All Posts Tagged With: "controversy"
Quebec ups oversight
The Quebec government has appointed an overseer to bring the finances of one of Canada’s top teaching hospitals under control in the face of a staggering deficit.
Government experts have tabled a report that says the McGill University Hospital Centre is headed toward a $61 million deficit by next March that could balloon to $115 million by adding non-recurring deficits to the total.
That deficit — larger than that of all other Quebec hospitals, combined — is only the latest bad news to hit the scandal-plagued institution.
The hospital has responded in a statement, saying it agrees with the findings and points out that it is in a period of transformation.
The devastating report cites risky real estate transactions that that were done without approval from the provincial Health Department or Montreal’s health and social services department.
On the legacy of race researcher Philippe Rushton
Over the past couple of weeks, academics were discussing the death of Western University’s Phillipe Rushton, a professor perhaps not familiar to many of today’s students, but who was, for a little while, among the most hated men in Canada.
Until the late 1980s Rushton had been a reasonably well-respected psychologist whose work on altruism was frequently cited. But then, he published a series of papers claiming that the three main human racial groups—whites, blacks, and Asians—could be grouped according to a wide range of racial traits, including intelligence and various sexual characteristics, with whites typically falling between blacks and Asians.
Not surprisingly, many took Rushton’s theories as thinly-veiled, or, indeed, not-at-all-veiled racism. They saw his essential claim as being that blacks were inherently inferior to whites, and many called for the psychologist’s resignation. At one point, Rushton was required to teach his courses by video to prevent on-campus unrest.
Some people in B.C. have their panties in a twist
I would guess that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, thoughtful, tolerant, law-abiding citizens, must really hate it when their fellow Muslims go crazy over the barest of perceived slights.
If my guess is right, there must be a lot of sighing going after news broke yesterday that a brou-ha-ha had erupted at Thompson Rivers University over a photo of a woman wearing a niqab and abaya (garments sometimes worn by some Muslim women that cover almost the entire body) while looking at a bra.
Student who accused professor of antisemitism is back
Remember Sarah Grunfeld? She’s the York University student who stormed out of a lecture in September of last year because her professor said that “all Jews should be sterilized.”
It later emerged that Professor Cameron Johnston, who is Jewish, was using the statement as an example of an invalid and dangerous opinion that must be reasonably qualified.
It appears that Grunfeld left the 450-seat lecture before Cameron qualified the opinion. Grunfeld was widely rebuked, including by Maclean’s own 22-year-old Jewish columnist, Emma Teitel.
But she didn’t go away quietly. She’s now back in a YouTube video called The Truth Behind the Sarah Grunfeld story. At least, we assume it’s her; the face in the video appears in silhouette.
“I was ridiculed, I was demonized,” says the shadowy figure. “I was called an moron, a dimwit, an idiot…” The figure then explains that she was paying full attention (FULL ATTENTION!) and sitting in the front row of class. “I know exactly what I heard,” she says. The shadowy figure admits that the comment happened in the “first five minutes of [Cameron's] talk about how opinions can be dangerous.” She says she waited for the professor to provide some kind of qualifier, but he did not.
This all comes before the shadowy figure accuses against the media, York University, Hillel of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs of mistreating her. The voice concludes by asking: “what’s the future for Jewish students?”
A better question might be: “what’s the future of Sarah Grunfeld?”
The naming of sports teams is now fraught with peril
One of the best running gags in the TV show Community is that Greendale College’s teams are called “The Human Beings”—an absurdly bland moniker designed to insulate the school from complaints and controversy—the sort of complaints levied periodically against the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins.
The fictional school’s feckless Dean might have a point, though, because naming sports teams, at schools especially, is now fraught with peril.
This danger was underscored last week when Utah’s Corner Canyon High School had to do away with its team name “Cougars.” The term, which, in some circles has come to mean an older woman sexually interested in younger men, was the subject of complaints. Canyon teams will now be “The Chargers.”
A simple solution for the Christmas controversy blues
Last year around this time I was startled to notice a small nativity scene set up in our university cafeteria. I considered making a formal complaint to the effect that at a public university such overtly religious symbols should be avoided. But it was only a little one, and even my great and growing peevishness has its limits.
Still, it’s easy to see why Christmas poses such a problem for educational institutions. On one hand, it is a venerable annual tradition for millions, with a seemingly endless store of symbols and songs to draw upon. On the other hand, for many, it is among the holiest days of the year, and one still hears a phrase like “the true meaning of Christmas” where “true meaning” is meant to suggest the religious meaning.
And so it is no surprise that controversy and indignation has become one of our new favourite holiday traditions.
Too bad, says Royal Military College
A member of the faculty at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. is speaking out against an honourary doctorate degree that will be awarded to hockey commentator Don Cherry, reports the Kingston Whig Standard. French professor Catherine Lord argues that Cherry has said contemptuous things about gay and lesbian people, immigrants and French Canadians. But the college’s spokesperson said that the degree will go ahead, adding: “for more than two decades, Don Cherry has been a supporter of the military and of military families.” Cherry, co-host of Coach’s Corner on CBC, has raised funds for military families and made visits to Afghanistan to raise the profile of Canadian troops. Cherry recently faced threats of legal action for calling three hockey players ”turncoats” and “hypocrites” for their beliefs on fighting in hockey. He has since apologized.
