CounterCurrent: Week of 9/4
Happy Labor Day, CounterCurrent readers! What better way to celebrate the centrality of the working class in American society than to highlight the utter absurdity that has taken hold of the American intelligentsia? Although today’s story takes place in Canada, the insistence from university administrators on total ideological conformity—and the relentless persecution of the few who push back—will be all-too-familiar to those who walk the halls of America’s colleges and universities.
Longtime readers of CounterCurrent may recall the story of Frances Widdowson, a former professor of economics, justice, and policy studies at Mount Royal University (MRU), who was fired in December 2021 for her criticism of the university’s abandonment of the free exchange of ideas. The face-off between Widdowson and the MRU administration largely centered around her resistance to the university’s controversial indigenization plan, which aimed to “respect and embrace indigenous ways of knowing” and to “integrate Indigenous teachings and practices” into the curriculum. Widdowson was a well-known critic of the indigenous activism industry, and her resistance to the university’s agenda quickly sparked the ire of the radical students, faculty, and administrators at the helm of the indigenization campaign.
But the indigenization controversy was not the only area where Widdowson’s commitment to critical inquiry ran afoul of the university’s ideological agenda. She also dared to take on another one of modern academia’s sacred cows: transgender ideology. In a Minding the Campus article published last week, Widdowson describes how her attempts to foster open dialogue about the relationship between feminism and transgenderism “catalyzed the effort to push [her] out of MRU.”
Widdowson’s first foray into the transgender debate occurred in March 2019, when she organized a panel to discuss the question “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” Even though a prominent trans activist participated on the panel, students and faculty decried the event as “an attack on trans people” and immediately organized a follow-up event to provide “therapeutic conversation” and to discuss “the impact on trans folk of having our identities and safety considered debatable.” Later that spring, for the first time ever at MRU, Widdowson received course evaluations stating that students felt “uncomfortable” in her class due to her “degrading comments.”
Rather than back down, Widdowson turned to another platform to express her opinion: Twitter. In October 2020, in a series of satirical Tweets posted under the pseudonym “francXs mcgrath,” she poked fun at the concept of “misgendering fatigue” and the alphabet soup of the LGBTQ+ initialism. This time, however, the consequences were more severe. An investigator hired by MRU found the Tweets to violate MRU’s Code of Conduct and to constitute discrimination and harrassment under Alberta’s Human Rights Act and Occupational Safety Act, respectively—“violations” that would later be cited in a letter justifying Widdowson’s termination.
The National Association of Scholars has previously warned about the danger that transgender ideology poses to freedom of inquiry and the pursuit of truth in America’s colleges and universities. The persecution of Frances Widdowson shows how that danger can become a reality, as do the many other cases of academic cancel culture we have tracked over the past two years.
Even for someone whose very job is to foster critical inquiry and the pursuit of truth, to question the dogma of transgenderism is to invite accusations of harassment, discrimination, and human rights violations. Why? Because any critique of the ideas of transgenderism is declared an attack on the identities of transgender people everywhere. As Widdowson explains,
In wokeism, identities and ideas are fused because “respecting viewpoints” is seen by activists as essential for the empowerment of the oppressed. Criticizing the propaganda put forward by a trans activist is characterized as attacking him as a person, which he will often further conflate with violence.
Widdowson warns that this way of thinking—in which “any comment can be labeled ‘harrasment’ or ‘discrimination’ so long as the complainant is a member of a protected group”—will be “the end of universities as intellectual spaces.” As a new school year begins, America’s colleges and universities would do well to heed her warning.
Until next week.
P. S. In the Spring 2021 issue of Academic Questions, NAS board member Bruce Gilley contributed an article detailing the bizarre background and belief system of then-Yale professor and psychiatrist Bandy Lee, who devoted years of her career to arguing that President Donald Trump was mentally ill (along with most of his supporters) and that his presidency threatened “the future of human survival.” Lee’s obsession ultimately led her to lose her job at Yale, since issuing professional opinions about public figures without examining them violates the American Psychiatric Association’s ethical standards. Last week, the New York Post reported that a federal judge had dismissed Lee’s wrongful termination suit, finding that Yale had never guaranteed she would be reappointed. Both Gilley’s article and the New York Post piece are worth a read.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.