Political correctness & censorship re David Gilmour’s views!

Attribution Ryan Remiorz/CP Click for source.

Attribution Ryan Remiorz/CP Click for source.

David Gilmour is an author and intellectual who happens to teach university English courses at the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Victoria College campus.

Do I agree with his views? No, I don’t.

But so what? Differences of opinions exist and are essential in a democracy — particularly when it comes to the concepts of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

Yet, make no mistake about it, there is currently an attempt by many on social media, as well as some of Gilmour’s university colleagues, to both censor and censure him — essentially making him a pariah in the process.

Why? Because his reading lists, apart from Virginia Woolf, allegedly include only male authors.

Have I ever met David Gilmour? No. Does he like women? I have no idea but I am sure his liking or not liking has nothing to do with his reading lists.

Look. It works both ways. As a retired academic myself (teacher education) I have met plenty of female professors who don’t like men but no one has censured them that I know of. I mean, we have entire university departments dedicated to feminist studies.

So, why is it perfectly acceptable to have an entire undergraduate degree taught by female professors whose courses are designed entirely around women’s issues and women’s rights but not acceptable for a male instructor to use a male-only reading list that he has chosen for a senior level English literature course?

I mean, I cannot recall hearing about men holding a rally to complain about the fact that women’s studies programs don’t include the accomplishments of all men throughout history.

Thankfully, U of T student, Rachel Bulatovich, gives us an idea of what it is like to take one of Gilmour’s courses in this Globe and Mail column this morning. She writes:

“If, on Tuesday, I went into his class and proclaimed that Ann-Marie MacDonald is the best writer in the world (she is a woman, a lesbian and a Canadian author: the holy trinity of Gilmour’s detest) he would likely challenge me by asking why I thought that. Of course, this is a ridiculous statement to make – equally as ridiculous as his comments about Chekhov – but I’m using it as an example because of its superlative nature. He would ask me why, and, if I gave him a good enough reason, he would nod and accept my point. I’ve contested his views before, and so have other students. If you put up a good fight and defend your own opinions, he will respect them.”

In other words, David Gilmour makes his students think — and key is the fact that even when he disagrees with them. as long as they can defend what they say, he is okay with that.

Look, I am of retirement age and came of age in the 1960s, part of a generation who fought the good fight, or so I thought.

Have young women today lost touch with how far we have come? Paternalism was the norm when women were expected to think as men did or to leave thinking to their husbands, brothers and fathers.  In 17th and 18th century Britain, women typically weren’t even allowed to learn to read, let alone read newspapers or books.

Has political correctness in 2013 now brought us full circle? Are women now telling men what they can or cannot read or teach?

In my opinion, and thankfully I am allowed to have an opinion, if David Gilmour has done anything wrong, it is that he has told his truth — a truth some simply don’t like.

Something to think about.

Updates: (1) This latest Star column by Sandro Contenta indicates Gilmour will not be fired. Read the whole thing because Gilmour makes his own comments as well. As one of the commenters under the article says, likely Gilmour’s courses will be more popular than ever and full to overflowing. In the interest of fairness and academic freedom, I am glad to hear that. (2) Cross-posted Jack’s Newswatch.

Quebec’s univ students protesting tuition hikes get failing grade

Student Protest March 13,2012. Click image. Courtesy CBC.

Updated March 13th, 2012. It is unbelievable that Quebec university students are not only continuing to protest, but they say they will strike until the Quebec Liberals relent and not raise their tuitions. Is that their idea of democracy – when they get their way? Windows were also broken in office buildings, although according to the CBC the protest ended peacefully. Clearly the notion that some maturing is needed comes to mind, as does the phrase “spoiled brats.” Harsh? Perhaps. But, all of us need to learn that government can’t do everything we want.

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Original post starts here: Read this column by the Calgary Herald’s Licia Corbella.  It is quite an eye opener, even for someone like me who spent half my teaching career at the university level. What Corbella proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that Quebec’s post-secondary tuition structure is subsidized by all the have-provinces — which are currently Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and BC, albeit primarily Alberta. Yet, Quebec students continue to protest over a $325.00 hike

Now, while it may be their democratic right to protest, are the Quebecers who are protesting so self-absorbed they have no idea that: (1) they already have one of the lowest tuition fee structures in Canada; and (2) it is tax revenue from other provinces, through the equalization program, that is making it possible for them to maintain such low rates?

Then, there is the unfair fact that Quebec charges out-of-province students a higher rate than Quebec residents. Check out this McGill Student Accounts page, for example, and it shows “Residency Status” — Quebecer, Non-Quebec Canadian & International. Odd, because as this York University link shows (scroll half way down the page to “Domestic Tuition Fees Category”), it is not apparently the same in reverse. To attend York, you need only be a Canadian citizen or a child of one.  

