Do Our Woke Universities Live Up to Their Own Values?

Each of our great universities used to have official mottos that were meant to stand for their values. For example, McGill University’s was “Grandescunt Aucta Labore,” ‘by work, all things increase and grow’; Western University’s was “Veritas et Utilitas,” truth and usefulness’; Queen’s University’s was “Sapientia et Doctrina Stabilitas,” ‘wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times’; Wilfred Laurier University’s was “Veritas Omnia Vincit,” ‘truth conquers all’; and Brandon University’s was “ἀληθεύοντες δὲ ἐν ἀγάπῃ,” ‘speaking the truth in love.’

To avoid provincialism, here are a few American examples: Yale University’s motto was “Lux et Veritas,” ‘light and truth’; Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s was “Mind and Hand”; Duke University’s is “Knowledge and Faith”; my alma mater the University of Chicago’s was “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so let human life be enriched”; and Harvard University’s was concise “Veritas,” ‘truth.’

By 2020, almost every university in North America has replaced its traditional motto and specified objective with the common motto “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and its more concise label, “social justice.” Truth, knowledge, and wisdom have been replaced in favor of social engineering.

What do woke universities mean by “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and do they live up to their claimed values in practice?

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion” and “social justice” are defined by universities in a statistical, demographic sense. Universities want to know how many members of the preferred categories of “marginalized communities” and “underrepresented minorities” they have, and whether there is a disparity between these and members of other majority identities. When members of collective census categories, such as racial, sex, sexuality, and ethnicity, etc., categories are represented in universities at the same percentage that they are in the general population, then allegedly “social justice” has been achieved. If members of categories are “underrepresented,” meaning their percentages are lower than their percentages in the general population, then that is regarded as social injustice, and the members of the underrepresented categories must, according to “social justice” ideology, be increased.

The reason that statistical underrepresentation is regarded as unjust is that it is assumed and asserted that the cause of underrepresentation is discrimination against the members of the category. This is taken as given rather than demonstrated with evidence. Other credible explanations—such as individual preferences, performance gaps, and family and community cultures—are not considered or are dismissed out of hand.

The conventional notion of “inclusion” is openness to all people who qualify for whatever position under consideration. But this is not our universities’ definition. Their definition is that some preferred categories of people—females, non-whites, LGBTQ++, Muslims—must be included, whatever their qualifications, and members of other categories—males, whites, heterosexuals, Christians, Jews, and East Asians—may without fault be excluded whatever their qualifications, in order to make room for members of preferred categories. In other words, some people are included because of their sex, race, sexuality, and religion, while others are excluded on those bases. Category membership and identity trump qualifications.

How do we know about the inclusion of members of preferred categories and the exclusion of others? Throughout our universities, bolstered by legislatures in some places, there is a full court press to establish systemic bias in favor of preferred categories of people. In the United States, this is called “affirmative action,” which means admitting students of the preferred sex, race, sexuality, and religion at the expense of others. Although public opinion opposes such preferences in university admission, funding, and hiring, and legislative attempts to impose affirmative action have failed, universities have often found “work-arounds” to impose such preferences.

In Canada, sex and race preferences have received the imprimatur of the National Government. Programs in all of Canada’s universities direct benefits to preferred categories of people. To take one example, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is directing its engineering department to enroll 50% females. According to The Ubyssey, “‘We do have a situation where two-thirds of the members of our student body are men [and so they’re] dominating the discussion,’ said Marc Parlange, dean of Applied Science. He stated that there is a need to go against the cultural tendencies of male dominance within the engineering faculty and push for more diverse representation.”

This UBC initiative assumes that any program with fewer than 50% females is somehow inadequate and unfair and suggests a violation of “social justice,” defined in statistical terms. What do we find when we look at UBC generally: are females victims of “marginalization” and “exclusion” throughout?

Females make up 60% of the UBC student body, which presumably means that males are in a 40% minority—not exactly strong support for the idea that females are marginalized at UBC. These percentages are more or less the same in universities across Canada and throughout the United States. At UBC, to continue with our example, Architecture is 58% female; Community and Regional Planning is 66% female; while Nursing is 82% female. Across Canada, there are half again as many females as males in the humanities (165,216 females to 110,904 males), and more than double the number of females as males in the social sciences and law (190,701 females to 84,351 males).

Why the UBC compulsion to force females into engineering? Are females incapable of choosing the fields in which they are interested? It is an established universal fact that, around the world, females are more interested in people and disciplines that focus on people, and males are more interested in things and disciplines that focus on things. We know that, internationally, the greater the gender equality in a country, the fewer females take up science, presumably because they are free to follow their preferences rather than bow to family demands or economic necessities. Furthermore, STEM faculty have a preference for recruiting females, so the only bias is a pro-female one. That female students are a minority in engineering is a result of their preferences for other fields. Do they really need to be frog-marched into engineering?

If UBC is so keen on statistical “gender equality,” where are its programs to bring male student enrollment up to 50% and to bring male enrollment up to 50% in architecture, planning, nursing, the social sciences including law, and the humanities? Why are disparities that favor females just fine, while disparities that favor males unacceptable? It appears that UBC is championing the principle that “females are the future.” Where exactly is the promised “equity” and “inclusion”? These questions could justly be directed to all Canadian and American universities.

Additionally, at the University of British Columbia, visible minorities (non-whites) make up 65% of all students. This compares with visible minorities being 27.31% of the general population of British Columbia. In other words, visible minorities are “overrepresented” at UBC by well more than double their presence in the general population, whereas whites at around 70% of the general population are underrepresented at UBC as 35% of the student population. If the measure of “social justice” is statistical representation, whites at UBC enjoy neither “inclusion” nor “equity.” UBC appears committed to the proposition that “the future is people of color.”

