[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rivilege is understood as an advantage, benefit, or comfort enjoyed exclusively by a particular individual or group. It is normally enjoyed by the most powerful and influential members of a given community, who first create an infrastructure for privilege, then use that framework to serve their own initiatives and interests.
In our campus community, who are the most powerful, influential, and privileged among us? At U of T, it is clear that left-wing students and instructors enjoy advantages, benefits, and comforts that are rarely, if ever, afforded to those who hold different political views.
If you consider yourself a liberal, progressive, or socialist, you can expect that on just about any social or political issue, you will find support from nearly all the major forces on campus, including faculty, the administration, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), college and faculty governments, student groups, and student publications, in addition to a majority of the student body. At a selective, internationally competitive university whose mission is ostensibly boundless intellectual inquiry, why is it so hard to find viewpoints that diverge from the left-wing orthodoxy?
The answer begins in academia. According to recent research, 60 per cent of instructors at American universities identify as liberal or far-left. At U of T, over 125 faculty felt the need to join the Graduate Students Union in endorsing the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. What’s more, in addition to the employment of hundreds of left-leaning professors and TAs in notionally politically neutral departments such as history, English, and political science, there exist three programs at U of T whose mandates explicitly affirm left-wing assumptions about the world, namely equity studies, sexual diversity studies, and women and gender studies.
Student unions are even more politically homogeneous. In the past year, the UTSU has hosted events such as how-to sessions on Black Lives Matter activism, a screening of the controversial (and in many ways, misleading) documentary The Hunting Ground, and a panel discussion on gender in politics that managed to feature precisely zero conservative voices. Meanwhile, the Arts and Science Students Union (ASSU) has embraced “Israeli Apartheid Week,” issued multiple statements supporting CUPE 3902 during its 2015 strike, and purchased buttons for dissemination featuring such phrases as “feminists not fkbois” and “borders — what’s up with that?” Perhaps most indicative of bias, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) has been accused of refusing to recognize a student club because of its pro-life views.
Students themselves are also free to impose their own left-wing preferences with impunity. Last year during the CUPE 3902 strike, grad students believed themselves justified in blocking the doors of Con Hall, preventing hundreds of undergrads from attending a lecture they, their families, and many Ontario taxpayers paid for. In 2012 and 2013, public lectures critical of feminism were disrupted by protestors who claimed their content was “hate speech” (the UTSU agreed, of course). Not only did the protestors make attempts at physical censorship — barricading entrances, pulling fire alarms — they faced zero repercussions afterward; no charges and no public statements of condemnation.
Contrast that with the response to the Jewish Defense League’s weaker (but equally unacceptable) actions at a U of T Divest event in January. In addition to a preemptive warning from the administration, there appeared shortly thereafter a column in The Varsity that defended the free speech rights of U of T Divest and its supporters. That’s all well and good, but why did no one feel a need to write a column defending the rights of Warren Farrell, Janice Fiamengo and their audiences? Is free expression at U of T contingent on the popularity of the view being espoused?
Incidents and phenomena such as these demonstrate the impressive left-wing infrastructure currently in place at U of T — and indeed at universities around the Western world — as well as the privilege it affords certain students and instructors.
128 members of the faculty can endorse BDS without anyone batting an eye, but imagine the uproar if even half as many had endorsed similar actions against Palestine in response to persistent rocket attacks from Gaza and knife attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As mentioned above, the U of T administration warned the Jewish Defense League that it was willing to take action — including pressing charges — if the group violated university policy. Could you imagine the administration ever issuing such a letter to say, the Black Liberation Collective before they shut down traffic for hours on a recent weekday?
None of this is to say that left-wing views should be censored or discouraged, or that one school of thought has all of the answers to the world’s problems. To the contrary, this is a call for an expansion of ideas and expression, for conservative, libertarian, and centrist members of the U of T community to be just as vocal and active as the left, as well as for students, faculty, and others to tolerate their views and treat them fairly.
Academic departments should make concerted efforts to attract applicants with unique, and even provocative views, so that no one ideology dominates the curriculum. Student unions should remember that they represent all students, not just the progressive activists who run campus politics.
Campus publications should be consistent in their allowances for controversial opinions and fair in their coverage of hot button issues. And we as students should dispel with the assumptions that our classmates act in bad faith, ignorance, or bigotry simply because they disagree with us. One can agree that poverty, racism, sexism, and the various phobias are all persistent, lingering problems, yet also honestly disagree on what the optimal methods of remedy are. On the other hand, one could also honestly disagree on the extent of their frequency or mere existence (and they could be correct!). At an institution built to pursue truth and knowledge, no approach should be privileged over another, because no approach has all the answers. So let’s make U of T a true home for diversity: not just of race, gender, sexual orientation, place of origin, or religion — but also of thought.
Emmett Choi is a fifth-year student at Victoria College studying philosophy and American studies. His column appears every three weeks.