However, as Corbella writes, if an Albertan were to attend McGill University in September 2012, probably the most prestigious university in Canada, he or she would have to pay the out-of-province total tuition of $7417 a year compared to a Quebec resident who would only have to pay $3727.00 — just over half. 

Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. Sure, all non-Quebecers have known that Quebec is treated differently. However, I had no idea Quebec universities had discriminatory tuition fees.  Meaning, perhaps that it is the university students studying in Quebec but considered “Non-Quebec” who should be out there protesting — for equal treatment for all Canadians. 

The crux of the matter is, therefore, that Quebec’s protesting university students get an “F” for their unrealistic and discriminatory demands.

[...]

Endnote:  If you do a Google search on the topic of equalization, you will find some who complain that Alberta does not give transfer payments to other provinces. While that is technically true, the result is the same. What happens is that, as Corbella explained happened in 2009, Alberta sent $35.990 billion gross taxes to the federal government. They received $19.997 back in transfer payments. So, no matter how you do the numbers, the rest of Canada got to keep $15.993 billion of Alberta tax dollars. And, of that amount, Quebec got $13.641 billion in equalization payments. Which means, that no matter how you spin it, Alberta makes it possible for Quebec university students to get a break on their tuitions that no other Canadians get.

Public school system fails when university students fail mid-terms

For some time now I have been saying that elementary and secondary school districts who have dropped, or are considering dropping, the fall report cards for “progress reports” are taking the easy way out. Why? They are not preparing students for life beyond high school when they give them grades like “Needs improvement.” That is a cop-out because, while it may not offend the student or his or her parents, it doesn’t teach the child a thing. Whereas, a C grade with accompanying comments on how to actually improve to a B or better, would actually mean something.  

I have also been saying that too much emphasis on standardized tests and rote learning can result in cheating or hinder individuals once they come face to face with the real world –i.e., they are not prepared to think independently, abstractly or creatively when faced with essay exams on university mid-terms in October and November of their first year. Funny that. How come universities can have serious mid-term exams in October and November and yet elementary and secondary teachers apparently don’t yet know enough about their students’ progess by then?

Well, its long past time for the political correctness in the school system to stop and for lawmakers, school administrators and teachers’ unions to recognize and restore the notion of individual differences. Remember the Bell Curve and normal distribution? Yes, in our Western societies, we all have an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, culture, colour or religion. But, and here is the politically incorrect but, we are not all created equal intellectually. 

Which is why there is currently a post-secondary dilemma. Yes, professors are now being pressured to give higher marks than they used to. And, yes, first year mid-terms have a way of getting rid of students who are not going to do well. However, they also tend to get rid of very capable students who simply don’t know how, either to prepare for their exams or how to complete them successfully.

Remember the problem I mentioned above about rote learning. University exams require abstract and creative thinking and you are either right or you are wrong. No fuzziness. No social promotion. Get it or get out. Just like employers. For those in business, time is money. New employees either learn their jobs or they are fired. There are no accommodations. I once saw a sign on a staff room bulletin board that said: “Be good or be gone.” Yes, it’s a cold competitive world out there. But, that is reality!

In any event, when first year university students do badly or fail their mid terms, it is the universities that are having to come up with programs and strategies to stop students from dropping out — essentially doing the work that those in the regular public system have abrogated.

Endnote: Given that the comment full moderation feature is activated at the moment, there may be a short delay in approving them. My thanks for everyone’s patience!

HESA reports more tech in classroom actually impedes learning

Out today are the results of a study by Canadian Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) that e-learning and high-tech formats should not replace traditional types of courses at the post-secondary level. Actually I’m not surprised that, as the London Free Press is reporting, of those studied, 79% of students reported that they preferred old-fashioned lectures, while 82.3% preferred tangible textbooks over e-books.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that colleges and universities should stop offering some high-tech classrooms or online programs and degrees. It simply means that educational officials need to be reminded that not everyone learns in the same way. And, while there is a lot of debate about learning styles, it just makes sense that there is variability in how people prefer to learn.

For example, for those reading this, when travelling by car to a location for the first time, do you prefer following a map or a point form list with instructions and landmarks on how to get there? Or, like me, do you prefer a bit of both. Or, since this discussion is about high-tech, do you prefer a Global Positioning System (GPS)?

