West Coast Blues: Why B.C.? Why PC?

By Resnick, Philip | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

West Coast Blues: Why B.C.? Why PC?


Resnick, Philip, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


ABSTRACT

OVER THE LAST DECADE, B.C.'s three largest universities have experienced major conflicts sparked by allegations of institutionalized sexism and racism.

The Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria was accused of harbouring a chilly climate toward women. At the University of British Columbia, an inquiry into systemic sexism and racism in the political science department led to graduate admissions being temporarily suspended. Allegations of sexual harassment against a swim coach at Simon Fraser University led to counter-allegations and a shakedown extending from the sexual harassment office through to the university's president.

Why more such conflicts in B.C. than elsewhere?

Philip Resnick tackles this question as a "participant observer." As a political science professor at UBC, he became a spokesperson in one of the incidents discussed.

Tolerance is an attribute of humanity. We are all subject to human frailties and errors; let us reciprocally forgive one another our stupidities. This is the first law of nature. -- Voltaire

THE EMERGENCE OF IDENTITY POLITICS on North American campuses has been a major development over the past decade and a half. Race, gender and sexual orientation have loomed large in political debate and have triggered major controversies in their wake. Where once the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, or the call for participatory democracy were at the centre of debate, recent years have seen increasingly pitched battles between the proponents and opponents of inclusiveness, affirmative action, feminism, post-modernism, multiculturalism, gay and lesbian rights and the like.

The purpose of this article is not to engage in a broad-based discussion of all the issues that such controversies bring to the surface. Suffice it to note that such controversies have occurred in a context where liberal and left-of-centre ideas have been placed on the defensive by neoconservative ones; where universal values have come to be attacked by some as a mask for Eurocentric, male Enlightenment ones; where the argument of historical discrimination and victimhood has, at times, become one to trump any and all counter-arguments.

As someone who has been living in Vancouver since joining the University of British Columbia in 1971, I am struck by just how much universities and colleges in this province have found themselves at the forefront of identity politics battles. In 1993/94, the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria was accused of harbouring a chilly climate towards women; the accusations found their way into the Canadian media and became the basis for charge and countercharge. In 1995, an inquiry into systemic sexism and racism in the political science department at UBC, the province's largest university, resulted in the administration's closing down admissions into the department's graduate program for a period of four and a half months. The report and the administration's actions, in turn, sparked national and international media attention, and a wracking public debate. In the spring and summer of 1997, allegations of sexual harassment against a swim coach at Simon Fraser University, the province's third major university, led to a searing media controversy in which the accused ultimately became the accuser, and the president of the university, who had originally fired the coach in question, ended up leaving his job.

These are the major incidents of recent years. There have also been minor ones, such as the decision by the administrators of Langara College to ban a Valentine's Day poster, depicting a male and female embracing, as potentially offensive to gays and lesbians. (This decision was ultimately reversed, but not without foot-dragging by the college administration.) In short, B.C. has been at the eye of the storm when it comes to PC-type battles in Canada.

Why B. …

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