Add Me to the List of Canceled Professors

Eight McGill University student societies have taken offense at the classical liberal views I have expressed in articles on matters of public interest. In a petition dated November 30, 2020, entitled “Open Letter Demanding the Overhaul of McGill’s Statement of Academic Freedom,” these students have demanded that the McGill Administration revoke my Emeritus status, so that “Muslims and People of Colour [can] feel safe.” This request was nested in a more general plea to restrict academic freedom, presumably limiting it to opinions approved of by the students.

The part of the petition that refers to me is as follows:

In the past year, several articles have been posted on public forums by Professor Philip Carl Salzman, a retired Professor Emeritus of the McGill Anthropology Department. In one recent example, Salzman goes on to write that “the Middle East is a place where doing harm and being cruel to others is regarded as a virtue and a duty.” Salzman goes on to condemn multiculturalismimmigrationgender paritycultural equalitysocial justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement, along with dismissing the existence of rape culture and systemic racism.

Despite their editorial nature, Salzman’s opinions are presented as though they are objective facts. Meanwhile, his affiliation with McGill lends him credibility that would not otherwise be afforded if not for his status as a Professor Emeritus of a respected institution such as McGill University. In providing such commentary while presenting himself as an affiliate of this University, Salzman’s recent publications in public fora demonstrate a lack of consideration for his responsibility as an academic.

Framing this as an issue of Professor Salzman’s academic freedom, rather than the right of Muslims and People of Colour have to feel safe, illustrates the ways in which McGill maintains structures that protect and legitimize racist and Islamophobic dialogues. Academic Freedom at McGill cannot be used to shield those who abuse their status and privilege as academics.

It appears to have eluded the students supporting this petition that a university is supposed to be a place where opinions, views, and theories are exchanged and critically assessed. I would welcome critiques of my articles through argument and evidence and am prepared to defend my positions. But these students have made no attempt to challenge my articles with contrary arguments and contradictory evidence. Their view appears to be that diversity of opinion about important subjects is unacceptable. Faced with opinions that they dislike, they attack the messenger rather than the message. And they move swiftly from accusation to sentence, without bothering to pass through argument and evidence.

Two of the student societies that have signed this petition are anthropology student societies. These students appear to believe that they are at McGill not to learn anthropology, but to teach anthropology. Perhaps this is because anthropology, once a discipline fact- and evidence-based, has been overtaken by ideological moralism, and rather than seeking truth is now in the business of seeking and punishing ideological heretics. I rather doubt that the Holy Inquisition and Mao’s Cultural Revolution are fruitful models for an academic discipline.

You may read the full petition by the Students’ Society of McGill University here. We also reproduce it below for your convenience:


OPEN LETTER DEMANDING THE OVERHAUL OF McGILL’S STATEMENT OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM

November 30, 2020

CW: Islamophobia, references to racism, sexism, xenophobia, sexual violence. We encourage you to prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing as you choose how you want to engage with this statement.

To the McGill Community,

It is no secret that, like many other academic institutions,  McGill University was built on a history of oppression, its existence made possible by profiting off of the labour of enslaved and marginalized peoples. This regrettable history not only tarnishes the University’s past but also continues to influence how the University operates today. Scholars have abused their right of free speech and academic freedom to defend acts of rhetorical violence against marginalized communities on campus, shielding racist, sexist, and transphobic speech behind the term “controversy.”

Freedom of expression is traditionally considered central to permitting the free exchange of ideas and debate and fostering the university environment. Free speech, however, does not exist outside of its social context. David Gillborn, a critical race theorist at the University of Birmingham, suggests that the terms of what is considered ‘legitimate’ speech are dictated by whiteness, since “[w]hiteness operates to invest speech with different degrees of legitimacy, such that already debunked racist beliefs can enjoy repeated public airings where they are lauded as scientific and rational by many White [sic] listeners, who simultaneously define as irrational, emotional, or exaggerated the opposing views of people of colour.” Moreover, evidence from psychology, social work, and medicine suggest that microaggressions, including racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic speech, have numerous and significant impacts on the health, wellbeing, and educational success of marginalized people.

