Another Canadian university and one of its professors have both fallen victim to what many say is a dangerous, poorly constructed, incoherent, and overreaching harassment policy.
Acadia University is located in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 2014 it had revenue of $95,346,000, but managed to spend $101,020,000. They were also the recipient of a $24,500,000 bailout for the 2016/17 fiscal year. Acadia has been accused of obscene administrative excess and extreme bureaucratic incompetence and mismanagement. They are now engaged in another troubling controversy that is likely to further damage their already battered reputation.
Professor Rick Mehta received a letter from his employer dated February 13, 2018, informing him that he is being investigated in response to "complaints and expressions of concern" over "...the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting..."
Mehta is a well spoken and mild mannered psychology professor who has expressed an interest in seeing more than one perspective explored while problem solving. For example, for Indigenous Peoples reconciliation discussions, he has supported the idea that there could be more than one perspective and that perhaps if more perspectives were to be introduced, there would be more meaningful and productive conversations, and that this might bring about some genuinely positive progress. He has stated that he does not wish to diminish or disregard the past suffering of Indigenous Peoples, but rather, feels that the free exchange of ideas and a more open conversation would be helpful in achieving positive outcomes. He also created a video in which he discusses, in great detail, free speech in universities.
While Mehta's position is very reasonable, measured, productive, and is in keeping with traditional approaches to problem solving and learning, the university's harassment policy guarantees trouble. The policy appears to have been hastily crafted. As soon as you read the policy inherent flaws begin to jump out at you. Here are two relevant sections:
C.18 Discrimination, sexual harassment, and personal harassment can occur during one incident, or over a series of incidents including single incidents, which, in isolation, would not necessarily constitute discrimination, sexual harassment, or personal harassment. This can occur on or off campus and at any time, provided it is an extension of the workplace or the learning environment.
C.19 The fact that someone did not intend to harass or discriminate is no defense to a complaint. Regardless of intent, it is the effect and characteristics of the behaviour that determine whether the behaviour constitutes discrimination, sexual harassment or personal harassment.
As you can see from the above policy components, anyone who expresses an opinion that any other person might disagree with has acted contrary to the policy. Professor Mehta's position that the free exchange of ideas is helpful in problem solving would cause someone who wanted only their own opinion to be heard, at the exclusion of all others, to be offended. The offended party would then only need to say that they "felt harassed" or 'felt marginalized" or "felt discriminated against" in order to successfully meet the threshold for a successful harassment complaint as described in the policy. This makes serious discussions on any topic impossible and makes the policy into a political weapon which can be used as a deterrent against the uttering of statements that are contrary to the current enforced group-think.
According to Acadia's policy, if you were a professor and you stumbled across an argument between a group of people, over any topic, and you attempted to intervene by asking everyone to take turns offering their opinions on the dispute, and you said that after all of the opinions were heard the group could discuss them and attempt to arrive at a solution, you could find yourself under investigation for harassment. If one in the group decided that it was not in their best interest to let the others speak, they could simply say that they felt harassed or marginalized by having to allow others an opportunity to express opinions. If that person went further and stated that they felt that your harassment was directed at them because of their gender, you could find yourself under investigation for sexual or gender-based harassment. The fact that you did not intend harassment plays no part in the enforcement of the policy.
Some have suggested that such policies are necessary to protect students from hearing ideas that they might disagree with or cause them discomfort. Others suggest that on some subjects, the official single narrative has already been determined by people who have appointed themselves as the official spokespeople, and that there would be no value added by letting others speak on the topic.
Despite much public support for Mehta's traditional and beneficial approach to exploring ideas, there are some radical-leftists within academia who are speaking out against the concept of the free-exchange of ideas. They seem to be deeply imbedded and wield much power and have rightly noticed that the policy shown above can easily be used as a frightening weapon against those you disagree with. One radical and obscure professor, Matthew Sears, from the University of New Brunswick, who frequently rails online against white people, capitalism, free-speech, Western civilization, and professors who earn more than him, called Mehta an "ignoramus" and implied that he was a racist. No one has produced a single example of Mehta doing, saying, or writing anything that could be even remotely considered racist. Mehta is himself a visible minority who publically expresses a genuine dislike of racism. Despite these facts, the CBC decided to publish an article quoting Sears. Sears recently lashed out at an unrelated target in an unrelated conversation on twitter and wrote "say hi to the Nazi's for me, dipshit". In another exchange with a journalist, he said "fuck you". Another individual questioned Sears's calling everyone he disagrees with a "Nazi" and Sears responded "...you smug sack of shit". Some have suggested that Sears' oddly unprofessional behaviour, name calling, and dishonesty is actual harassment but so far his University seems uninterested in acting on it. Our universities have yet to explain how a mild mannered psychology professor calling for a cool and rational approach to seeking knowledge is a suitable candidate for a weaponized harassment policy, but the anti-civilization and online harasser and troll Sears, is not.
There have been suggestions that Sears does not intentionally wish to cause harm to those he attacks; but rather, in an effort to increase his social media presence, has taken to attacking professors who are more popular or do more serious work than him. To simply be involved in a dispute with serious thinkers like Jordan Peterson or Rick Mehta can bring attention to Sears that he would otherwise not see. Sears, based on his tweets, seems to be highly obsessed with Dr. Jordan Peterson and angrily tweets about him quite frequently. There have also been suggestions that Sears' support of collective group punishment is a sign of a dangerous, disordered, and authoritarian personality that wishes for revenge on the world. Whatever the case, the CBC provided no explanation for its publishing of a taxpayer funded propaganda article that attempts to attach much weight to Sears's radical and rambling opinions. The CBC has yet to remove the bizarre and poorly written article from its website.
Supporters of Professor Mehta have started an online petition and many people are now reaching out to him to express support and gratitude for his contributions to learning and to society in general. It is too early to tell how this will all play out. It is clear that the University must now blindly plow forward with its punitive actions. It must do so for the simple reason that there are massive bureaucracies within the university that, unless put to use, would be exposed as the useless, massive, and wasteful money-pits that they are. They are forced by their very existence to go on these witch hunts. If they did not, there would be nothing for them to do and the departments would be closed down and the mountains of taxpayer money that they burn up each year creating work out of nothing would be returned to the taxpayer or be put to use elsewhere.
It is clear that the universities have reached a point where outside intervention is required. There are likely many entire departments that could be simply eliminated. The financial savings here would be massive and the sparing of our university's reputations would also be of great value. If there are crimes committed within universities, then police should be contacted. If there are not, then people should carry on with their work. We already have a complex legal system - perhaps the best in the world - and we do not need unbelievably costly armies of mediocre petty administrators with bizarre political beliefs, and nothing at all to do, pretending that they are competent to seek out offenses, weigh evidence, and then issue punishments. I would like to know what the total cost for all of the universities in the country is and then calculate what the overall savings might be if we eliminated everything useless, unnecessary, or harmful. I think the figure might really wake people up. Whatever the figure might be, I am appalled when I am forced to face the fact that my tax dollars are being used to unfairly target and punish a professor who I consider to be an asset to my country.