Who’s Calling Frances (2)

Who’s calling Frances Widdowson? Not the Canadian Political Science Association Women’s Caucus.

Her e-mails to Caucus go unread.  Replies are inadequate and excuses are lame. “We’ve been out of the office.” “Our e-mail broke down.”

“Our e-mail broke down”???

I think it’s the old story. They want Widdowson to go away. Call it a day. Bury her head in the sand.

Widdowson’s arguing that someone in the Women’s Caucus has been calling her a racist. Someone’s  saying that her work on aboriginals is unprofessional and that the paper she presented to the Political Science meetings at the Congress of 2008 is “offensive. ” She wants names. She believes that her professional reputation is at stake and she wants a chance to confront her detractors. I don’t think she’s going to give up.

1 Response to “Who’s Calling Frances (2)”

  1. 1 Frances Widdowson August 1, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Once again, I would like to thank Janet Ajzenstat for discussing this issue. Her blog is the only forum available to publicize what has been happening; I would not have even heard about the anonymous allegations being made if it were not for her blog “The Idea File”.

    For the record, my objective has not been to communicate with the Women’s Caucus (I did, in fact, receive a message on my answering machine from one member of the Women’s Caucus; however, I stated in an email to this person that I would prefer written correspondence so that there would be no “misunderstandings” in the future, and no email response was received). Although I have been providing the Women’s Caucus Listserv with copies of my correpondence to the CPSA’s Ethics Committee and the Board of Directors (see below), this is because it is appropriate to inform people when you are making accusations about their behaviour (a courtesy that has not been extended to me). I do not, however, expect a meaningful dialogue because the Women’s Caucus, the way it is currently structured, is unprofessional and biased. For the postmodern cabal that controls this “organization”, its mind is made up, and in spite of protestations to the contrary, it does not want to be “confused with the facts”.

    Therefore, I am hoping that the CPSA Board will do something about this intolerable state of affairs. Also, by putting my views forward publicly on this blog, I hope that members of the CPSA (both men and women), who are concerned about academic freedom and the need to freely discuss controversial subjects, will realize the threat to political science scholarship that this body represents.


    Frances Widdowson, Ph.D.
    Department of Policy Studies
    Mount Royal College
    4825 Mount Royal Gate SW
    Calgary, Alberta T3E 6K6
    Email: fwiddowson@mtroyal.ca
    Telephone: 403-440-6884
    July 13, 2009

    Board of Directors
    Canadian Political Science Association
    #204, 260 rue Dalhousie Street
    Ottawa, ON K1N 7E4

    Dear Board Members of the Canadian Political Science Association:
    I would like to alert the Board of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA) to a number of instances of professional misconduct legitimated by the CPSA’s Women’s Caucus. As the Women’s Caucus is officially associated with the CPSA, I am appealing to the Board in the hopes of making this organization a more transparent and accountable body within our association. A number of anonymous, unsubstantiated, and false accusations have been made about my conduct and research, and some action should be taken to correct this appalling state of affairs.

    In August 2008, I learned from Janet Ajzenstat’s blog, “The Idea File” that, according to Katherine Fierlbeck, the Women’s Caucus was “calling for a motion censuring Peter Russell for allowing offensive speech at CPSA meetings”, and that the “offensive speech” in question consisted of remarks that I made during my presentation of the paper “Native Studies and Canadian Political Science: The Implications of Decolonizing the Discipline”. Although there were a number of inaccuracies in the posting about the session, the blog prompted me to investigate the Women’s Caucus discussions that took place about the incident. At this point, I found that, in the minutes of the 2008 meeting of the Women’s Caucus, it was stated that “several members who attended the panel expressed serious concerns that overt and blatant racism was expressed during the panel [on aboriginal politics]”, and that “other members reported similarly offensive behaviours at previous CPSA meetings” (no member making these serious accusations was personally identified in the minutes). It was noted that “some aboriginal members were called ‘squaws’ and similar offensive language was used”, and there was even “discussion of whether this was ‘hate speech’ under the criminal code”. As a result of these assertions, a motion, requesting the CPSA to “create policy concerning offensive speech”, was moved by Barbara Arneil and seconded by Laura Janara and passed unanimously by the Women’s Caucus members in attendance (for a list of these members see http://www.cpsawomen.ca/lucheon/index.htm).

    After this motion was passed, a discussion took place on the Women’s Caucus’ listserv, where it was debated as to whether the motion should be concerned with “offensive speech”, “hate speech” or speech creating a “chilly climate and/or poisoned environment”. Jill Vickers, Barbara Arneil, and Laura Janara, for example, all argued that the motion should concern “hate speech”, not “offensive speech”, since offence was subjective and the charge could be used to oppose legitimate viewpoints. Caroline Dick, on the other hand, recommended that the motion “use the language of chilly climate and/or poisoned environment, which casts a broader net and does not require the establishment of intent or a desire to incite hatred as is the case with the legal term ‘hate speech’…poisoned environment (which is recognized legally as a form of discrimination) typically involves speech that offends because it targets an identifiable group and, in that respect, I don’t think it should raise significant concerns”.

