The road to perdition is almost always paved with the very best of intentions. For example, in 2000 the Government of Canada instituted and funded a highly ambitious Canadian Research Chair program. Tier Two rewards were designed to encourage scholars who are showing promise, and Tier One to retain scholars who’ve already made good on that promise. What could possibly go wrong with that?
Not surprisingly, this encouragement and retention went disproportionately to white males. Those who felt underrepresented protested, and the government acceded to their demands for a quota system. Predictably enough, research excellence took second place to ‘social justice’, which completely undermined the original purpose of the program. And no academic could object without revealing himself, as I suppose I’m doing now, as racist and/or mysogynist and/or ableist and/or transphobic.
But this is already an old saw. My worry is the autonomous effect this quota hiring is having, especially in the social sciences and humanities. I say ‘autonomous’ because unlike tax policy, I don’t think any of this was either intended or anticipated. Rather I think it’s more like China’s (since abandoned) one-child policy, which produced a dearth of female live births. North American men import Filipino wives because they’re more biddable. Chinese men import Vietnamese wives because there aren’t any Chinese women to marry.
The autonomous effect I’m worried about is that in the social sciences and humanities, erstwhile underrepresented candidates tend, for understandable reasons, to be more interested in activism than scholarship. Or, what amounts to the same thing, they reinterpret scholarship to just mean activism. And they’re encouraged to do so. As a result they neither know the canon, nor are they tested on it before being hired. So the canon – which was there to be able to critique whatever happens to be the activism of the week – is being lost. Lost to the current generation of students, and hence to the next and the next.
I’ve used the word ‘tend’, and not just to cover my ass. There are targeted hires who do know the canon, and who do use it to critique themselves and their colleagues. But they tend – there’s that disclaimer again – to be judged race- or gender-traitors for doing so.
As I’ve conjectured in my last entry, this well-intentioned stupidity bears the seeds of its own reversal. Just as the Chinese are starting to correct for the lucrative market in daughters, it will eventually correct itself. But it’s the damage that’s been, and is being done, in the meantime. All damage is reparable. Well, maybe not for the aborted foetus. But some repairs can take generations. The sooner we start the repaving of the road to perdition with better than ‘the very best of intentions’ the better.