Brunswick] 8 Jan. 2015: A, 1.

____________________

Ricardo Duchesne

Ricardo Duchesne

Kerry Jang

Kerry Jang

Robert MacKinnon

Robert MacKinnon

Miriam Jones

Miriam Jones

Paul Peters

Paul Peters

____________________

Previous Posts in the Series:

Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.

Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.

 

9 thoughts on “Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 3 of a Series]

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