The defence of discriminatory dialogue at the expense of the safety, security, and wellbeing of people of colour reflects the power of whiteness in determining what is and is not considered acceptable speech. Upholding free speech at the cost of marginalized groups permits racist talk with real-world impacts; it teaches future generations that perpetrating this kind of harm is acceptable. These harms are not hypothetical; they have been and will continue to be felt by marginalized communities on campuses across the country.

In a recent controversy at the University of Ottawa, a fellow U15 university, a professor used a racial slur during a lecture. While students described the use of slurs as alienating and isolating, 34 current and retired University of Ottawa professors penned a letter claiming the use of slurs constituted a  matter of academic freedom. This letter was joined by a second, signed by over 500 Quebec professors, including three from McGill. On October 26, 2020, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier shared a message with McGill students and staff on academic freedom and inclusiveness. In this message, Principal Fortier recognizes the tension between academic freedom and inclusivity.

The manner in which academic freedom was invoked in the recent controversy at the University of Ottawa conflated the utterance of a racial slur with the teaching of material featuring racial slurs, which should only be allowed after robust equity training, serious consideration, and the input of students from the directly affected group. This harmful conflation, which was used to defend academics’ use of racial slurs, was perpetuated by Principal Fortier in her message.

While material featuring harmful language can be used prudently, the use of bigoted material, whether ableist, transphobic, racist, or otherwise discriminatory, is unacceptable, and McGill University has made no effort to resolve this tension. The University’s Statement of Academic Freedom defines no limitations for academic freedom, failing to address the responsibility of professors to use their freedoms responsibly. Equity and academic freedom need to be addressed as intertwined issues and McGill University falls short in this regard.

Peer institutions like the University of British Columbia and Western University clarify boundaries for the academic freedom afforded to their scholars. At UBC, academics are responsible for familiarizing themselves with accepted scholarly standards and following them honestly, openly, fairly, and accountably. Faculty members at Western have the responsibility to make a balanced presentation of controversial issues and may not use their classrooms as a forum for advancing their personal opinions.

While peer institutions prioritize respect and inclusivity, McGill University consistently prioritizes the protection of an extreme version of academic freedom over the safety and wellbeing of its students, regardless of claims like those in the Principal’s message that they support an environment of mutual respect. While the University has policies dedicated to the maintenance of respect, like the Policy on Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law, none can “abridge academic freedom in the University’s educational mission.” Even the Charter of Students’ Rights, the one document dedicated entirely to the protection of students, comes with the caveat that it can not be applied in such a way that it restricts academic freedom. So, while the Charter provides that “students have a right to be free from vexatious conduct,” the University continues to allow professors to operate in a grey area where academic freedom and inclusivity are both encouraged, but only academic freedom is truly protected.

When the voices of students are sidelined and disregarded, the solution is not and cannot be active listening and dialogue, as the Principal argued. While inclusiveness and academic freedom are both invaluable principles, they cannot always coexist. Thus, when the University refuses to define limitations to academic freedom, the safety and wellbeing of marginalized students become inherently secondary. This is best exemplified by the University’s decision to first underline their respect for “free speech” when bigoted dialogues do make their way onto campus. The message McGill sends is all too clear; when equity and academic freedom come into conflict, they are more than ready to “abandon one principle in favour of another.”

In the past year, several articles have been posted on public forums by Professor Philip Carl Salzman, a retired Professor Emeritus of the McGill Anthropology Department. In one recent example, Salzman goes on to write that “the Middle East is a place where doing harm and being cruel to others is regarded as a virtue and a duty.” Salzman goes on to condemn multiculturalismimmigrationgender paritycultural equalitysocial justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement, along with dismissing the existence of rape culture and systemic racism.

