Harvey Mansfield on Canada

Professors Harvey Mansfield, Bradley Watson, and Robert P. George are calling on the American Political Science Association to reevaluate its selection of Toronto for its 2009 conference.

The contention is that Canada’s restrictions on certain forms of speech put controversial academics at risk of being prosecuted. Friends of academic free speech should boycott this country. Ouch!

Now I hear that the women’s caucus of the Canadian Political Science Association is calling for a motion censuring Peter Russell for allowing offensive speech at CPSA meetings. The matter will be discussed at the CPSA Board meeting in December.

Russell chaired a session at the 2008 Learneds (UBC) at which Frances Widdowson read a paper on the use of aboriginal methodology in the study of aboriginal history and society. I’ve read her paper, which Katherine Fierlbeck kindly forwarded. (Thank you Katherine.) The argument is that to adopt the aboriginal worldview uncritically, violates principles of sound academic inquiry. Among those Widdowson describes as unhelpfully wedded to use of aboriginal methodology is Kiera Ladner, a Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba. Ladner was present at the session; a heated exchange ensued. Ladner seems to have been arguing that Widdowson’s contention amounted to an intolerant and intolerable rejection of the aboriginal worldview. We do not know just what was said.  But apparently the discussion was vigorous!

Russell allowed the exchange “as academically legitimate debate.” The phrase, “academically legitimate debate” is Katherine Fierlbeck’s. It sounds like something Peter Russell would say.

So: Ladner called Widdowson for “offensive speech;” Widdowson defended herself. And Russell’s up for censure.

Widdowson’s paper is entitled, “Native Studies and Canadian Political Science: The Implications of “Decolonizing the Discipline.” It’s a strong, well-written article, with fascinating quotations, references and instances. There’s a discussion of hiring in Aboriginal Programs. A discussion of SSHRC funding for Aboriginal Studies. Who gets hired, who gets funded?

Frances Widdowson and Albert Howard have a book coming out with McGill-Queen’s this November: Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservations. The argument is that policies put forward to address the problems of Canada’s native peoples are contributing to their misery. Katherine Fierlbeck tells me that the Women’s Caucus is calling for a motion censuring McGill-Queen’s!

Wait till Mansfield hears.


9 Responses to “Harvey Mansfield on Canada”

  1. 1 Russ August 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I found a hard-cover edition of Smiley that should arrive to you, soon. With compliments.

  2. 2 Frances Widdowson August 30, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    I am glad that this matter is now being brought into the open, and hope that the CPSA’s review of Russell’s conduct in December will enable us to discuss some of the problems in our discipline. More specifically, it is frightening that it is becoming acceptable for someone to take personal offence at an idea to prevent its scientific merit from being examined publicly.

    However, there are a number of incorrect statements of fact in this posting, which should be noted. First of all, it was not Kiera Ladner, but Joyce Green, who publicly attacked me at the session at UBC. Kiera Ladner stated at the time that, while she did not agree with my views, she was happy that we were having the debate.

    Here are the facts as I remember them (and it should be kept in mind that we are dealing with “oral histories” here, not written accounts of the session, although there are a number of people who were appalled by what transpired, and would support my version of events).

    Peter Russell opened the session by stating that this was a scholarly arena, and while emotions might run high, everyone should treat everyone else “with respect”.

    After critiquing the works of the other two panelists, Green stated that she could not respect me as a scholar because I did not understand indigenous methodologies, was an angry person and obviously “hated aboriginal people”.

    At that point, I called upon Peter Russell, the Chair, to intervene as I thought that this was completely outrageous and unscholarly behaviour on Green’s part, and I should be allowed to immediately respond to these false accusations.

    Green then said that we should “take it outside” – a suggestion that appeared to be a physical threat against me.

    Russell agreed that Green’s outburst was inappropriate, and assured me that I would be allowed to respond after the two other panelists had made their responses (to maintain the order in which we had presented). He also said that he thought that my paper might have provoked a negative response because of my references to the “Aboriginal Industry”, which he thought implied that aboriginal people were making money out of the current policy direction that I was critiquing.

    When I responded to Green, I stated that I had great admiration for her scholarship, and had used her work many times in my own research. I also clarified that my references to the “Aboriginal Industry” could not be interpreted as disparaging aboriginal people because the Industry is made up of non-aboriginal people (mostly lawyers, consultants and anthropologists) who manipulate aboriginal people in their own interest. Then I stated that Green’s response was very problematic because it was an attempt to keep people from openly discussing aboriginal issues. As has been noted by a number of social scientists, there is a lack of candor in aboriginal policy analysis, because there is fear of being accused of racism, colonialism or “hating aboriginal people”. Green’s personal and emotional attack, in fact, was a good example of what is wrong in discussions of aboriginal policy.

    The only debate that took place between Ladner and me concerned the reliability of “oral histories”. Ladner maintained that there were “indigenous methodologies” ensuring that oral histories were reliable, and she criticized a case study that I used concerning Stephen Augustine’s “reading” of wampum belts (see page 6 note 28 of my paper). I responded by saying that I had not seen, especially in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, any evidence that “indigenous methodologies” verified accounts of the past. They just expected everyone to believe what any aboriginal “historian” said was true.

    Besides Green, there was only one other person who accused me of being “disrespectful”. I do not know the name of this person, but they said that the paper was disrespectful because I used the word “they” to refer to aboriginal people, I essentialized aboriginal peoples as a monolithic entity, and I did not grant that they (oops – aboriginal peoples) had agency.

    Even if these accusations were true (page 7, for example, argues against the idea that all aboriginal peoples have the same belief systems, and therefore the idea of essentialized “indigenous methodologies” is itself suspect), I do not think that any of this can be seen as an “intolerable rejection of an aboriginal worldview”. The only inappropriate behaviour that occurred at the session was Joyce Green’s diatribe (which did not, incidentally, offer any scholarly criticisms of my paper). If the CPSA is going to censure anyone, it should be Green, who even stooped so low as to make physical threats in what was supposed to be a scholarly venue.


    Frances Widdowson

  3. 3 Andreas Krebs September 9, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    I should preface my comment by stating that I witnessed the episode in question, and as far as my memory can be trusted, Frances Widdowson’s account seems accurate.
    Although I could not disagree more with the paper presented by Frances Widdowson at the conference, and in fact found her delivery to be aggressive and even slightly offensive, she was the victim in this particular affair. Is it possible, however, that Peter Russell, the moderator, is being censured for having allowed Joyce Green to ‘get away’ with her attach on Frances Widdowson? This is the only way I could ever make sense of such a censure.

  4. 4 D. Livingstone September 11, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    I have been re-reading Peter Emberley and Waller Newell’s Bankrupt Education: The Decline of Liberal Education in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994). The reported events at the Learneds brought to mind this passage: “The chief aim of a liberal education should be to equip students with a knowledge of ideas and history, and the ability to debate without rancour so that they can take their place among responsible and informed citizenry. We fear the current educational climate is contributing to what now dominates public discourse as a whole: shrill advocacy combined with a refusal to debate principles” (69).
    Of course, if one teaches that politics is nothing more than the imposition of one class interest at the expense of another, or that politics is reducible to power, then there is no point in encouraging responsible and respectful deliberation about principles. Instead, one would simply “take it outside” to determine whose principles ought to prevail. In such a conception, politics is no longer what Aristotle believed it was: an ongoing discussion within the community about the just and the unjust, the advantageous and disadvantageous, a conversation which, simply by participating in it, helps the participants actualize their human potential by clarifying, expanding and hopefully elevating their perception of human dignity.

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