When the university encourages lies

When the university encourages lies
When the university encourages lies

Simon could have declared himself non-binary. All he had to do was check a box to declare that he feels neither male nor female, but a mixture of the two, or neither. He doesn’t know if he would have gotten the job. But at least he would have had a chance.


Posted at 1:33 a.m.

Updated at 7:00 a.m.

Simon didn’t check anything because the truth is that he is not non-binary. Nor is he female, transgender, two-spirit, or gender fluid. However, the computer science professor position posted by the University of Waterloo is offered exclusively to candidates who identify with one or other of these groups.

The Ontario university does offer a second position as a computer science professor – this one open to flatly binary men like Simon. The only problem is that this position is reserved for members of “racialized minorities”. And Simon is a white-skinned Quebecer.

He worked abroad before returning to Canada a few months ago. While looking for a job, he came across the University of Waterloo’s posting1.

Two positions within a prestigious Canada Research Chair (CRC), one prohibited to men and the other to whites. “It knocked me to the ground,” confides Simon.

You will have understood, it is an assumed name: the Quebecer requested anonymity for fear of appearing as a privileged person who complains on a full stomach or, worse, of finding his real name on the list black universities across the country.

“I can’t submit my application because I don’t have the right skin color or because I’m not into lying,” he notes. If I self-identified as two-spirit [bispirituel]the University of Waterloo would not investigate whether I really am…”

This is because a university can easily verify the professional claims of a candidate for a professorship. But to check what’s going on in his head, in his heart or in his bedroom, it’s much more complicated. In fact, the answers to these very personal questions rest entirely on honor. The university expects the candidate to demonstrate sincerity. However, these answers have the power to determine one’s career.

In an anonymous letter published by the British monthly Times Higher Education2, Simon denounces this incitement to hypocrisy and lies. Above all, he denounces the “unfair” selection criteria of the University of Waterloo, rallying for his part to the vision of Martin Luther King, that of “a society where equality, justice and fraternity are blind to the categories”.

This view should not be terribly controversial. However, Simon feels incapable of defending her openly. And that, frankly, is a problem.

The University of Waterloo is only complying with the requirements of the federal government’s CRC Program, a spokesperson for the institution wrote to me. In 2022, Laval University found itself in the same situation. She had posted a CRC position in biology which immediately excluded white men without disabilities. The affair caused an outcry in Quebec. Unanimously, the National Assembly denounced what could only be described as discrimination in hiring.

Since then, nothing has changed. Ottawa continues to set diversity and inclusion targets. Universities across the country must still meet these targets to get their share of federal grants. Failing to achieve them, they would be forced to give up a Source of financing which they do not have the luxury of doing without.

Ottawa’s objective is legitimate: in terms of equality and representation of disadvantaged minorities, we must admit that there is still a long way to go, in universities as elsewhere.

The intention is good, therefore. This is the means that universities use to achieve the imposed targets at all costs, which sometimes go beyond the limits.

It makes no sense to bar a white man from an academic position, without taking into account his experience or skills. We will gain nothing, it seems to me, from wanting to make individuals pay the price for social injustices who have nothing to do with it.

Measures of this kind may even be counterproductive. In American universities, we are starting to realize this – and to reverse course.

In the United States, a third of universities ask applicants to explain how they would advance the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in their teaching. This declaration, which can tip the scales in the selection of future teachers, is also increasingly widespread in Canadian and Quebec universities.

But the tide is starting to turn. In early May, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the first elite American university to put an end to this practice. “There are many ways we can build an inclusive environment, but forced statements infringe on free speech and don’t work,” said MIT President Sally Kornbluth.

It doesn’t work, because the exercise fundamentally lacks sincerity. The applicant knows full well that the important thing is to pretend that he has the right ideological posture, otherwise he will see his application rejected.

Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy recently called for abandoning these ideological pledges of allegiance3. By forcing academics to profess faith in EDI programs, he writes, these declarations pose a significant challenge to academic freedom. Sunday, the Washington Post hoped in editorial4 that other universities will follow MIT’s lead.

Simon submitted his application to three Quebec universities; two of them asked him to explain what he would do to make his workplace more equal, diverse and inclusive. This is also why he requested anonymity: what he wrote does not correspond to what he really thinks.

I feel like I’m building on principles that move me forward as a researcher. Making an EDI declaration does not allow you to start a dialogue open to criticism. We have to comply, that’s what’s sad.

Simon, with regret, about his own EDI declarations

Yet, he notes, if there is one place where we should encourage the free flow of ideas, it is at the university.

Would he never dare write in an application file that he dreams of a world where we no longer try to fit people into boxes, because he knows that such honesty would cost him a job high level in computer science. So, he will continue to lie in his job interviews, like many other future teachers, no doubt. And no one will be any further ahead.

1. View the University of Waterloo display

2. Read Simon’s anonymous letter (in English)

3. Read Randall Kennedy’s open letter

4. Read the editorial of Washington Post (in English)

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