Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship
Clive Seligman was born in Montreal in 1947. He received his B.Sc. from McGill in 1970 and his Ph.D. from Northwestern in 1974, both in Psychology. In the four-year period following his Ph.D., Clive was a lecturer in the Psychology Department and member of the research staff at the Center for Environmental Studies at Princeton University. He returned to Canada in 1978, accepting an Assistant Professor position in the Psychology Department at the University of Western Ontario, rising through the ranks to become a Full Professor in 1993, retiring in 2016. He served a term as Department Chair (1993-1998). He also served on the University Senate for four years and on Western’s Faculty Association Board of Directors and Executive, as well as being the Association’s Treasurer for several years. He joined SAFS as a founding member in 1992, becoming President in 2000 and serving in that position until 2015.
Like many academics, Clive’s orientation to academia, his academic interests and his approach to life in general were shaped by a number of his instructors in his undergraduate and graduate years. As an undergraduate, the instructors Clive best remembers are his Introductory Psychology professor Don Hebb and his honours advisor Wally Lambert, as well as Dick Tucker and Don Taylor, all of whom Clive remembers as being very supportive and encouraging. Hebb, who was one of the premier psychological researchers of his era, literally wrote the book (the one that was required for the course) that introduced Clive to psychology. What Hebb, who was a neuroscientist, didn’t do was to introduce Clive to his main interest, social psychology. It was Lambert who introduced Clive to social psychology and, in particular, the means by which social behaviour could be studied through the use of experimental techniques. Phil Brickman was Clive’s graduate advisor at Northwestern. Phil was a man who Clive fondly remembers as being able to generate ideas at a rate that was hard to believe. Clive talked about him frequently in his early years at Western. Clive and his wife, Elaine, were married in Phil’s house, and Clive regarded Phil as the older brother he never had. Sadly, Phil died in the early 1980s at age 38, an event that touched Clive deeply.
My association with Clive began when Clive was hired at Western in 1978. I had been hired in the previous year. In the time I have known him, I have been continually impressed by Clive’s commitment to the principles that form the basis for SAFS’s raison d’etre: maintaining freedom of thought and expression, academic integrity, the merit principle and fairmindedness in the academy. That commitment has shown itself in many ways: Clive’s willingness to examine issues from all sides before coming to a conclusion, his encouragement of both those whom he agrees with and those whom he disagrees with to defend their position publicly, allowing an engagement with their ideas, and his ability to ultimately, and forcefully, defend the position that he feels best supports rationality, fairness and academic integrity.
It has been my pleasure to have been Clive’s colleague and friend during his time at Western. In this piece what I intend to do is to tell readers about a number of the efforts that Clive has made to defend the principles that he holds close. It has been my good fortune to also have been involved in many of those efforts.
Like most universities, Western has been at the forefront of the “equity” movements. Further, in 1998, Western unionized, which gave faculty members the opportunity to push those ideas with somewhat more force. However, the movement for pay equity predated unionization. In 1989, a study was done at Western indicating that female faculty were, indeed, paid less, on average, than male faculty (79% of the male faculty average across the university, 87% in our Faculty, the Social Science Faculty), likely a standard result across North American universities. Unlike our already woke faculty and administration, Clive saw this issue as being one that needed somewhat deeper consideration.
Along with one of his other colleagues and our Department Chair, Clive managed to get sufficient (anonymous) data about the salaries of members of the Social Science Faculty in order to do the appropriate statistical analysis (i.e., a multiple regression which took into account factors such as years since first appointment, rank, and department (Economics, a department that typically has higher salaries, is part of Social Science)). The major factor in predicting male-female salary differences was years since first appointment, department was second and rank was third, accounting for less than 3% of the variance. (It wasn’t possible to add any performance factors to the regression equation since those data weren’t made available.) When these three factors alone were used as predictors, female faculty members’ average salaries were 99.7% of male faculty members’ salaries in Social Science, suggesting that, at least in our Faculty, there was no “inequity” between male and female salaries.