    As a result of this discussion, Candace Johnson posted a slightly revised copy of the motion to be submitted to the CPSA Board on the Women’s Caucus listserv. In this proposed submission, she included a “brief paragraph explaining the event that prompted the motion”. According to Johnson,

    there was a session on Aboriginal politics at the CPSA meeting that was extremely controversial. I did not attend the session but a number of women who did brought the incident to the attention of the women’s caucus at our annual lunch meeting. Many felt that the session included racist remarks, and the hostility of the panel was (unfortunately) consistent with other actions and incidents at previous CPSA meetings… Although I did not attend the session that prompted the discussion, nor have I witnessed the other incidents that were mentioned, I understand the problem to be that of a hostile/poisoned/antagonistic environment, not that hate crimes were being committed”.

    At the same time as the discussion about how the motion should be worded unfolded, questions were also raised about what transpired at the session. Theresa Lee, for example, asked “if either Candace [Johnson] or one of you who was present can provide some background information on this matter. Although I missed the meeting, I’m concerned about what is being conveyed in the proposed motion and I should think I’m not the only person in that situation”. These questions about what actually happened at the session and the meeting, as well as concerns about the appropriate way to respond to the matter, led Kathy Brock, Joyce Green, Kiera Ladner and Malinda Smith to post a letter on the listserv (“Racism, Chilly Climate, Our Responsibility & The Discipline) that they had sent to the CPSA Board to “facilitate broader dialogue”. Although the letter claims to be concerned with encouraging “due process” in my case, it contains a number of unsubstantiated assertions about the problematic state of our discipline, and by implication my conduct and scholarship. It is asserted that “experiences of a hostile intellectual environment already have led to the CPSA losing some members”, but no specifics are provided. According to Brock et al., “the CPSA needs to address racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia”, as well as “scholarship…which suggest[s] that racism must be protected by academic freedom”, even though it has not been established that racist scholarship, or the justification of racism, exists within the CPSA. There are oblique references to the fact that “similar views [to mine] have been expressed by senior male scholars (and in one case have been awarded)”, without any elaboration of what these “views” are or if/how they are racist or responsible for promoting a hostile environment. While Brock et al. are correct to argue that “it is important that Aboriginal scholars can go to the CPSA and not have to experience racism”, they have provided no evidence that racism is being experienced in our association.

    The posting of this letter led to further questions about who was responsible for the events alluded to by Brock et al. The letter, after all, did not mention me by name; it only referred to a “junior woman scholar” who was “trained at a major University by leading scholars in the discipline” with a “peer reviewed book by McGill-Queen’s”. These inquiries resulted in Joanna Quinn providing the following account of my conduct, which was posted on the Women’s Caucus listserv:

    at this year’s CPSA in Vancouver, there was a panel on aboriginal governance. For a number of years, one woman, Frances Widdowson, has apparently been criticizing various aboriginal scholars and their credibility, basically saying that aboriginal scholars have nothing to contribute simply because they are aboriginal. She has been politely tolerated, although a couple of aboriginal women I know have started to avoid going to her panels because they are so irritated by her. At any rate, this year, her paper (and subsequent presentation) at CPSA actually spent a couple of pages critiquing one woman aboriginal scholar (a friend of mine!) on these same grounds, and personally attacking her as a source of garbage-y research. At the panel, another aboriginal woman took her to task, and asked why she didn’t/couldn’t write something based on academic fact, rather than a personal attack. Widdowson said something like, “Do you want to make something of this?”-to which the aboriginal woman replied, “Okay, let’s take this outside!” Poor Peter Russell, the Chair of the panel, was apparently flabbergasted by the whole thing, and handled it rather badly.

    At this point, Miriam Smith, the President of the CPSA, intervened, requesting that “contributors and subscribers to this list [should] restrict their comments to general discussions of policy and principle rather than comments about individuals. This email list is maintained by Canadian Political Science Association and it is intended for circulation of announcements and information regarding CPSA Women’s Caucus activities”.

    As a result of these circumstances, there are a number of claims that have been made about my research and conduct that remain unchallenged on sites associated with the CPSA, and these assertions should either be substantiated by the Women’s Caucus or publicly retracted (for example, in a letter on PolCan or in some other document that is accessed by all CPSA members, as well as on the Women’s Caucus website and its listserv). Although the Women’s Caucus is an “informal group of women political scientists”, and certain members could attempt to avoid accountability on this basis, Candace Johnson (the convener of the meeting who posted these anonymous allegations on the Women’s Caucus listserv) and Janice Newton (the member who prepared the minutes of the 2008 Women’s Caucus meeting) should take some responsibility for legitimating this irresponsible and/or malicious behaviour.