UBC and other Canadian and American universities practice a double standard: inclusion for females and people of color, and exclusion for males and whites. Equity is only for the preferred. By its own standards, UBC is systemically unjust.

The statistical idea of justice is fairly new. It reflects the recent bait-and-switch of equality from that of opportunity to that of outcome. The new woke vision is that, if the race, sex, sexuality, and ethnicity numbers are even, all is fair, equal, and just. But this emphasis on non-academic standards is a long leap from heritage academic criteria, such as past performance, level of literacy and numeracy, and potential for future development, including considerations such as creativity, imagination, and originality. Should not these criteria be the basis of university recruitment, rather than skin color and sexual preferences? If we were to follow academic criteria rather than “statistical social justice,” then individuals would triumph. Instead empty census categories and statistical disparities reign supreme.

Image: MD Duran, Public Domain


  • 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 Past President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

6 thoughts on “Do Our Woke Universities Live Up to Their Own Values?

  1. The interesting thing is that feminists such a Carol Gilligan (In a different voice) and Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger, & Jill Mattuck Tarule (Women’s ways of knowing) pretty much said the same thing.

    Memory is that they made much of a distinction between “productive” activities and “reproductive” activities, with women being better at the latter.

  2. I don’t think anybody takes these mottoes seriously, especially since they are in Latin and Latin is the official language of evil dead white males. The real motto, and I’ll put it in English, is: Anything to keep the peace. After years of effort, we have bread a race of university administrators whose pandering is hard-wired to the point that they no longer have to think about caving in. Who says evolution requires millennia?

  3. The poster child for bias is the field of education itself — both K-12 education and the college/university certification programs for those wishing to either enter or advance in the field. We’re talking over 90% female (my MEd program was 94%) and this imbalance has expanded from elementary school teachers (which were always disproportionately female) to the upper grades, school administrators, and professors of education.

    Very few men have been hired in the past 35-40 years and notwithstanding all of the other opportunities now open to women, education has become an increasingly female field. In other words, the excuse for having so many female teachers was that the only professions open to women were teaching and nursing — which isn’t true anymore. The female/male ratio is higher *now* than when discrimination forced women into teaching…

    Throw in the increasing number of boys being brought up by single mothers — the US illegitimacy rate is now 42% with a jaw-dropping 77.3% of Black babies being born without a father — and we have an increasing number of men growing up without any positive male role model. Add to this the feminist values being taught to the female teachers whom they do have, and is it any wonder that so many boys aren’t doing well?

    This is a national crisis because while our bridges aren’t falling down (usually), our young men are blowing each other away in the streets of Chicago and elsewhere. We need to make the field of education friendly to men — not because of our desires for social justice but for our desperate need for males in the field.

    It ain’t gonna happen though….

  4. Interesting, that males wish to engineer physical things in order to build – a plane, a skyscraper, a bridge, a dam, a rocket…
    while females wish to engineer – people.
    Which is an interesting concept and comparison.

    I find it a bit laughable – that over the past 4 decades many young women of college age must have noticed the advent of that long march through institutions, and the resulting opportunities for solid career placement and advancement. All of it requiring little to none of the hard sciences that actual Engineering rules with tyrannical exactitude.

    Personally, having grown up in a time where and when I was allowed to slip through an educational system as fluidly as a purple martin through deep woodlands, I find the concept of social engineering a fascinating one.
    We all thought (back when I was very young) that this was the process of advertising. A kind of Deep State of the Madison Avenued.
    But even so, it was relatively easy to slip through unscathed, un-messed with, unaltered, free from meddlesome diddling and fiddling of idiots pretending they had the capability to improve on the model.
    Nuts to that.

    My thesis has been simple for at least half of the past 40 years. We don’t really manufacture anything anymore, here in this financialized and white collared economy, humming to the tap tap tap of billions of keys.
    We don’t make things. We don’t process raw materials into useful stuff necessary for our comfort.

    So we process people instead. It is an immense growth industry. Which provides a plethora of good jobs with benefits.
    The only problem is how to get the people to sit still in order to be processed? Enter the Ideology.

    I take it on faith that some people out there still manage to get superior educations. Real educations. At all levels, from start to finish.
    How this is managed in these times is almost beyond my imagination.
    I know that probably two thirds of my education came after I was finished with the formal stuff. But even this requires a sound foundation – or the structure tilts toward the mere law of gravity – it will not stand.

    What passes for any Emperor or Empress’s new clothes can get a little embarrassing when a cold wind blows.
    This is what happens when what we think of as actual learning becomes instead leaning – toward power.
    Or the illusion of it.

    The 20th Century was a fascinating specimen for historical examination. There are plenty enough examples to prove what should be a relatively easy thesis:
    The world did become (for billions) a better place when citizens everywhere were left alone to rise toward human values.
    It took a different turn in numerous cases, when the illusion of this was decreed by tyranny.

    Incidentally, many people who know all about this have long since arrived from elsewhere, into the west. They know all about the nature of what they left. They understood that they would find difference in the west, and so they did.
    They hadn’t hankered on this particular fact, though.
    The west has never know the kind of tyranny that millions of immigrants escaped in order to arrive alive into a freedom.
    Silly west. Like a pampered child, it believes in magic tricks. Such as, we can do it better. Or that truth must bow down to (somebody’s) idea of justice. Or that equality and equity are identical twins. And so on.

    I can well imagine that a Chines grandmother (who was a mere child at the time of the original Long March in 1949) and who has been here in the west for all or most of these past 4 decades, and whose grandchildren, every one of them, excel in STEM subjects at the highest level…..casts her eye about, holds court in her exalted kitchen, and talks with her friends about a thing that she’s seen before.

    It is a telling thing – just who does not and will not talk with her. Inclusivity is indeed, a magic trick.

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