Since the October 7th Simchat Torah pogrom, you might have noticed a lot of antisemitic hate at universities. Do you wonder where the hate comes from? It comes from post-colonial theory, the topic with the lexical word salad including ‘decolonisation’, ‘imperialism’, ‘settler’, ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘resistance’ and ‘indigenisation’. Post-colonial is one of a number of critical social justice (CSJ) theories which have infiltrated and occupy North American universities. You may not know what CSJ is, but you probably know its fruit: DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), anti-racism, gender theory (what is a woman?) and unconscious bias training.
I want to draw your attention to a recent tactical move by the critical theory folks at a college in my town: the University of Waterloo (UW). This is relevant to the current moment, because it is all of a piece with the pro-Hamas blood lust. Critical theory is what unifies people who chant “from the river to the sea” and those who punch TERFs at Posie Parker events, who advocate men competing in women’s sports, who topple statues, burn churches and who want to defund the police. The event I am about to describe demonstrates the power and malign intent of CSJ activists.
On October 12th, UW announced a speaker series titled ‘Antagonism and Intimidation in Academia‘. The series will focus on hostile responses to CSJ, public health and climate research. The series purports to want to explain why the hostile attacks happen and what can be done.
Let’s agree that Hamas gets the gold in the Gaslighting Olympics after claiming that it hadn’t planned to kill civilians. But silver surely has to go to this speaker series.
What’s upside-down about the speaker series is that it’s the bullies themselves who are calling to be protected. By bullies, I mean activists in the CSJ fields. In the description of this speaker series, the academics who are recognised as having a problem in relation to “hostile responses to their work” are “those whose emphasis is on social justice scholarship that focuses on discrimination based on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and religion; science and technology research; health and vaccine research; and environment, sustainability and climate change research”. Let’s be honest: science and technology are in the list as a sop. It’s themselves, the CSJ activists, who they’re mostly concerned about. Self-obsession isn’t surprising from a movement characterised by cluster B personality disorders.
Ironically, it’s the CSJ activists, the ones who organised the speaker series, who eschew the liberal order and use cancel culture to silence opinions with which they disagree. And it is the CSJ activists who largely control the universities. They occupy positions in the administration where they manufacture the DEI policies, discriminatory hiring programs, segregated spaces, diversity statement requirements, Newspeak writing courses and indoctrination courses for new faculty.
Radical social justice activists already get a free pass to express their ideas even to the point of celebrating hate. Over the last month, our liberal regime has allowed antisemites to spew as much racist Hamas-love as they like – including large demonstrations calling for the murder of Jews in barely veiled terms. Most recently, at my university (Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU)) a professor welcomed Hamas as righteous liberators (as they beheaded and burned children). She was not alone as other academics in Canada and the U.S. joined in.
When it comes to actual partisan suppression of ideas, it is conservative academics and those who dissent from the shibboleths of the new religion (e.g. gender critical feminists) who are routinely abused, harassed and deprived of opportunities, and sometimes even fired by activist administrators.
Let’s start with the fact that conservatives are under-represented in university faculties. In the U.S., only about one quarter of faculty are conservative. In Canada, the proportion is less than 10%. Under-representation is often taken as evidence of discrimination by the woke Left.
A significant portion of non-conservative faculty admit that they discriminate against conservatives in hiring, promotion, grants and publications, according to a recent survey. This gets precisely zero recognition in the framing of the UW speaker series.
Conservative speakers are routinely attacked (see Eric Kaufman, Ian Harworth, Judge Kyle Duncan, Charlie Kirk, Kristin Waggoner, Michael Knowles or another 11 instances here). Trans-critical swimmer Reilly Gaines was recently held hostage while trying to give a speech at San Francisco State University. At Mount Royal University, Frances Widdowson was fired after woke faculty filed vexatious complaints against her. What was her sin? Criticising BLM and asking questions about the residential schools debate. Or consider Jordan Peterson, or Rima Azar, or again Canadian Eric Kaufman driven out of Birkbeck for raising very obvious questions about populism and immigration; or anyone who has called out BLM or those who have questioned the Lysenko-like certitudes of transactivist bullies (e.g. Joe Phoenix, Kathleen Stock, Helen Joyce).
Let me share two examples of hostility at WLU, where I work. In 2017, a graduate TA (Lindsay Shepherd) was subjected to a Maoist struggle session by faculty (and a diversity bureaucrat) for showing a video of Jordan Peterson discussing his views on gender pronouns. In the summer of 2020, I was subjected to a cancel mob for challenging the President’s allegation that the university was systemically racist.