In any event, if anything positive is going to come out of the HESA results, it is that post-secondary institutions (as well as regular public school systems) are going to have to make sure high-tech and online courses do not, whether purposely or inadvertently,  replace traditional lecture formats and old-fashioned hands-on labs and seminar discussions.   

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Endnote: Here is the PDF of the actual study for those who want to read the actual report.

Prof. Lukacs exposes Univ. Manitoba “no-fail” policy at Ph.D level

Can you believe it?  The University of Manitoba’s Mathematics Department has succumbed to the politically correct policy of promoting a student who was not ready to graduate. Only, this time we are talking about a student who has already had their Ph.D conferred — even though they did not pass one of their required comprehensive exams.

No big deal you say? Sorry, but it “is” a big deal because it is the comprehensive exams that decide whether or not a Ph.D candidate is ready to be identified as a scholar and a professor.

Been there and done that. Tough? Stressful? You bet it is.  Did I suffer from test anxiety? Absolutely. The thing is, there were only four of us in a large room. At the doctoral level, there are not hundreds of students, or even dozens. Likely, the student involved wrote their exam alone. But, because they are usually timed (anywhere from three hours to eight hours), you have to think fast and you have to know your research paradigms. My guess is that this student still doesn’t understand the purpose for the exam.

In any event, good on Professor Gabor Lukacs! Suspended without pay for three months, you sure have to hand it to him for exposing all this! I have taught in two universities. I know only too well the fortitude it would require to take on the administration and the politically correct “let’s lower our academic standards in this case” attitude, particularly since the student had a medical letter.

While this matter may be happening in Manitoba, it is also alive and well in Ontario. The McGuinty government call their lowering of academic standards at the high school level, their  “success” initiative — which I call their “no-fail” policy.

Odd isn’t it that the person who exposes this travesty is suspended but the person who failed the comprehensive test is out there somewhere pretending to have successfully completed all of their doctoral program. For full details, read yesterday’s special to the National Post. Written by Joseph Brean, it just has to be a wake-up call to everyone.

Obviously, what started out as well-meaning accommodations for students with average to above average ability, who also had learning or other disabilities (including severe math or test anxiety), has now become a crutch and a detriment to academic accomplishment.

And, unfortunately, nearly twenty years ago, I had a hand in that process when I wrote a text-book about accommodations and compensations — used world-wide in university special needs departments. I also worked with dozens of college and university students in my private practice who needed help learning essay-writing techniques, study and test-taking strategies. However, I never would have suggested waiving an exam, most especially a failed comprehensive exam. Nor, would I have suggested accommodations at the doctoral level.

Recommendations:

While no one at the University of Manitoba has asked for my opinion, I intent to give it anyway.

  1. The President of the University of Manitoba and the Math Chair have to stop blaming the whistle-blower, Prof. Lukacs.
  2. While they can’t take away a Ph.D once it has been conferred, they can insist the person involved rewrite the test as many times as it takes for them to pass it — marked by an outside neutral source.

Otherwise, all those who have a part in this fiasco have ruined the University of Manitoba’s reputation, as well as put in question “all” previous Ph.D’s conferred there.

For the rest of society, it is long past time to stop promoting students who are not ready, for whatever reason. If that means, a higher drop out rate, so be it. And, yes, having taught sociology, I know there will be those who say dropping out creates strain and the likelihood of higher crime statistics. Well, young people have choices and those choices have consequences. My point is to stop making excuses for them because  chances are most will return to school once they find out they can’t get meaningful work.

I am just glad that someone said “enough is enough” and exposed the University of Manitoba’s implicit “no-fail” policy.  Thank you Professor Lukacs!

Endnotes: Professor Lukacs was a child prodigy, meaning he was a “gifted” child. The fact that he is willing to buck his university’s administration shows he is made of different stuff and not afraid to rock the boat. Check out Paul Bennett’s blog EduChatter and his latest post on where gifted education should be going. While you’re at it, read the comment thread as well because there is an excellent discussion going on that deals with the “lowered academic standards” we see in this situation.

Carleton Univ. provides help to students who are “flunking out”

Unlike high school where teachers and parents can direct and influence what students do, the opposite is usually true of university. Total freedom! As a result, even though good marks are what get young people admitted to university in the first place, the characteristics and skills that are most needed to succeed are self-discipline, organizational abilities and perseverance, as well as knowing when to ask for help.

The importance of first-year university mid-terms exams

But before I get into those issues, a little reminder. Absolutely everyone who attends university at some point in their lives remembers the mid-point of their first course or first year. In most universities there are what are called “progress exams” or “mid terms” in first year at the end of November and into early December. They exist for very good reasons and primary among those reasons is a wake-up call as to how well (or not well) students are doing.

