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How not to run an academic institution. My Alma mater is demonstrating some worrisome (read batshit fucking stupid) decisions regarding firing female staff for having the absolute gall of teaching the ‘unorthodox’ view that biological sex is important to women and their struggle against patriarchy.

Her feminist views are apparently causing a small segment of students to feel unsafe and thus because if we are not walking on eggshells around entitled gender deluded males one must be doing the whole academic thing wrong.

Something very wrong has happened at the University of Alberta. A professor has been fired from part of her academic job for views on sex and gender that break with current orthodoxy.

In late March, Kathleen Lowrey, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, was asked to resign from her role as the Department of Anthropology’s associate chair, undergraduate programs, on the basis that one or more students had gone to the University’s Office of Safe Disclosure and Human Rights and the Dean of Students, André Costopolous, to complain about her without filing formal complaints. All Professor Lowrey has been told is that she is somehow making the learning environment “unsafe” for these students because she is a feminist who holds “gender critical” views. 

Apparently, Lowrey’s very openness about her views is a problem. Should a course have gender or sex as a central theme, on day 1 she offers a summary of her views along with the declaration that no student need agree with her about any of it, as she did this year with her course “Anthropology of Women.” As she cleaves to a feminism that asserts the continuing importance of biological sex and feminist projects of resisting patriarchal oppression, her views put her out of step with much current thinking about the nature of gender, which from the seminal work of Judith Butler forward takes sex to be a social construct. Lowrey also posts statements related to her views on her office door — something she is entitled to do. She contends that in asking her to resign from her service role the University is endorsing ideological conformity. 

Lowrey refused to resign from her service role and insisted that if the University wished to dismiss her from it, it would need to put its reasons for doing so in writing. She subsequently received a letter from the Dean of Arts Lesley Cormack dismissing her from her service role without offering any specifics as to why. The letter simply declares that the Dean believes that “it is not in the best interests of the students or the University” for Lowrey to continue in it.”

This is unbelievable.  Exactly what part of a healthy part of academic debate does this help?

 

“The University of Alberta takes the position that Lowrey had to be dismissed from her service role “for the good of the department” because at least one student claims that for the University to let her continue in the role would be for it to run the risk of the department losing students to another field of study. The argument, in effect, is that Lowrey could not be allowed to let the Department suffer a financial penalty for her views. (In the University of Alberta’s budget model, government funding “follows” students to the departments in which they take their courses.) With its worry that Lowrey’s views will have financial consequences for the Department of Anthropology, the University of Alberta lets an unfortunate development of the academy over the last few decades, in which students have become tuition-paying “customers” upon whom universities rely for more and more of their revenues, come into direct conflict with academic freedom principles. This is a very serious problem. No department at any university in Canada should be taking the position that it has to concern itself with how a professor’s intellectual views may affect a department’s bottom-line. 

Finally, the University of Alberta takes the position that it had to dismiss Lowrey from her service role because if it did not do so students would feel that the University “cared more” about “supporting” the professor than it did about them. This is a terrible line of reasoning, which pits students against a professor when what ought to be of paramount concern to all is the commitment to intellectual engagement and critical scrutiny of ideas as fundamental to the University’s flourishing. Quite simply, at a university, unorthodox or controversial views must be actively debated, and never suppressed, if the university is to meet its societal obligations. 

The University of Alberta needs to restore Professor Lowrey to her role as associate chair, undergraduate programs, in the Department of Anthropology, and university administrators elsewhere need to make sure that they do not fall into the University of Alberta’s mistake. It is essential that our universities never become homes for orthodoxy of any kind. “Dogma is bad for people,” writes UBC professor emeritus William Bruneau elsewhere on this blog. But for universities dogma is much, much worse. It is anathema to the academic mission.”

 

Kathleen Lowrey needs to reinstated yesterday.  This sort of totalitarian anti-academic thinking has to stop.

 

Oh and email the Dean about this travesty – artsdean@ualberta.ca

 

 

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