Despite their editorial nature, Salzman’s opinions are presented as though they are objective facts. Meanwhile, his affiliation with McGill lends him credibility that would not otherwise be afforded if not for his status as a Professor Emeritus of a respected institution such as McGill University. In providing such commentary while presenting himself as an affiliate of this University, Salzman’s recent publications in public fora demonstrate a lack of consideration for his responsibility as an academic.

Framing this as an issue of Professor Salzman’s academic freedom, rather than the right of Muslims and People of Colour have to feel safe, illustrates the ways in which McGill maintains structures that protect and legitimize racist and Islamophobic dialogues. Academic Freedom at McGill cannot be used to shield those who abuse their status and privilege as academics. If McGill wants to remain “steadfast and unequivocal in its commitment to a working and learning environment in which every member feels included, valued, and respected,” it must hold those who misuse their academic freedoms accountable, and maintain a standard of intellectual exchange where such issues are approached respectfully and with humility.

For these reasons, we, the undersigned, demand the removal of Professor Philip Carl Salzman’s Emeritus status. To ensure lasting change we, furthermore, demand an immediate, transparent, and student-centred overhaul of McGill’s Statement of Academic Freedom, enshrining the University’s commitment to inclusivity in teaching and research in policy.

Signed,

The Students’ Society of McGill University Executive Team
The Anthropology Students Association
The Anthropology Graduate Students Association
World Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies Association
Black Students Network
Muslim Students Association
Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights
Thaqalayn Muslim Association


Image: Arild Vågen, Public Domain; Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

14 thoughts on “Add Me to the List of Canceled Professors

    1. My analysis of the Middle East is accurate for the three thousand years prior to the Roman invasion of the Holy Land and expulsion of the Jews. It is also precise for the two thousands years since, during which the diaspora Jews enjoyed the tender mercies of Christian and Muslim overlords. The establishment of Israel and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries in the mid-20th century had little impact on Middle Eastern culture, and my analysis would apply even if Israel never existed. No intellectually serious person would suggest that the recent Syrian civil war between Sunni and Shiite, or the fanaticism of the Islamic State, were in any way inspired by Zionism. It is absurd to call my account “Zionist,” unless you equate historical and anthropological truth with Zionism.

  1. Our universities, in the US and in Canada, have become the enemies of a free society. The students making these ludicrous demands are merely the icing on the toxic cake.
    Prof. Salzman has been among those long warning us about the degradation of academic life. Contrary to myth, the Revolution devours its noblest enemies before it devours its own.

  2. As a McGill grad, I am dismayed but not surprised that a coalition of student groups there made an articulate case for viewpoint suppression. I halted my annual donations to McGill in 2017, and wrote to the Alumni Association and the then-Principal about why I did so. They never replied. Instead, I posted my donation to the Chabad House near McGill, where I was treated to many a Friday night dinner when I was a cash-strapped student in the 1970s.

  3. Individuals and groups prone to invoking “micro aggressions” as a scientifically legitimate rationale for revoking professional titles, upending academic policy and restricting civil liberties should at least acknowledge dissenting findings on the topic: Scott Lilienfeld, among others, have seriously challenged the very nomenclature and methodology enabled by Derald Wing Sue’s (dubious) work on so-called “micro aggressions.”* Indeed, insofar as this open letter proves so vindictively one sided, it encapsulates the very narrow mindedness, discrimination and presumed “rhetorical violence” it seeks to oppose.
    *It is revealing as well that Lilienfeld penned an exhaustive thirty-page-plus critique of Sue’s work. When it was his turn to respond, Sue could barely muster a pithy two-page defense of his work.

  4. BRAVISSIO Professor Salzman! You strike a significant blow for reason and true scholarship, and thus join the still small (but growing!) ranks of those working for a renaissance of Higher Education in America.
    Jonathan Chaves (Chinese Literature, The George Washington University)

  5. I am puzzled about the “safety” issue. The complaining students are, from any objective point of view, perfectly safe. Prof. S does not threaten them. Their problem, therefore, is their own, not his. Evidently they need counseling/comforting — and to leave the professor alone.

