If you’ve read my penultimate entry, you’ll know that last week I invited Frances Widdowson to Lethbridge, as the first post-Covid “Guest of Dishonour” at our Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner series on Saturday, then to give two guest lectures, one on Tuesday, the other on Thursday, in my Belief, Truth, and Paradox class, and, finally, to give a public talk at the University on Wednesday about the effects of Woke-ism on post-secondary education.
There’s nothing the Administration could have done in any case about the other three events; and on the Friday U of L President Mike Mahon announced he was begrudgingly allowing the Wednesday event to go ahead. But not without virtue-signalling that Widdowson’s views were anathema to those of the University. Did he know what those views were? He did not. Had he read anything written by her or ever heard her speak? Highly unlikely. So the first takeaway is that
University administrators cannot be counted on to raise,
or even hold, the bar on academic responsibility.
As already reported, the pressure got to Mahon over the weekend, and he caved. Being banned from the assigned venue, Widdowson then decided she was going to have her say in the Atrium instead. When we arrived that afternoon, there were over 700 people there, including reporters, a dozen police officers, and, of course, the usual phalanx of drummers. Needless to say she was not allowed to speak, and after about half an hour she left. In the wake of which the media reported that she had been met by over 700 people protesting her presence on campus.
Did it occur to these reporters that many of those people might have been there to listen to her speak? That others were simply making their way through the atrium to go home? That still others were just curious about what was going on? So the second takeaway is that
so-called journalists have about as much training
in critical thinking as university administrators.
As it happens I teach critical thinking. And so I took the trouble to talk not just to whomever was wearing an orange shirt with “Every Child Matters” on it. That’s how I know not everyone was there to protest. But of the several people I talked to who clearly were there to protest, not one – and I’m not going to infer anything more than this – not one had ever read a thing Widdowson had written, or heard a word Widdowson had ever spoken. “So how do you know she’s a Residential School denier?” I asked one of the protesters. That stumped her for several seconds, and then,
“Because that’s what our Elders are telling us.”
“Can you point me to one of your Elders?” I asked. And so she did.
“How do you know this Widdowson woman is a Residential School denier?” I asked him. “Have you read anything she’s written? Heard anything she’s said?” He declined to answer. So I’m guessing not. So third takeaway:
If – and I emphasise the ‘if’ – taking the word of their Elders
is among their ‘special Indigenous ways of knowing’, then
I’m not sure that ‘knowing’ is the right word here.
But hang on. There’s nothing Indigenous about any of this. How do we come to believe what we believe. if not by taking the word of people we trust, however blindly, are in the know? How else did Mike Mahon come to ‘know’ what Widdowson’s views were about anything?
Am I as second-hand-ignorant as Mahon or that protester or her Elder? About global warming, the historicity of Holocaust, and the merits and demerits of the Residential School program, I’m afraid so. But about what Widdowson thinks? Not at all. Why not? Because I asked her! So fourth takeaway:
If you don’t want to know, nor anyone else to know, what someone thinks,
don’t ask her, nor let anyone else. If, in spite of your efforts, they do, then
don’t let her answer. And if she does, don’t let anyone listen to her.
But let’s put all this silliness aside. After the two classes that she guest-taught for me – and keep in mind that she was a political scientist, not a philosopher, at Mount Royal University – she commented that the questions my students asked were the most astute and advanced she’d ever had in a classroom. This was a philosophy class. I thought their questions were banal and obvious. So fifth takeaway:
I guess my second-year students would be considered ready
for grad school at Last-Chance-U places like MRU.
If I had an ego, which thankfully I don’t, I’d be basking in this. But I don’t. And I’m not. I think it’s the saddest observation yet I’ve heard about what’s happening to the academy. That sadness is only compounded by people like Mike Mahon declaring, as he did, how proud he was of the students standing up to whatever they thought they were standing up to, even though neither he nor they knew what that was.
But it gets worse. What’s happening – and apparently it’s happening right across the so-called settler world – is not what D’Angelo thinks is white fragility. If we’re privileged – and many of us are – fragile is the one thing we’re not. If we were we wouldn’t be privileged! But we are. We’re so privileged that, for one thing among so many others, we don’t want to have to watch what we say around you. If we do have to watch what we say around you, then we’re just not going to want to have anything to do with you. We’re certainly not going to want to be your friend. And you’re not going to want us to be ours. In fact I can’t think of anything more prohibitive of reconciliation – can you? – than our not wanting to have anything to do with each other.