Redeemer University College, according to its published statements, promotes religion over knowledge.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I have, in the past, taken issue with religious universities like Trinity Western and Crandall, the sort of institutions that require fundamentalist faith statements of all their faculty and seek to foster religious extremism in their students. You will also know that the CAUT has been after such universities too and has created a black list of universities that require a faith or ideological test for faculty.
Redeemer University College is the latest institution to fall under CAUT’s stern gaze, and the Redeemer case provides a good opportunity to address some of the sloppy and tentative thinking — so it appears to me — that always swirls around this issue. As always, I want to make it clear, that it is the particular kind of religion practiced at these schools that bothers me — I fully acknowledge that there are other, better ways practiced by others.
First, the claim is often made that all universities have an ideology of some kind or another, so why is a Christian university any worse than a secular university? The sloppiness here comes from an inconsistent use of the word “ideology.” In its broadest sense, whereby ideology means any kind of system of ideas, it’s true, a priori, that all universities must have an ideology. In this sense, a university that says that it promotes knowledge and critical thinking because these things serve the greater good of humanity — well they have an ideology.
But that’s surely not what CAUT means when they are concerned about an ideological test for faculty. Because in a more narrow sense, ideology often means a particular and focused set of beliefs about how the world works and how it ought to be. To be sure, individuals or groups at particular universities may have strong ideological commitments, but that is not the same as the institution as a whole requiring a specific ideological view of all faculty. I am a committed atheist, but I would not want my university to require everyone to be an atheist. Academic disciplines may require a certain level of agreement on some basic issues, but typically these are matters of fact (a biologist needs to accept evolution).
But what about, say a Women’s Studies department? To work there you would have to be a feminist, right? I would say no: a Women’s Studies prof would have to accept that the place of women in society is an important issue — but no Women’s Studies department should insist that its members agree on specific details or policies about, say, child care. Show me a department in a public university where all members, as a matter of published policy, must sign a commitment to specific values and views, and I will speak out against them, too.
But even if other universities did have their own ideologies, it would still be misleading to say such a university was ideological in the same way that Redeemer is. Apart from religious zealots, even ideologues differ. Committed socialists can disagree about almost everything and still be socialists. Feminists can, and do, disagree about key issues like abortion. These disagreements are possible because these ideologies, whatever their strengths and weaknesses, are at least grounded in the real world and their arguments can be evaluated by the normal standards of reason.
But Christianity as practiced at Redeemer (though not everywhere, I concede) is not an ideology like that. As with TWU, Redeemer’s vision of Christianity is precise, and exclusionary. According to their stated principles, God created the world, revealed His will to humanity through the Bible, and was incarnated as Christ who is the only hope for the world. This is not just a university with a Christian leaning — this is a university with a very strict program of belief that no Muslim, Jew, or atheist could ever sign in good conscience, and that even many Christians would reject. Indeed, according to Redeemer, knowledge itself is “made possible only by means of a true faith in Jesus Christ, in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (my emphasis). Am I the only one who sees the implication here? So extreme is this institution that it denies the validity of all the knowledge of non-Christians! I’m not making that up; it’s right there on the web site! The kind of religion espoused by Redeemer is not even ideology. It’s superstition.
And Redeemer does not just stop at belief: they also seek to control faculty conduct, a point not stressed in any story I can recall. At Redeemer, faculty members are expressly discouraged from doing too much work on Sunday. More incredibly, Redeemer promises to punish faculty who swear, are gay, who enjoy pornography, and who have sex outside of marriage. Some have had the gall to call the investigation a witch hunt, but how can an institution like this ask others to mind their own moral business while it claims to have jurisdiction over whether Professor Virile’s girlfriend is staying the night? We all know who perfected the art of witch hunting.
Still, if that’s their thing, as Redeemer President Hurbert Krygsman suggests, why not leave them to it? They are not publicly funded and their members are not members of CAUT, so why does CAUT or anyone else care? Well, setting aside that Redeemer does get some public money, I care and CAUT cares because all academics have an interest in preserving the clear use of academic terms like “university” and “degree.” These terms have fairly well understood meanings in Canada and having a “university education” or holding a “university degree” should carry a certain weight and should say certain things about one’s education.
If the aim of the institution is to prepare students to be knowledgeable, curious, critical, and capable of ongoing learning, then we are talking about a university. But if the self-proclaimed task of the institution is to “equip young men and women to serve as witnesses to Christ’s victory in the various vocations they will take up in society” and that they take advantages of ”the opportunities for evangelism that their positions may afford, [...] by testifying to the transforming power of Christ in every aspect of their professional or vocational conduct” (my emphasis), then you are not a university. You are a radical, fundamentalist indoctrination centre and you should call yourself that. Or Bible College. Whichever you prefer.