Clive and his colleagues published these results in the March 9, 1989 issue of Western News. Their conclusion was, of course, challenged a few weeks later (in the April 20 edition of Western News) by a (soon-to-be) administrator and one of her faculty colleagues. Their main comment was that females are promoted later than males and, therefore, rank is not an appropriate factor to include. As Clive and colleagues then pointed out, if rank were removed from the equation, female salaries in Social Science would still be about 97% of male salaries, a point that seemed to be lost on their critics. We can’t know for sure whether Clive’s and colleagues’ argument had any impact on the Western administration. However, in the end, the university went ahead with a pay equity increase only for the female faculty members whose salaries were deemed to be lower than they should be rather than giving an across-the-board increase. That result seemed to be about as fair a “compromise” resolution as one could imagine.
After unionization in 1998, the pay equity issue arose again based on the idea that restricting the pay equity increases to only some female faculty in the first round of adjustments was unfair. This time, the Western administration did a more extensive statistical analysis, the results of which were made available to the professoriate. To anyone who knew something about statistics, it was clear that something was off in the analysis. Clive and I pressed the administration to do it again and, this time, do it by actually taking into account all the factors that contribute to salary. (We also suggested that it would be a good idea to redo the analyses following the removal of the 6 faculty members (5 males) whose salaries were complete outliers because any male-female differences that had emerged could have been produced by those individuals.) Despite the fact that doing these analyses would require neither collecting more data nor even coding the collected data differently, the Administration refused, saying “maybe next time” and a new, across-the-board pay equity adjustment was made. Clive and I then asked the Administration to redo the analyses based on the new salary data, reasoning that if the pay increases were too large because the original analysis was off, we would find that female faculty were now, on average, paid more than male faculty. That request was refused as well. I should note, however, that our efforts here might have had some longer-term impact since there has been no hint of a “next time” for well over ten years.
These encounters with the pay equity aficionados, however, pale in comparison to Clive’s encounters with the employment equity squads. As all of you know, there is a strong push to “diversify” the professoriate. By that, what is not meant is that faculties should have a diversity of viewpoints but, rather, that they should have a smaller percentage of white males. By the late 1980s, Western, like other universities, had, for a number of years, had programs in place to financially encourage hiring of female professors. These encouragements undoubtedly had some impact on faculty hiring, likely around the margins (e.g., if two people are essentially equally qualified for the job….). However, in 1999, Wilfrid Laurier’s Psychology Department decided to take the process somewhat further, releasing what was, to our knowledge, the first job ad from a Canadian university specifically stating that no males need apply. That is, the ad stated, “The department is attempting to address a gender imbalance in its department, and therefore will hire a woman for this position, as allowed by the Special Program of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).” Although such an action did seem hard to believe, a few weeks later, the Chair of Psychology at Laurier, on a Hamilton radio show, verified that the ad meant what it said, stating that a man, even if he were the best candidate, would not be hired for this position.
Clive’s initial response was to write a letter to Laurier’s Chair of Psychology asking for a justification of the obvious sexism of this action. In response, the Chair pointed out that discrimination is allowed under Section 14 of the Ontario Human Rights Code if the purpose was to “relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity or that is likely to contribute to the elimination of the infringement of rights”. The Chair further indicated that the Employment Equity Office at Laurier had checked with the OHRC who had assured them that Laurier was following all applicable requirements in carrying out this sex-based hiring process.
With respect to this latter claim, a call to the OHRC, however, yielded the response “the Commission does not pre-approve special programs”. With respect to the former claim, the Chair also stated that the Psychology Department at Laurier had never discriminated against female applicants, which, if true, would seem to negate any claims of hardship or disadvantage. Indeed, data obtained by Clive did seem to support the Chair’s claim of non-discrimination against females, not only in their Psychology Department but also at Laurier in general. That is, the publicly available data that Clive obtained indicated that, both in Psychology and at Laurier in general, over the past 10 years, females had been 25-30% of the applicant pool, 35-40% of the interviewees and approximately 45% of the hires.
Having determined that there was no legal or moral basis for Laurier’s action, the next obvious step in the process was to bring these events to the public’s attention. One way to do so was to bring the situation to the attention of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) which publishes a newsletter (the Bulletin) that many go to in order to find advertisements for academic jobs in Canada. The Bulletin’s stated advertising policy said, “The publisher will not accept advertisements of academic positions restricting applications on grounds of race, national origin, religion, colour, sex [italics added], age, marital status, family status, ethnicity, disability, sexual preference, social origin, or political beliefs or affiliation. CAUT expects that all positions advertised in the Bulletin are open to both men and women. Advertisements using restrictive language will not be accepted except when the language has been mandated [italics added] by Human Rights legislation.” Jim Turk, the executive director of CAUT, also indicated to Clive during a phone call that the CAUT would follow its published job advertising policy.