    JS

    1. To understand the “safety” issue, you have to understand the concept of cognitive aggression — the belief that if you aren’t prevented from saying things they don’t like to hear, you will inevitably become the next Virginia Tech Shooter.

      It’s asinine, but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe it — and worse, the schmucks running far too many IHEs believe it as well…

  6. The foundation of Critical Race Theory is a world view which assumes groups of people seek power over other groups in order to oppress them. The only way to eliminate this antagonism is for everyone to be made more or less equal as much as possible. Read the first paragraph of The Communist Manifesto. It’s the same vision. America had a different foundation. It declared that all men are free (not oppressed) and the outworking of this vision was capitalism which brought unequal prosperity. Communism brought equal poverty.

  7. This is total BS. I have greatly enjoyed reading your work – the laser-like destruction of these fools and their mind-bending illiberal ideologies. I live in Quebec. Is there anything I can do to help?

  8. Another example of intellectual regression. For millennia universities struggled to create an atmosphere promoting intellectual give and take and now we are going backwards. This is a new world order that resembles theocracy–a single Truth that tolerates no exceptions. The only solution might be to create entirely new universities that make no bones about their theocratic views–Woke State U. Not all that different from a long past era when each religions had its own university.

  9. This business of the right to feel safe.
    I work on a campus.
    I am well aware that courses are being taught on my campus that attack and denigrate whiteness, cis-normativity, hetero normativity, masculinity, and deep attachments to the western canon.

    I can claim ownership of every single one of these identifiers.

    Apparently I should feel absolutely terrified. Apparently the reason that I don’t is that an invisible crowd of pale skinned bodyguards, cops, soldiers, tuffs and heavies follow me everywhere I go – relishing every opportunity to aid me in my oppressive activities.
    Well, that crowd is so invisible that I’ve never seen them, not once. Which means that whatever terror I may or may not feel, I’m entirely on my own. And whatever propensity that I ever had to oppress anyone in any way whatsoever was abandoned at the tender age of 11.
    It was what used to be referred to as growing up.

    As an historian, I ponder much these days, how the rights and the freedoms to engage in open debate, discussion and express opinion, idea and belief…is a sign of a healthy society.
    When these become increasingly discouraged, forbidden and finally punished – those expressions don’t disappear.
    They go underground. And it is the very enforcement of that activity that causes exponential growth, volatility, all fed by resentment.

    It’s not like we don’t know how this works. American cities burned this past summer, for that reason.

    I grew up in an era when strength was celebrated (as in intellectual, psychological and especially – the big one: emotional.) Compared to weakness and fragility, this was no contest. Life battered us around anyway. We licked our wounds and absorbed lessons of the heart, the mind, and the soul. And gradually drifted toward the desired goal of becoming better human beings. None of us ever wanted to be measured by the weakest thing about us, whatever that was.
    But more important: instinctively, we all learned along the way, myself and my compadres, that once one self-declares as a victim – they own you. And who is this ‘they’?
    The experts, faux helpers and healers, therapists, coddlers, self-appointed and anointed leaders and bleeders that dig their way like Kentucky coal miners into the very motherlode seams of self-esteem, but more importantly, self-respect….and all those other jewels and gems that allow a human to be comfortable inside their own skin. Autonomously, and with personal agency.
    They do it because there’s money in it, of course. Along with platinum benefit packages. All paid for on the public dime (including college student fees, absolutely.)

    These were the things we learned added up to social respect, forgiveness of our collective and individual “sins” and most important: shared trust.
    I think it is the betrayal of this trust that is now causing mayhem in society.
    Unless we spend our lives flack jacketed upon battleships, armed to the teeth, there is not a whole lot of value we can accomplish without that trust.
    Not only does it require personal strength to know how to trust well. But also, to return that same trust, and with interest. Wisdom does say that there is no real or viable alternative.
    Otherwise, any weapon one may use, can always one day, return the favor.

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