Even an atheist like me would rather live in the year of the Lord.
If you think professors spend their free time sitting around talking about esoteric minutiae, you’re right. At least, that’s how we spend part of our time. In fact, just the other day, while smoking cigars and drinking brandy, I had a discussion with a friend and colleague over the best way to refer to years from a historical perspective.
You will certainly know that most people in the Western world agree that we are, at time of writing, in the year 2011. You probably know that the year 2011 is calculated based on the supposed year of the birth of Christ and thus we say AD 2011. Why AD? For the Latin anno Domini, meaning “in the year of the Lord.” And, of course, you probably realize that the years before Christ are termed, not surprisingly, BC. This can cause a bit of confusion because novice students of history must take pains to remember that while AD 1600 comes after AD 1500, the reverse is true in BC, where 400 BC comes before 300 BC.
Still with me? Good. Now, what you might not know is that many scholars dislike the AD/BC terms because they speak directly to the Christian origins of the designations. In a pluralistic society like ours, they would say, we should not be reckoning years “before Christ” or “in the year of the Lord” because, after all, he’s not everybody’s Lord (or anybody’s really, but I digress). But since it would be prohibitively difficult to create a whole new system of counting the years (what would serve as our zero year?), the folks I have in mind have been using “CE” instead of “AD” and “BCE” instead of BC. “CE” stands for “Common Era” while “BCE,” not surprisingly, stands for “Before the Common Era.”
This convention has caught on, and, checking my new Chicago Manual of Style, I find that Chicago permits either system depending on a variety of factors, including “personal preference” (9.35). My new MLA Handbook lists both without expressing a preference (7.2). Undoubtedly the new terms are gaining traction, and some are confidently predicting the eventual demise of the AD/BC system altogether. But I think switching to the CE/BCE system is a mistake, and I’ll tell you why.
To begin, remember that the CE/BCE system does not actually change the way the years are calculated. It still uses the presumed birth of Christ as its reference point. So, at best, the change is a surface-level alteration meant to give the impression that there is no religious basis for the system, when, in fact, the religious basis remains firmly in place.
Second, the terms AD and BC have become so common as the names for the eras themselves that people do not directly associate the Christian origins of the terms with the things they designate. Saying that we live in AD 2011 does not make this a Christian year anymore than calling February 14th Valentine’s Day makes that a Christian holiday (even though technically it is the feast of a Christian saint). Similarly, naming a child Christopher (“bearer of Christ”) is not a particularly religious gesture — at least, not anymore. One day, if the CE crowd leaves well enough alone, the term AD will be as secular as “Saturday” (named for god Saturn) or January (named for the god Janus).
Finally, calling an era based on the birth of Christ the “Common Era” is even more offensive to non-Christians than calling it anno Domini. “Common Era” implies that the importance of Christ is acknowledged by all, when nothing could be further from the truth. At least AD and BC have the virtue of honesty.
Opposition says province is headed towards its own Scopes Monkey Trial
Educators and human rights experts in Alberta are worried that a proposed change to human rights legislation could make it tough to teach a number of controversial subjects.
The change says parents should be notified when classes “include subject matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation,” and should have the right to ask that their child sit out that part of the class.
The term “religion” is extremely broad and could edge its way into almost anything that comes up in the classroom, said Dan Shapiro, research associate with the Calgary-based Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.
“It’ll be like a kind of Monty Python skit. You have to say: ‘Well, today we have to think about the Hindu student’s going to object to this and tomorrow the Jewish student to this and then the Catholic student to this,’ ” said Shapiro.
“It’ll be madly off in all directions. (Teachers) are strapped enough for resources and time to do their job properly and help educate children.”
Frank Bruseker, head of the Alberta Teachers Association, said he’s also concerned about what the new rules could mean. He’s worried that some parents might think mentioning different classes of worms would constitute a reference to evolution. He said a discussion of ancient geologic formations can’t be had without mentioning the world is billions of years old, much more than a literal reading of the Bible would suggest.
Meanwhile, history and literature from around the world are chockablock full of references to religious upheaval.
“Religion is kind of a fuzzy thing, in a sense, in that what some people see as religion others might not,” Bruseker said.
Opposition parties have hammered the government on the issue, saying the province is headed back to the time of the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a high school biology teacher in Tennessee was tried for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Premier Ed Stelmach conceded to reporters last week that the provision could be used to pull students out of classes dealing with evolution if parents preferred their kids be taught what’s in the Bible instead.
“The parents would have the opportunity to make that choice,” he told a news conference.
But Lindsay Blackett, the Tory minister responsible for human rights, said in an interview that the intention of the law is to only allow parents to pull children out when the curriculum specifically covers religions, something that only happens for a few hours each school year.
“It’s talking about religion (such as) Hindu, or Muslim, or that type of religion, not … the curriculum with respect to, for instance, evolution,” he said. “That’s science and we’re not arguing science.”
The rule wouldn’t apply to any topics that come up spontaneously in a classroom, he said.
“It’s not discussion, it’s curriculum. You cannot be the thought police, and we would never ever advocate that.”