Based on these facts, it seemed clear that any ad of this sort would certainly be rejected for publication. Shortly thereafter, however, CAUT changed its advertising policy by substituting the words “is consistent with” for the earlier phrase “has been mandated” by Human Rights legislation, allowing them to claim that the Laurier ad was now acceptable. As Clive once wrote, “discrimination on the grounds of sex is permissible to Canada’s largest professorial organization, so long as the discrimination is against men.”
The other fora Clive (and I) addressed were, fortunately, more open minded as we found out after writing letters to a few relevant newspapers and radio stations explaining what Laurier was up to. Margaret Wente, among others, wrote a column taking Laurier to task for their plan to implement discriminatory hiring. Equally importantly, letters arrived at the newspapers saying how disgusting Laurier’s position was with many of the letters coming from Laurier alumni pledging never to donate to Laurier again. Clearly, everyday Canadians were just as appalled by Laurier’s actions as we were.
As a follow-up, Clive filed a sex discrimination complaint with the OHRC. As you might imagine, the complaint was rejected, after a wait of about seven months. And, as is the case in many similar situations, the Commission didn’t reject the complaint on substantive grounds but, instead, rejected it on the basis of Laurier’s argument that Clive did not have standing. That is, because Clive himself did not actually apply for the job and get rejected on the basis of not being a woman, he was not accorded standing to bring his complaint to the OHRC. Meanwhile, at Laurier, it was never entirely clear whether the position was filled or not in that first year that it was advertised. However, a year later, the Psychology Department voted to stop having ads of that sort. Apparently, however, the motion to do so originally led to a tie vote that was broken only by the vote of the Chair.
The campaign to push universities to hire on the basis of quality rather than demographics came in a strong way to Western once unionization happened in 1998. The proposals concerning hiring that the union was planning to bring to the bargaining table included a number that would have required departments to engage in preferential hiring. Fortunately, the union organizers felt compelled to bring each of their bargaining proposals to a union meeting for a vote of approval before advancing them at the bargaining table and our faculty association bylaws allowed any motion proposed at a meeting to be referred to a mail ballot. Specifically, the bylaws required that any motion must be circulated to the full union membership, as opposed to being voted on at a (typically, poorly attended) meeting, if enough (i.e., 100) association members signed a petition calling for it.
This bylaw allowed Clive and I the opportunity to get our proposed changes to a number of the union’s bargaining proposals (both in the 1998 round of negotiations as well as in the 2002 round) voted on in this fashion (i.e., by a mail ballot circulated to all members of the union). For example, one amendment we proposed was simply adding the text “and that only the best available candidate be hired” to the union’s proposal concerning employment equity. Ultimately, the membership rather overwhelmingly supported all of our amendments (usually by a 2-1 or 3-1 margin). Obviously, we couldn’t control what the union negotiators would say at the bargaining table, but by going through this process, one that showed what the members really thought of these proposals, the Western Administration became fully aware that these types of things were not something that the union membership wanted. At this point, preferential hiring is still not a part of the union contract. However, as we move into the DIE (diversity, inclusion, equity) era, there’s no guarantee that such will continue to be the case.
Before moving on to saying a bit about Clive’s time as President of SAFS, I want to briefly mention two other fronts on which Clive stood up to the powers that be in the interests of academic freedom and fairness. The first, the implementation of academic accommodations allowing for advantages for certain students, is one that I was directly involved in. With the arrival of the 1990s, universities everywhere began pressing their faculty to treat some students differently than others when it came to evaluations. More specifically, students who had “disabilities” of some sort were to be given more flexibility in terms of fulfilling their course requirements.
I doubt that there are instructors anywhere who would quibble with the idea that, in general, actions of this sort seem quite reasonable. If a student has a visibility problem, of course they should get their exams in larger type or have someone read the exam questions to them. Any student who can’t write answers because they have a broken wrist or deformed hand, should, of course, have a different means of communicating their answers to the marker (and may be given extra time in order to do so). Examples of this sort are numerous. The main issue, however, as all of us who have taught in universities know, is that there had become a large set of students who had been diagnosed with a “learning disability”, the inevitable solution for which is simply to give then 50% more time to complete their exams.