    I completely agree with Brock et al. that it is necessary to get “our facts in order” and develop “systematic documentation of what transpired at the session”. Unfortunately, the fact that all of these conversations about my conduct have taken place without my knowledge does not give me confidence that these members of the Women’s Caucus are genuine in their pleas for open and honest discussion. In fact, one author of the letter by Brock et al., Joyce Green, has indicated that she has no interest in engaging in discussions about the claims being made about the session at the Women’s Caucus meeting in 2008 (personal communication, July 2, 2009). The ethical stance put forward by Brock et al., therefore, seems to be more of an attempt to cultivate the appearance of magnanimity than a genuine effort to develop mechanisms to determine what actually occurred.

    To ensure that an open and honest account of my conduct is undertaken, I appeal to the CPSA Board to establish the following:

    – Who were the “several members” of the Women’s Caucus who attended the panel and “expressed serious concerns that overt and blatant racism was expressed…”? (Women’s Caucus minutes, 2008)
    – What did this “overt and blatant racism” consist of? (Women’s Caucus minutes, 2008)
    – Who called aboriginal members “squaws”? (Women’s Caucus minutes, 2008)
    – What were the “similarly offensive behaviours at previous CPSA meetings”? (Women’s Caucus minutes, 2008) Who claims that these “offensive behaviours” occurred?
    – Who claims that I made “racist remarks” at the session? What were these “racist remarks”? (comment by Candace Johnson)
    – What were the “other actions and incidents at previous CPSA meetings” that were hostile? (comment by Candace Johnson)
    – What were the “experiences of a hostile intellectual environment [that] already have led to the CPSA losing some members”? (Comment by Brock et al.)
    – What instances of “racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia” need to be addressed by the CPSA? (Comment by Brock et al.)
    – What “scholarship…suggest[s] that racism must be protected by academic freedom”? (Comment by Brock et al.)
    – What are the “similar views [to mine that] have been expressed by senior male scholars (and in one case have been awarded)”? (Comment by Brock et al.) Is it being claimed that these “views” are racist, hateful, or act to promote a hostile environment? If so, how?
    – Did Joanna Quinn attend the 2008 session on aboriginal politics (her use of the word “apparently” appears to suggest otherwise)? If not, where did she receive her information about the session?
    – On what basis can it be claimed that I have stated that “aboriginal scholars have nothing to contribute simply because they are aboriginal”? (Comment by Joanna Quinn)
    – In what way did I attack Kiera Ladner personally? (Comment by Joanna Quinn)
    – Can it be substantiated that I initiated a confrontation by asking an aboriginal woman at the session “Do you want to make something of this”? (Comment by Joanna Quinn).

    As I did not attend the Women’s Caucus Meeting in 2008, I cannot respond to the vague, anonymous and unsubstantiated accusations about my professional conduct that have been made available for public consumption. However, I can respond to the specific claims that have been obliquely made about my behaviour and research. First, I never have used the word “squaws” to refer to aboriginal people. Second, I did not attack Kiera Ladner personally in my paper or at the session and have never said that “aboriginal scholars have nothing to contribute simply because they are aboriginal”; my concern is with “indigenous methodologies”, which can be used by either aboriginal or non-aboriginal scholars. Aboriginal people who use social scientific methodologies – Joyce Green, for example – have contributed greatly to the discipline of political science. Third, at the session I never instigated a confrontation with an aboriginal woman by asking “Do you want to make something of this?” I did, however, appeal to Peter Russell to restore order to the session after I was personally attacked by an aboriginal woman (the political scientist Joyce Green).

    Although I realize that I was only one observer of what transpired, I posted my recollection of the events three months later on Janet Ajzenstat’s blog “The Idea File”, and this account was confirmed by Andreas Krebs – a critic of my views who I do not know personally (see Attachment #1).* An account of my views also can be obtained from the paper from which my presentation was based (http://cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2008/widdowson.pdf), as well as the PowerPoint slides that were used to structure my presentation (see Attachment #2).* I see these documents as providing an initial step in getting “our facts in order”. Nicole O’Byrne (Faculty of Law, UNB) also informs me that she still has the detailed notes that she took during the session, which, along with the observations of other participants, could further contribute to the “systematic documentation of what transpired”.


    Frances Widdowson

    cc. Sally Rutherford, Executive Director, Canadian Political Science Association
    Michelle Hopkins, Administrator, Canadian Political Science Association
    Women’s Caucus Listserv
    Janet Ajzenstat (McMaster University)
    Katherine Fierlbeck (Dalhousie University)
    Barbara Arneil (UBC)
    Caroline Dick (UWO)
    Laura Janara (UBC)
    Jill Vickers (Carleton University)
    Candace Johnson (University of Guelph)
    Theresa Lee (University of Guelph)
    Kathy Brock (Queen’s University)
    Joyce Green (University of Regina)
    Kiera Ladner (University of Manitoba)
    Malinda Smith (University of Alberta)
    Joanna Quinn (University of Western Ontario)
    Miriam Smith (York University)
    Peter Russell (University of Toronto)
    Andreas Krebs (University of Ottawa)
    Nicole O’Byrne (UNB)

    *Both attachments are available in previous messages posted on “The Idea File”.

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