I’m late coming to the story about the graduate student instructor, Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, at Wilfred Laurier University in Canada, who ran afoul of the university’s political correctness police for the thoughtcrime of showing in class a short video of Prof. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto, who objects to legislation requiring the use of the whole visible spectrum of self-generated gender pronouns.
A student (or students—the university won’t say if it was more than one) filed a complaint, which was all the tyrannical educrats at Laurier needed to dragoon Shepherd through a full-on 1984-style Orwellian inquisition by the—get this title—“manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support.” We might not have heard much more about this story, except that the resourceful Ms. Shepherd has the presence of mind to bring along a recorder and tape the hour-long inquisition. All hell has broken loose, and the university has “apologized.”
I put “apologized” in square quotes on purpose, because this only happened because the university’s intellectual corruption has been fully exposed for all to see. I’ve long had a hypothesis that universities want to conceal their craziness, and when an example of their intellectual corruption is exposed publicly (Ward Churchill at Boulder, Melissa Click at Missouri, etc), they run for the hills.
Below is the full 42 minutes of the inquisition of Ms. Shepherd. That’s more than you might want to listen to, but try the first 8 to 10 minutes. And if you don’t have time even for that, here are some key excerpts and delightful commentary from Raffi Grinburg at Heterodox Academy:
In the meeting, Shepherd asserted that she was neutrally presenting a topic (the legally mandated use of new gender pronouns) that is in the current public discourse.
Shepherd: [C]an you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this? Like, is that what the point of this is? Because to me, that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides. I was presenting both arguments.
But her supervising professor, Nathan Rambukkana, didn’t want her to remain neutral.
Shepherd: Like I said, it was in the spirit of debate.
Rambukkana: Okay, “in the spirit of the debate” is slightly different than “this is a problematic idea that we might want to unpack.”
Shepherd: But that’s taking sides.
One side of this debate has seemingly become academic orthodoxy, which precludes the possibility that students might question it and think critically about it. In the words of Orwell from 1984:
Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
Shepherd’s supervisors did not disclose any information about the complaint.
Shepherd: I have no concept of how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.
Rambukkana: I understand that this is upsetting, but also confidentiality matters.
Shepherd: The number of people is confidential?
Even the policy violation was unclear.
Rambukkana: Do you understand how what happened was contrary to, sorry Adria, what was the policy?
Joel: Gendered and Sexual Violence.
Rambukkana: — Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. Do you understand how —
Shepherd: Sorry, what did I violate in that policy.
Joel: Um, so, gender-based violence, transphobia, in that policy. Causing harm, um, to trans students by, uh, bringing their identity as invalid. Their pronouns as invalid — potentially invalid.
Shepherd: So I caused harm?
Joel: — which is, under the Ontario Human Rights Code a protected thing so something that Laurier holds as a value.
Shepherd: Ok, so by proxy me showing a YouTube video I’m transphobic and I caused harm and violence? So be it. I can’t do anything to control that.
These amorphous accusations are reminiscent of Kafka’s opening lines from The Trial:
Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
At Laurier—and other universities—can teachers be disciplined for being anonymously accused of violating an undefinable policy? If so, this has chilling implications for teaching and learning. Teachers will have to guess at what policies might protect students’ sensibilities, and eye their classrooms with fear. Each student is a potential accuser, so teachers must plan their lectures with the most easily-offended student in mind, taking account of all topics that could cause offense. In fact, since 2015 we have been hearing many reports of teachers self-censoring, “teaching on tenterhooks,” and cutting potentially controversial materials from their syllabi.
Throughout the conversation, Shepherd continued to articulate the value of showing students conflicting ideas.
Shepherd: But when they leave the university they’re going to be exposed to these ideas, so I don’t see how I’m doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there.
The ideas are “really out there:” the clip Shepherd showed had recently aired on TV. But Rambukkana later explained that there are some perspectives for which a stance must be taken by the teacher. For example:
Rambukkana: This is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.
In a just world, this Nathan Rambukkana fellow would be fired, and forevermore employed only at Starbucks. I suspect you’ll find people just like him at most universities today.