My first experience with this situation came in the early 1990s when I received a letter from our Disabilities Office telling me to give a student 50% extra time on my Statistics exam because she had a spelling disability. Why would anyone need 50% more time to do calculations on a stats exam if their disability was one that caused them to make spelling mistakes? Something didn’t smell right. It was obvious that little thought had been put into creating this recommended “accommodation.” So began an almost decade long battle with the Disabilities Office in an attempt to actually make those in the office work with instructors concerning the issue of disability accommodations and, most centrally, to get them to justify why some students should be given advantages over others.
The process of trying to make that happen involved both Clive and I (and others who shared our concerns) becoming members of Western’s University Senate. Our goal was to create a Disabilities Policy in which accommodations, if they were to be given, were actually tailored to both the student’s problem and the nature of the exams given in the course and to do so in a way that didn’t affect the academic integrity of the evaluation process (i.e., didn’t give the accommodated student an unfair advantage over others in the course). That effort was reflected in the numerous letters Clive and I had published in our campus paper, Western News, as well as the many times we raised the relevant issues at our Senate meetings. (As a side note, these issues were typically not put on the Senate agenda, so we had to raise them during the “Inquiries for the (Western) President” part of the agenda, which, at that point, was one of the first items on each agenda. Ultimately, the “Inquiries” part of the agenda was moved to the very end of the meeting’s activities, just before adjournment, when people were already packing up to leave.)
Because of our efforts, the Disabilities Policy was altered many times over the course of the next few years. Some of those alterations actually reflected the idea that the process of deriving accommodations should be an interactive processing involving the instructor, Disabilities Office and student. However, the reality is that it never seemed to work out that way. Finally, in the 1998-99 academic year, I declined to implement an accommodation that the Disabilities Office “proposed,” and the case went to our Senate Review Board Academic (SRBA) for an adjudication. I didn’t expect to win the case since my argument was simply that, because the Disabilities Office hadn’t given me any information (or even consulted with me concerning what my exams were like and, therefore, how they would affect the student in question—another spelling disability, perhaps?), I couldn’t be giving an accommodation that I had no basis for.
I lost, of course. However, prior to the decision being announced, I received two phone calls from (faculty) members of the SRBA telling me that they had been fairly directly told that there was no way that the Western Administration was going to let the SRBA find in my favour. When I made that information public (without naming the callers), the proverbial sh*t hit the fan. Weeks of letters to Western News (both for and against) followed, including one from the Western Provost who also called me out (essentially calling me a liar) on the Senate floor. Through it all, Clive was there to defend me both publicly and in at least one meeting that he had with the Provost, Dean and other members of the Western Administration, which was called for the express purpose of getting him to help them reign me in. I wish it were possible to say that all of the efforts we made on this issue did come to something; however, there is scant evidence that such is the case. The Disabilities Office (now called “Accessible Education”) does leave me alone to carry out my exams in a way that I deem fair; however, as far as I can tell, none of my faculty colleagues are granted the same consideration.
Finally, I want to at least briefly mention the work Clive did fighting the Tri-Council Ethics policy. The driving force behind this policy was, ostensibly, that, in the past, research participants had been treated unethically in human subject research. The syphilis experiments carried out in Tuskegee and the McGill experiments involving electroconvulsive therapy, sensory deprivation, and LSD injections without the participant’s awareness, among other things, were (and still likely are) cited as the reasons that any experiments involving human subjects carried out in Canada need to be covered under one umbrella set of rules. Although the desire to carry out research that is ethically responsible is one we all endorse, the danger inherent in bureaucratizing this process was obvious from day 1.
Prior to the release of the first official Tri-Council policy guidelines, a draft version had been circulated. It contained some quite strong threats to researchers’ ability to carry out their research. In response, Clive (and others, of course) managed to instigate a discussion of the draft at a meeting of the Social Science Faculty at Western. Following that meeting, the Western President, Paul Davenport, was persuaded to write a letter outlining some of the serious problems that the proposed policy would be creating. Subsequently, the Dean of Social Science paid for Clive and others to go to Toronto for an information session with Tri-Council officials who wanted reactions to the draft report, allowing Clive the opportunity to circulate the letter President Davenport had written (which Clive felt did have a discernable effect on many of those in attendance). Essentially, that session provided a forum for our colleagues to explain why the new policies were not only unnecessary in virtually all nonmedical realms but also constituted a serious threat to academic freedom. As most of us now realize, if we hadn’t fought back when these events originally took place, Ethics Boards would have been given a free hand to deny researchers the right to carry out their research in the way that they need to carry it out, making the possibility of destroying the quality of the research a real one. Further, their ability to tie up any research project in red tape, delaying its progress, and even delaying a student’s graduation, would be immense.