The results can sometimes be very demoralizing because unless the students are self-disciplined and organized, they usually don’t do very well, sometimes even failing.  Why? Well, I hate to inform parents about this (as though they don’t already know), but the first semester in first year is usually all about partying and students discovering the world around them — without anyone supervising them, particularly if they are not living at home.

The reality is, universities are totally free of the constraints of high school. No one telephones or texts students when they sleep in and don’t show up for class. Similarly, no one telephones or texts when they don’t hand assignment in on time, or nags them to study for their mid-terms — although many profs do try to find ways to communicate to those students who are not fulfilling their obligations.  However, the first honest-to-goodness wake-up call is when they get those exams back.

The effect of never learning how to fail

As a former university teacher, I have seen the long faces and the tears. I have also heard “but I didn’t realize….” more times than I care to remember.  Why did they not realize? Well, in hindsight I have now come to the conclusion the reason they didn’t realize was because they are seldom taught the consequences of what happens when they don’t do what is required of them.

For example, I have written many articles about how our current high school systems in this country are passing kids even when they don’t deserve to pass. Why? Because there is a deep-seated belief that a child’s self-esteem will be adversely affected if they fail at anything. Here is a link to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “success initiative,” which I and many others have relabelled a “no-fail” policy. Well, let me tell you, the falsity in that view hits home really hard when the results of mid-terms arrive.

What universities can do to help students succeed

However, all is not lost if the students will take the time to get help.  That is the first and most important step. Yes, they blew it. But, if they can learn from that and accept help, they will learn what it takes to really be successful. Yet, as Carson Jerema writes in Macleans, only 30-40% of Carleton University students accept the help that is offered them — even when Carleton staff approaches them.

That is most unfortunate. Because, attending and being successful at university is no different from high school, except it is the learners who must supervise themselves, something they will need to do in whatever path they take in life. So, that is where self-discipline and perseverance comes in.

What should universities do? Like Carleton, they should use the results of mid-terms and first year finals to find out which students are “flunking out” and offer to help them. For students who are having difficulties adjusting to university expectations, it is my hope that they will, in turn, accept the help offered.

Some endnotes regarding the Macleans article

  1. What I found especially interesting was the fact that those who are “flunking out” are not necessarily what progressives like to promote as disadvantaged or minorities. Rather, they are just students who are failing and dropping out because of their low marks — from all walks of life regardless of their cultural or socio-economic status.
  2. Moreover, universities themselves had better look at their retention rates after first year. Jerema writes, for instance, that the retention rate at Queen’s University is high at 95%, whereas at Brandon University in Manitoba, it is only 70.3% (meaning that 30% of Brandon first year students are either quitting or flunking out).

Academic freedom is really about political beliefs

University politics is like politics everywhere. It can be very divisive and it can be vicious — which is why I have said in the past that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s background actually prepared him well for Ottawa. Mind you, whether he has been able to generalize what he learned is another question altogether.

In any event, there is a current battle brewing at York University and what happens there, I suspect, will affect all Canadian universities. It’s about what is or isn’t academic freedom. Regarding the York situation, of course you have people on opposing sides making allegations and claims. And, just like federal, provincial or municipal politics, people take sides.

In my opinion, it will only get worse with the release of the report by Justice Frank Iacobucci last Friday (yes, the same judge recently asked by PM Harper to examine the detainee documents issue) and why the issue of academic freedom is back in the media (h/t Jack’s Newswatch).

What is this all about? Well, last year, a group of professors at York University put on a conference with the politically correct title – Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to PeaceHowever, complaints at that time, by York officials and others, were that the title aside, the conference was simply going to be an opportunity to criticize Israel.

Of course, the organizers cried foul and York’s President then had to call in the retired judge to look at the issue of academic freedom in the context of the conference.

Well, it seems that Justice Iacobucci agrees that academic freedom does not mean you can say or write whatever you want — that there needs to be some kind of consensus. In his report, for example, he suggests that the York University community have a meaningful discussion about the “core values” of academic freedom and the best practices that would follow from those values. 

I certainly will make no claim here to have any answers. Far from it. But, I do offer readers a challenge. Take a look at the roster of speakers at the York conference in question and then scroll down the page and read some of the titles of the various presentations. 

Was that conference about providing paths to peace in the Middle East through an open debate or was it simply an opportunity to bash the only democratic country in that neighbourhood – Israel?

Remember, when you are looking at the titles and even the content of some of the papers, keep in mind, not only academic freedom, but the concepts of a free society and free speech. Meaning, that when considering my challenge, it wouldn’t hurt if you also had the wisdom of Solomon.