Margaret Wente’s Massey College appointment yields three resignations, petition demanding rescission

Wente long criticized for plagiarism, pseudo-scientific claims about race
Massey College, a graduate residence affiliated with U of T, is facing backlash for its fellowship appointment of Margaret Wente.
SILA ELGIN/THE VARSITY
Massey College, a graduate residence affiliated with U of T, is facing backlash for its fellowship appointment of Margaret Wente. SILA ELGIN/THE VARSITY

Massey College is facing considerable backlash after it announced Margaret Wente as a 20202021 senior fellow and member of the Quadrangle Society this week. Three faculty members have also resigned from their senior fellowships at the college in response to the decision.

Wente, previously a columnist for the Globe and Mail, has long faced criticisms for plagiarism, promoting pseudo-scientific claims about race, and transphobia.

Massey College is a graduate residence that is affiliated with, but operates independently from, U of T. Senior fellows at the college are invited to be a part of college activities and “contribute to the intellectual life of the College,” according to the announcement of this year’s senior members by Massey College’s principal, Nathalie Des Rosiers. Members of the Quadrangle Society are expected to “retain an appreciation and respect for academic pursuit” and use their expertise to help the Massey College community.

Alissa Trotz’s resignation as senior fellow, Governing Board member 

Alissa Trotz, who is the director of the Women & Gender Studies Institute and former director of the Caribbean Studies Program at New College, was the first to resign from her positions at Massey College, which includes her senior fellowship in addition to those she holds at Massey College’s Governing Board and the Governance and Nominating Committee.

In her letter of resignation, she wrote that “Margaret Wente is someone who has demonstrated consistent and outright hostility to questions of equity, women and gender studies and anti-racism.”

While recognizing that, as part of the Governing Board, she “must take some responsibility” for her own oversight in relation to Wente’s nomination coming to fruition, Trotz raised questions about the “deeply unequal and non-transparent mechanisms of selection” and the nature of due diligence by which Wente’s nomination materialized in the first place. 

She further reflected on the prioritization of excellence over equity concerns in determining membership at the college. “I actually don’t know that anyone else would have raised any questions about her candidacy unless I had,” wrote Trotz, expressing tiredness for “the loneliness, of feeling as if the few of us have to shoulder this work.” Trotz was the only Black member of the college’s Governing Board. 

Petition calling for rescission, further resignations

A petition addressed to Des Rosiers has been circulated, asking the college to rescind the appointment. At the time of publication, the petition had over 1,800 signatures from students, faculty, and alumni. The petition, which criticizes Wente for “[publishing] racist pseudoscience,” notes that if Wente’s appointment is not rescinded, it “will make the College a less safe place” for Black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities at the college. 

“In the same week where Massey College made a public commitment to addressing Anti-Black racism and held a talk on Anti-Black racism, we feel it is greatly disappointing that Governing Board did not back up these words with their actions,” the petition further reads.

Following Trotz’s resignation, Rick Halpern, a history professor, resigned as senior follow at the college, calling the appointment of Wente “despicable,” and echoed Trotz’s concerns surrounding Wente’s nomination in the first place.

In an interview with The Varsity, Halpern elaborated that he resigned from his position as a senior fellow to “send as strong a message as possible.” He identified Wente’s record of plagiarism and the accusations of racism and anti-feminism in her writing as reasons for his resignation, in particular calling out a piece she wrote which he described as an “attack on trans people.” 

George J. Sefa Dei, a professor of social justice at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, also resigned from his membership at the college, writing that Wente’s appointment made him “rethink [his] membership,” and claiming that the appointment of Wente “goes against Massey College’s public commitment to addressing anti-Black racism.”

According to the CBC, Des Rosiers said that the appointment of Wente has now come under review because of “new information” that the nomination committee members did not have before. Des Rosiers also pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as possibly having added difficulties to the candidate review process this past spring.

Recent history of racism at Massey College

This is not the first time that Massey College has faced racism-related controversy. In 2017, a senior fellow at the college, Michael Marrus, resigned after making a racist comment toward a Black junior fellow, leading the college to remove the title of “Master” and change it to “Principal.”

More recently, other accusations of racism at Massey College have surfaced, such as a tweet from U of T PhD student and former junior fellow Carlie H. Manners where she wrote that she has experienced anti-Black racism at the college, “from explicit actions to micro-aggressions.”

The Varsity has reached out to Massey College and Margaret Wente for comment.

Editor’s Note (June 19): This article has been updated to add context for the recent history of racism at the college; to correct the number of signatories on the petition; to correct that the new title for Massey College head was “Principal,” not “Head of College;” and to correct that Trotz is no longer the director of the Caribbean studies program.

Editor’s Note (June 20, 4:15 pm): This article has been updated to include comment from Des Rosiers. 

Editor’s Note (June 23, 4:51 pm): This article has been updated to include comment from Halpern and accusations of transphobia toward Wente.

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