In the U.S., the majority of censorship attempts come from the Left (about 52% of cases) but they also come from the Right (about 41% of cases), according to FIRE. In Canada, I am not aware of a single instance of an attack or cancel attempt against liberal academics. The exception is the stabbing (at UW) of a gender-studies professor in the summer 2023. Like all civilised people, I deplore this act of violence. While the police immediately labelled this a “hate-motivated attack related to gender expression and gender identity”, I am sceptical. How did police know the motive so quickly? There was no public statement by the attacker and no published manifesto. I suspect a mental health problem rather than an extreme intellectual objection to queer critical theory. Even if we concede the point, it’s only one example. It doesn’t justify an entire speaker series (and conference), when the evidence shows that most hostility is aimed at dissidents and CSJ opponents.
Reading between the lines, what the organisers of the UW speaker series want is not more but less diversity of perspective. They want their ideas, but only their ideas, protected. They don’t want any criticism of far-Left agendas and priorities. You can see this from the Kafka trap title of the series. A trap that I am plainly walking into. They’ll claim that my criticism is intimidation. My criticism will be taken as proof of their thesis. This Kafka trap is designed to insulate their ideas from critical scrutiny.
At a university, no idea should be sacred. No idea should be above criticism. Criticism is how knowledge advances. By discouraging the criticism of ideas, the UW speaker series violates the very object of the university.
Why would the CSJ activists subvert the object of the university? It’s no secret. The two core underlying ideologies of CSJ are neo-Marxism and postmodernism. Both ideologies are intent on reordering society. And what better way to change society than to indoctrinate the youth by capturing the education system? Mao understood this when he used Chinese youth as the spearhead of his cultural revolution. This is the long march through the institutions that the Marxist, Rudi Dutschke, talked about.
Let’s turn to the alleged academic question of the UW speaker series. Why might CSJ, climate scholarship and public health attract antagonism? It’s not a big mystery. The obvious answer is: motivated reasoning. In 2017, Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay pulled back the curtain on CSJ scholarship by getting seven ‘spoof’ articles accepted for publication in CSJ journals. The hoax revealed that much scholarship in the CSJ fields is illegitimate in the sense that it starts from its desired conclusion. It doesn’t seek truth. It finds what it already knows to be true: oppression.
The same is often true in climate research. One could cite the Michael Mann hockey stick hoax or the East Anglia Climategate email hack. But, more recently, Dr. Patrick Brown had a paper on wildfires published in the prestigious journal Nature. After publication, he admitted that he ignored other hypotheses because he knew that the journal’s editors were biased in favour of the climate change narrative.
Following the pandemic, we don’t need to say much about why public health might be subject to antagonism. The censorship of discourse about Covid by the U.S. Government, the suppression of the lab-leak hypothesis and the silencing of sceptical scientists like Dr. Jay Battacharya and Dr. Byram Bridle are sufficient examples by themselves.
Censorship and motivated reasoning may cause observers to question the legitimacy of research and ‘science’. It may lead to opposition – even to antagonism.
What won’t be discussed at the UW speaker series is the culture of fear and self-censorship that permeates UW (and WLU). Many non-woke faculty reach out to me to express their support when I write essays like this one, but they are afraid to speak up. One of them helped write this essay but doesn’t want his or her name made public for fear it may jeopardise his or her job. Neither of the Presidents at WLU or UW have made the least effort to measure this culture of self-censorship or ameliorate it. On the contrary, they abet it.
The idea that it is “social justice research on gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, sustainability or climate change” that is in danger of being silenced is something akin to China insisting on a geopolitical threat from Bhutan or Dwaine Johnson saying he’s being bullied by Dylan Mulvany. Cancel culture is a problem of the far Left, and this speaker series bears witness to the fact that it has captured the campus. The fact that no dissident or conservative professor on the UW campus is included in this speaker series or even dares to complain about his or her omission speaks volumes.
The ideas and groups represented by this speaker series are the establishment. They are the new religion. They are the new orthodoxy. They are the gatekeepers. They are the aggressors who silence heterodox researchers, attack “scholarly ideas through hostile actions”, engage in cyberbullying, the disruption of public presentations and in “the worst-case scenario, physical violence” (witness Andy Ngo who has been the repeated target of far left social justice academics). This is the modus operandi of the woke Left. For sheer chutzpah, this seminar series is up there with the Hamas Human Rights division – definitely worth a silver medal.
But calling out CSJ activists isn’t enough. It is clear from recent events, including the gaslighting exercise at UW, that universities are broken. The public needs to re-evaluate the social value of a university education and the social licence conveyed to universities. Christopher Rufo is leading an effort to remove DEI from university administrations. That is a good initiative, but it doesn’t go far enough. It is time to remove CSJ from the university curriculum, except as an object of historical study. CSJ rejects the scientific method, liberalism and enlightenment rationalism. In the paradox of tolerance, Karl Popper argued that it is right to suppress a philosophy that rejects rational argument. We have no obligation to tolerate those who have shown themselves implacably intolerant of rational criticism of their own baseless ideas.
William McNally is a Professor of Finance at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.