How Reified Postmodernism is Killing the Mount Royal Faculty Association

April 2021

In the April 2020 issue of the SAFS Newsletter, I documented that, over the last few years, a number of faculty associations had become politicized and opposed the expression of certain ideas at their universities. Their justification for this censorship was the belief that designated groups were being marginalized, with some faculty associations even demanding the cancellation of talks because of their perceived negative impact on society. Such circumstances were documented in the faculty associations of the University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia, and University of Regina.

My own union – the Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA) – has not been immune from this politicization. In fact, it has become a shell of its former self and now regularly disregards its obligations of representation. While, up until 2018, the MRFA was trusted to fairly represent its members, the organization has now been almost completely taken over by an ideological faction. This faction now controls the MRFA Executive as a vehicle for activism and uses it to suppress dissent amongst the membership.

The troubles with the MRFA began in 2018, when faculty members from the Bissett School of Business began to take up important positions on the Executive Board. This was a problem because a business school is not an academic entity, and its culture does not have an understanding of pursuing the truth for its own sake. On the contrary, knowledge is something that can be “applied” in the capitalist system to increase productivity and profitability. As a result, business schools include human resources management programs that are in agreement with a corporatized university’s goal of managing faculty and responding to student clients so as to protect its brand.

Strangely, the “diversity managerialism” brought by corporatized universities and business schools intersects with the reactionary anti-Enlightenment position that has now become dominant at Mount Royal University – what Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay refer to as “reified postmodernism”. Known colloquially as “wokeism”, reified postmodernism demands that the ideas of identities perceived to be oppressed be “made real” so that they have the collective strength to overcome their marginalized position in society. This means that, unlike universities of twenty years ago, which accommodated postmodernism and identity politics as other perspectives alongside rigorous scholarship, professors in the humanities and social sciences are increasingly told that they must accept irrational ideas (such as that there is no such thing as biological sex or that indigenous peoples were “created” in the Americas). If they do not pretend that these ideas are valid, they are told that they are not “allies” of the oppressed, making them complicit in maintaining the power imbalances of the cis-hetero-white supremacist social structure.

The prominence of wokeism at MRU became noticeable in 2019, when members of the MRFA Communications Committee used their authority to promote events that supported trans activism and decolonization while at the same time denigrating critical inquiry of activist claims. This was followed by the MRFA Executive increasingly supporting corporate managerialist initiatives such as Diversity, Inclusion and Equity (DIE) and opposing a robust conception of academic freedom and the merit principle. The MRFA Executive also became more involved with entities like the Indigenous and People of Color/Colour Support Network (soon to be renamed the Mount Royal Anti-Racism Coalition {@MRUAntiRacism}), which was active in denouncing professors who criticized Critical Race Theory, gender identity ideology, and postcolonial studies.

In 2020, this ideological takeover was complete with the election of even more “woke” members and the changing of MRFA bylaws to include a “Diversity and Equity” position on the Executive Board. As a result, a number of initiatives inspired by wokeism were promoted by the MRFA in rapid succession:

  • a statement opposing racism after the death of George Floyd, which assumed that anti-black racism at MRU was pervasive

  • support for the “Scholar’s Strike”

  • wearing orange shirts at the September 30, 2020 MRFA general meeting to recognize the harm done by indigenous residential schools

  • a workshop evaluating MRU policies for their complicity in “white supremacy culture”

  • the ubiquitous recitation of territorial land acknowledgements and pronouns in various MRFA activities and correspondence.

The most serious development by far, however, has been the MRFA’s involvement in the mobilization of students against unorthodox professors. This resulted in a number of events where MRFA representatives promoted the activities of students who were associated with MRU Racial Advocacy (originally @RacialAdvMRU and now the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour] Student Support Network {How2BeU}). The most disturbing circumstance was an event on February 26, 2021, entitled “Enhancing EDI [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] in the classroom”. At this MRFA sponsored event, students associated with How2BeU gave presentations about what they perceived to be examples of racism at MRU. The first “heartbreaking” incident recounted by a student was about a professor showing a video about the rap music industry and saying that he could not listen to the songs anymore “because the only thing you hear nowadays is ‘nigger, nigger, nigger’ ”. The second involved a professor saying something in a class that was “pretty offensive”, to the point that it was “not even really a microaggression”. These two incidents, as well as the fact that a few professors criticized the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement on the university, were believed to demonstrate that many professors at MRU were “blatantly racist”. To combat this problem, the students recommended getting rid of tenure and putting in place an “EDI tracking system” that would make it easier for students to lodge complaints against professors who questioned the feelings of BIPOC students.

A similar situation occurred a month later with the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) event “The Loudest Silence: Anti-Racism Commemoration Open Mic”. At this event, the President of the MRFA, who began by announcing that he had the pronouns “he/him”, said that he was a “white cisgendered male” and an “out queer man” who was there as the representative of faculty “to listen and to learn”. He noted that the MRFA opposed all forms of racism and discrimination and that “we all know at Mount Royal” that we have a lot of work to do to create a welcoming, inclusive and equitable institution. This, he told the audience, would involve creating inclusive and safer spaces in classrooms for all students. SAMRU’s event, he argued, was about being part of an effort to rebuild relationships with equity deserving groups. In this regard, he saw himself as a listener where he would “hear [students’] words” so as to be able to address their human rights concerns. This would include “making space” in the curriculum so as not to erase the “indigenous knowledges” that had been around for millennia.

The SAMRU event mirrored the previous MRFA sponsored discussion, in that there were no real instances of racism at MRU recounted. The only circumstance that warranted some concern was a faculty member allegedly stopping in the middle of a lecture to go over and touch a black female student’s hair. Students mostly talked about how professors mispronounced their names and asserted that professors needed to empathize more with them about their identities and tribulations. A professor referring to the Inuit as “Eskimos” was seen as being particularly damaging, as well as mentioning the word “Indian” in the context of legislation. Asserting that there was a “developmental gap” between modern societies and traditional indigenous cultures, as well as criticizing the politics of official indigenous territorial land acknowledgements, also was perceived as being unacceptable and needed to be called out.

A number of the students involved stated that they suffered from mental health issues, which could help to explain the overwrought tone of many of the testimonies. The session, in fact, embodied the rise of psychological problems linked to two of the “three great untruths” identified by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt: “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker” and “always listen to your feelings”. The discussion also strongly reflected what Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning call “The Rise of Victimhood Culture” in universities today. All three representatives of faculty, staff and administration attending seemed to assume that everything said should be accepted without question because their “positionality of privilege” meant that when BIPOC people try to teach white people about racial inequity you “shut up and listen and you don’t talk back”.

Although the President of the Mount Royal Staff Association and the Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (Students) were also there to encourage these non-racist grievances and feelings of victimhood, the most disturbing involvement was that of the MRFA. This is because professors must sign away their rights to represent themselves in disputes with their employer when they belong to a faculty association. As a result, the MRFA is the only entity that can defend dissident professors when they will be inevitably complained about under “code of conduct” and “harassment” policies, in this censorious climate of what Douglas Murray calls “The Madness of Crowds”. A faculty association captured by a corporatized university imposing diversity managerialism will not be able to assist any professor who is trying to protect the academic character of post-secondary institutions.