The result of this work led to a number of changes in the document. However, as we all know, bureaucracy never sleeps. Many of the deleted sections from the first draft have made their way into subsequent versions of the Tri-Council regulations and Research Ethics Boards (REBs), the ethics bureaucracy at most Canadian universities, have grown to have almost unimaginable power, as has their willingness to intervene in academic and instructional areas. For example, at Western, in the Psychology Department’s second-year research methods course, any data collection that a student might be asked to undertake in order to learn the ins and outs of doing research, must be approved by the Western REB. The implication for the course structure has been such that, a few years on, data collection during an academic term is no longer feasible since getting a proposal through the REB, no matter how innocuous, can take weeks. In fact, that’s a best-case scenario as it assumes that the initial REB submission will be approved, rather than the student having to redo the submission and wait another few weeks for their resubmission to be approved.
What further drives the realization that the problem with REBs is becoming unmanageable is that although the most recent Tri-Council document does not require that student research (or even minimal risk research of any sort) go through the REB, the Western REB and central administration insist that it must. That is, it is clearly noted in the document that a local (to the relevant department) ethics officer can be appointed to deal with any ethics issues that might be created by in-course research, allowing that research to be started and completed expeditiously. Clive was, in fact, the local person for our department. His job disappeared when the Western REB decided to take that power away from all local officers.
In the final part of the present article, I want to spend a little time talking about the contributions Clive made during his time as President of SAFS, contributions that are likely familiar to many current SAFS members. Clive describes his period as President as a being mainly a period of keeping the organization going, for example, collecting dues, having regular AGMs, sending out newsletters, inviting keynote speakers, occasionally appearing on radio programs, writing letters to the National Post in his role as President, creating the SAFS web page and, of course, archiving reports and writing letters to university presidents to protest violations of academic freedom and the merit principle. In fact, the period from 2000 to 2015 definitely was a quieter time than we have experienced in the subsequent years of seemingly universal wokeness. However, even in ordinary times, excellent work can be, and often is, done. In Clive’s case, one need look no further than the list of keynote speakers he recruited for our AGMs, including Stephen Balch and Peter Ward (while each was President of the National Association of Scholars), Greg Lukianoff and Alan Kors (while each was President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), John Carpay (President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms) and two of Canada’s most well-known and highly respected columnists, Margaret Wente and Barbara Kay.
Perhaps the one event that stands out in terms of its uniqueness during Clive’s presidency is that he was able to attract a $100,000 grant from the Donner Foundation (a Canadian foundation), most of which was used to fight explicit equity hiring projects. As mentioned earlier, the OHRC refused to evaluate Clive’s complaint against Wilfrid Laurier University’s attempt to refuse to consider male candidates for their job in the Psychology Department because he “lacked standing” (i.e., he had not applied for job and then been denied based on the fact that he was not a female). Therefore, in order to have a complaint of this sort be heard and evaluated on its merits, it was necessary to find a male applicant who had standing. That is, the application to the OHRC had to come from a male academic who applied for a job and had been turned down simply because he was a male. It was also necessary to pay extensive legal fees to make sure that the applicant would be crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is in the process. A candidate was found and the process begun. However, the lawyers SAFS hired to take the case forward had trouble putting together what they regarded as a winning argument in front of the OHRC (given that commission’s obvious bias) and the candidate eventually decided that it was time to move on with his life.
Even though Clive wasn’t able to get the issue of preferential hiring to receive a full hearing at the OHRC, there is no question in my mind that Clive’s time as President was a very good time for SAFS. His 15 years as President went very smoothly and our membership numbers were steady even though reports of universities violating academic freedom (and the merit principle) were far fewer than in today’s woke climate. Further, during that time, the importance of academic freedom seemed to be becoming entrenched in the thinking of universities across the country, with organizations like CAUT taking actions to defend it. SAFS under Clive’s leadership and similar organizations south of the border can likely take considerable credit for that. It’s clear that the SAFS membership and the principles that the organization was founded on benefitted greatly from his efforts on behalf of all of us.