UNB sociologist Ricardo Duchesne’s comments on Asian populations marring Canada’s European character read like some relic of the past.
Peruse through Dr. Duchesne’s long bibliography and you’ll find no end to titles which champion the West as a beacon of light and salvation for the rest of the world.
And he has the audacity to surmise that we’re scared he’s talking. All these years, some group of us have been keeping secret that ‘white is right’ and he’s spilling the beans.
What’s actually scary is that no one has stepped up to publicly declaim what Duchesne is preaching. No voice has publicly called out Duchesne for evangelizing racism while veiling it as a critique of multiculturalism.
Instead, we’ve heard defenses of academic freedom. The term is being used in the same way Americans use free speech: “by golly, I got a right to say what I wanna!” Academic freedom is not the first amendment. Rather, this liberty within the institution is the result of years of collective bargaining, conflicts with university administrations, and campaigns by faculty unions.
Academic freedom is a vital institution to how the university functions. It maintains an atmosphere where knowledge can constantly be tested, refined, and produced. There was a time when a professor could be removed from a university if they criticized the administration or the government which an administration aligned with. There have been arguments that UNB was even a front of academic freedom in Canada with the 1968 Strax Affair.
Dr. Norman Strax was removed from his position at UNB for having bussed students across the border to attend an anti-Vietnam war rally. He also held a protest at the Harriet Irving Library against the mandatory use of photo ID. To make the long, short: it was eventually decided through a series of events that, in the words of Kanye, one man shouldn’t have all that power. That a professor’s employment or position should not be threatened by vocal criticism or opposing politics.
Fast forward to 2014/15 and we have Dr. Duchesne using the long fight for freedom to lament that one might see a lot of Asians on their way to school in Vancouver. That a European heritage perpetuated by colonialism might be dying. Or, that us whites need to get it together and be proud of all the land we’ve taken.
God fuckin’ forbid.
As Dr. Duchesne’s comments were being publicised on the CBC, AUNBT president Miriam Jones was in the same article discussing how academic freedom is under threat, that it is “something to go to the wall for.”
I am wholeheartedly on board with Dr. Jones. However, I don’t think that the default when a professor spouts racism should be to champion academic freedom. The default should be to show to the public what academic freedom is and does.
Instead of espousing how vital academic freedom is in the face of bigotry, the university, specifically Dr. Duchesne’s own department, should perform academic freedom. Whether this be opposing views being put out through media or through a colloquium, we should work to show that academic freedom means discussion. The public should see that we, as an institution, are not gathering around Dr. Duchesne to shelter him. Instead, we give him the space to speak and then immediately renounce his bigotry.
If we don’t act out academic freedom, then we stand still and defend people like Dr. Duchesne, we allow them to have a platform.
By not actively playing out what it means to work in an atmosphere of freedom of thought means to implicitly agree to allow bigotry to be vomited into the public realm. The foundations of academia are critique and knowledge. If the institution does not utilize academic freedom properly, harmful remarks like Dr. Duchesne’s make it to becoming knowledge. However, if we involve ourselves in the discussion, such vitriolic comments won’t stand the refining fire of critique.
To close off this week’s column, I want to step away from my argument on how academic freedom should act and take a moment to apologize for Dr. Duchesne’s comments.
I am a long time student of UNB. I believe in what this university can be, what it can do. One of our professors has made comments which ignore the fact that our nation put Japanese-Canadians in internment camps, maintained eugenics programs into the eighties, played a very real role in slavery, and established itself on stolen land. This is a history I am not proud of. A history I refuse to be proud of.
For Dr. Duchesne’s comments, I am sorry.