Wilfred Laurier University, located in Waterloo, Ontario, once known as the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, has now apologized to one of its teaching assistants and graduate students, Lindsay Shepherd, in a controversy at the intersection of new pronouns and campus based political correctness.
Shepherd offended against PC by playing a video for undergraduates in her tutorials. The video featured a debate over the use of gender-neutral pronouns between two professors at the University of Toronto. One of the professors in the clip, Jordan Peterson, refuses to use any pronouns other than “he” or “she.” The other professor, Nicholas Matte, argued on the same clip that Peterson’s refusal to call a transgendered student by their preferred pronouns, including the new gender-free “xe,” is a form of abuse, “tantamount to violence” in the enforcement of cisnormativity.[It is probably worth noting that MS Word just showed me a red squiggle under the word “cisnormativity,” indicating an error or misspelling. I suppose I should click “add to dictionary.” The times are a-changing.]
At least one of the students who saw the clip complained to the college’s administration. The argument behind such a complaint is that Matte’s position is so obviously right that even exposing the innocent undergrads to Peterson’s contrary position is violence at their expense.
Shepherd’s supervisors agreed with the complainant(s). She was told she had acted in a “transphobic” manner, and she would be, in effect, on probation. She’d be allowed to keep her position only if she agreed to file copies of her lesson plans in advance and accept other constraints that are not standard for TAs at Laurier.
Left Wing View
For sociological reasons that be far too digressive to explore here, the political climate on many college campuses is well to the left (however exactly such terms are defined) of the climate in the surrounding society. This is true throughout North America. So the enforcement of conformity to such views as Nicholas Matte’s, the unwillingness even to hear or allow others to hear any challenge to those views, is unfortunately unsurprising.
But one should not infer that all who are or who consider themselves of the “left” support such a stifling of debates. One notable counter-example is Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and an authority on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Leiter would be by most accounts a leftist. He is in essence an old-fashioned Marxist who believes that issues of class are paramount in an informed understanding of social change, and in an informed opposition to, for example, imperialist wars. He is also a passionate defender of academic freedom, and on his influential blog he described Laurier’s disciplinary action against Shepard as a “fiasco.” He says that “Jordan Peterson is … a nut” but “the use of Peterson’s work made by the teacher here …. was wholly appropriate.”
There are, though, many on the left who supported the disciplinary action. A twitter denizen with the handle, “U Made Me an SJW” says that it is a “centrist” attitude that says “let everyone say what ever they want and … everyone’s opinion should be heard.” The SJW finds that view “troubling,” and also thinks it gets undeserved credit for being “intellectual.”
Right Wing View
No argument in North America is complete until somebody mentions Adolf Hitler. In this case it was Shepherd’s supervising professor, Nathan Rambukkana, who told her that playing such a tape of Peterson, even with Matte’s inclusion, was like “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”
As one moves out of the left wing, not necessarily into the right but even (as our SJW implies) into the center, praise for Shepherd, even when coupled with criticism of Peterson, becomes the consensus position.
The university’s apology, signed by Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy, says that the university is sorry the affair “occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had.”
Professor Rambukkana has also apologized, saying, “Everything that has happened since the meeting [at which he made his now-infamous ‘Hitler’ comment] has given me occasion to rethink … the concerns of that day.”
The graduate student at the center of the storm was inspired by it to create her own twitter account. (Welcome aboard, ma’am.)
To her will go the last word, with reference to one group of her critics: “I wonder if these profs have taken into account that maybe, if it’s even true that harassment against trans students has gone up, it’s not because of transphobias, but because the campus LGBTQ community is now associated with being anti-free speech.”