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Monday, October 24, 2016

Discrimination at University of Manitoba

Bastion of white privilege.

A recently dismissed sessional instructor at the University of Manitoba has written a piece in the campus graduate student magazine protesting the system of student evaluations that caused her not to be renewed, on the grounds that it is unfair to minority professors.

Her evidence is that studies show “minority faculty often receive significantly lower and more negative evaluations in comparison with their white counterparts.”

Given that no studies are clearly cited, we need not accept that claim. There is a reason why academic standards require clear references and footnotes. Lose that, and anyone can say anything. The word “often” renders it ambiguous in any case—it does not necessarily mean more often than “white” instructors.

But let us assume that is so. It does not demonstrate that said minorities are being discriminated against because of their ethnicity. It might equally demonstrate that the current regime of affirmative action in hiring and promoting is, predictably enough, producing an inferior product. Why would it not, when you hire not on the basis of merit, but of other irrelevant factor like genitalia or skin colour? Merit must suffer, and especially among those of the preferred skin colour. It will correspondingly rise in those groups discriminated against—here, the “whites.”

Odd, though, that this could be a consideration for someone named Sardana Nikolaeva. Isn’t that an Eastern European name? Yet she is implicitly claiming here to be non-white. If Eastern Europeans are not white, who is? Does the term mean anything? Is there really a general prejudice toward Eastern Europeans in Canada?

Indeed, it seems quite a stretch for her to claim she got her--by her own account--universally negative evaluation sheerly because of her supposed visible minority status. Especially since she demonstrates the truth of the complaints in this very essay. Among the intolerable student comments she quotes are, ”she had an agenda,” ”she made me feel ashamed that I was white,” “she hates Canada and our culture,” as if they could not possibly be true. But her next paragraph begins, “As any predominantly white neo-liberal educational institution, the University of Manitoba functions within the politics of ignorance.” Is she not saying that any “white” institution is ipso facto “ignorant”? Would that not include Canada?

The seminar she taught, she explains, “revolved around the topics of racism and discrimination, white privilege, problematic aspects of multiculturalism, and experiences of marginalized communities in Canada.” Doesn’t sound like she has any political agenda, there, does it?

You might also note that much of what she writes is rather difficult to make plain sense of. It is not just the illogical assumption that disparity of outcome must prove discrimination, or her arbitrary concept of “white.” It is sentences like this: “The biased attitudes expressed in student evaluations of minority faculty are particularly problematic as they contribute to already existing practices of discrimination, marginalization, and lack of support from peer faculty and administrators in predominantly white campuses.” That is unnecessarily obscure. Why not “Biased student evaluations add to existing discrimination from colleagues and administrators.” An inability to express thoughts clearly is the most basic sort of incompetence in an instructor.

Anyone who has been reading the news for the past twenty or thirty years, too, must be surprised by the claim made here that college campuses generally are hotbeds of anti-minority and anti-female sentiment. The reverse is the obvious case.

It is simply so that, in a democracy, it is improbable if not impossible to see the government intervene to protect any genuinely oppressed minority from general discrimination. If there really is general discrimination, such measures could not pass the bar of majority approval, pretty much by definition.

It follows that any intervention by the state or by state institutions like public universities in favour of one group over another will always be a case of increasing an advantage already bestowed upon that group by common prejudice.

Black like me...

We can therefore expect student evaluations, in fact, to already be biased in favour of, not against, “visible minority” instructors. But this is not enough. Advantaged groups always expect more advantage. The truly oppressed learn through experience that they must remain silent.

But this, in the end, does not logically apply to an instructor with an Eastern European name. Here, the demand for special rights for preferred minorities is clearly only a cover, an alibi, for discarding the idea of student evaluation of professors in general. The peons of the unwashed majority must be understood to be prejudiced and incompetent, and kept in their place.

Yet the very idea that the customer should have no say in his own interest would be deeply shocking any other context than education. Why should we not choose our own professors, just as we choose our own doctors, lawyers, repairmen, or legislators? Even if the student did not have that natural and inalienable human right, isn’t he, as a purely practical matter, in a better position than anyone else to evaluate the quality of instruction?

In the end, the essay demonstrates the frightening totalitarian tendencies of the modern academy.

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