So as I say, it’s not my fragility that makes me want not to give a shit about your grievances, be they legitimate or not. It’s the toxicity of your company. It’s your incivility. If you think that incivility is warranted, I won’t naysay you. Just stay the fuck away from me! And so my sixth takeaway from the behaviour of Mahon and his handlers last Wednesday is what I did:
I just walked away.
Categories: Critical Thinking, Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots
Thank you for this insight- as one of your students in belief, truth, and paradox I felt my only option was to be quiet and observe silently. But the lack of critical thinking and the very nature that no one protesting (in person or online) seemed to have all the context and was following the sheep/ acting on emotion. This was very insightful and was something I needed to not feel SO useless, I hope as a 21 year old this type of respect, empathy, critical thinking, and looking outwards instead of only inwards changes into something effective and meaningful. Thank you Paul.
And well that you did walk. Hate speech is not free speech when it perpetuates continuing hate and denial of indigenous schools genocide. Maybe you should visit one of the dig sites and drink that all in before you defend this fired wakadoodle. In regard to what she has said, just consult MRU termination documents. It is easy accessible for anyone review. No hate at the U of L.
You clearly don’t want us to think too hard about what hate speech is, Mr. McCluskey. Hint: it’s in Sec. 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Please do enlighten us at what dig sites can be found the bodies of genocide victims.
If you think what Frances Widdowson writes and says is “hate speech” then you may be far too confused to engage in a debate on the subject. How about you write down what she has said or written that is hate speech. Then we can evaluate.
When did you convince yourself that your moral outrage over words you don’t like justified censoring other people?
I was present at the protest. The biggest lie told by the “journalists” is that 700 people came to protest. From what I could see, there were maybe 100 people actually protesting at peak attendance, and the rest were simply interested to see what would become of the event. Out of the many protesters I talked to, none of them could so much as tell me what Widdowson would be speaking about that day. Given that she would be talking about how Universities censor dissenting opinions, the protesters did nothing but prove Widdowson exactly correct. One thing I will say about genocide (with great caution) is that a case could be made that a genocide of Uyghur Muslims is currently being carried out in the Xinjiang province of China. Given that the prime minister of Canada denies that such a thing exists, why have we not condemned him for his “hate speech”? I ask that sincerely. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a good thing to learn all the facts and allowing free discourse before coming to a conclusion that is enforced by the powers that be.
Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts, Paul. I wish there were more like you.
I observed from the tv video taken that a minority were actually cheering on the activists’ slogans.
Right. There were just a few terribly immature-looking young settler women — teenagers, apparently — shrieking slogans and one screeching indigenous woman haranguing Frances. I think if just one or two people had started to chant, “Let her speak! Let her speak!” they might have carried the day. Those dudes in ball caps and basketball sweatshirts didn’t look stereotypically woke. Maybe they are, who knows. But they could have said something.
Yes, it is a shame that the “let her speak” response wasn’t applied. It often undermines a ranting minority mob.
Thanks very much for both pieces, Paul. It is sad that only professors who are on the verge of retiring would try to expose what is happening in our universities.
I have two comments. The first is that I would like to defend students at MRU. In the last year there, I taught first year political science classes, not second year classes, and so the comparison is probably not apt. Also, I think that philosophy self selects for the most thoughtful students, whereas political science often selects for those with a more practical bent. Finally, I was particularly dialed in to asking you students to state what they thought was true, no matter how offensive, and I would have been reluctant to do this in my own classes (for fear of some kind of complaint).
Second, I am surprised by your lack of commentary on the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association. As you astutely told me, the real issue was not that I was shouted down in The Atrium. No one was obligated to allow me to speak in that space. The actual violation concerned the fact that you had decided, as a University of Lethbridge faculty member, that I had something of academic importance to say and you booked a room in Anderson Hall to facilitate this intellectual discussion. The university cancelled this, thus violating your academic freedom. The faculty association had an obligation to protect this right, and yet it said nothing. Instead, it expressed concern about the fact that I would be propagating “hurtful speech” – https://www.ulfa.ca/ulfa-executive-statement-about-the-controversy-on-campus/ . This is because the faculty association has been captured by a “woke” faction. If faculty association don’t want to protect academic freedom, why should administrators?
You’re right. It was utterly churlish of me to take shots at MRU students. My bad. As for ULFA, keep in mind, as I do, that there’s a structural problem with pretty much ALL faculty associations, that being that they too have to virtue-signal for the same reason the general faculty has to, but also that many association executives have an eye to administration positions down the line. Some people have suggested that association execs be barred from admin positions for at least a decade, but others worry that would overly discourage serving on faculty associations. It’s a difficult problem.