[Opinion] EDI, academic excellence “work”

in a published letter Be forced and on January 17, in an address to Quebec university leaders, Higher Education Minister Pascal Dery took a public stand after British professor Robert Wintemute’s conference was canceled by McGill University. This gay activist, a human rights expert, was indeed accused by hundreds of activists of having transphobic views. The minister then rebelled against the spirit of censorship that underpinned this decision and called on all Quebec rectors to implement 32 bills designed to protect academic freedom.

Recognizing the importance of “certain social struggles”, Minister Déry nevertheless compared the exercise of this freedom to the goals of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), which are likely to ensure “equal opportunities” for all and increase “representation”. of target groups (women, aborigines, visible minorities and disabled) in institutions. Between the two, Pascale Déry even admitted that there can sometimes be “difficult arbitrations”.

Has the main problem been put correctly by the minister?

We know that since 2017 all Quebec institutions are subject to the federal EDI action plan provided through the Canada Research Chairs Program. At first glance, this intervention of the state seems to be necessary as well as useful, since it is a question of correcting the inequality of the scientific environment. In fact, this very restrictive measure is an opportunity for Ottawa to encroach on Quebec’s jurisdiction. As for the universities, they respond more out of love of justice than financial reasons. They will lose millions of dollars for not following them.

Moreover, the question is not limited to research. We are currently witnessing a real social phenomenon around EDI. From the City of Montreal to Radio-Canada, through Meta and Google, there isn’t an agency or company in North America that isn’t proud to have its own EDI policy. If these plans serve a progressive line of action inspired by the theses of the moment about gender and “race,” the formula’s effectiveness depends primarily on its overarching message status.

Well known to communication agencies (advertising or political), this process is used to gather large and mixed audiences. Indeed, who could be against “diversity” or “equality”? If these terms have the unity of all, it is that everyone can hear what they want there. For example, how do you define diversity? Is it about social diversity? Linguistics? Religious? ethnic? As we can see, each of the concepts that make up the EDI acronym is as flexible and vague as any.

However, if we were to assign an exact source to EDI, we would find it on the management side. During the 1990s and 2000s, the concept of diversity experienced unprecedented growth, from business schools to private companies. This was, among other things, the result of the mixed results of their policiesaffirmative action Equal employment programs in the United States and Canada. Therefore, the model of “equality”, “diversity”, “inclusion” was developed and spread to the world of public administrations, media, education and culture. This spawned a service economy where firms of EDI strategists and consultants flourish today.

It is in this context that a genuine anti-racist market has flourished with workshops to raise awareness of unconscious biases, the effectiveness of which has nevertheless been repeatedly disputed. Pamela Newkirk thus reminds that at the beginning of the century, the turnover of the EDI industry in the United States was already 8 billion dollars. Since the creation of Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, jobs in this field have opened up, although the qualifications and experience for this type of position remain very obscure.

And at McGill University, we have enthusiastically adopted this model. Positions within the team, led by Equity Vice-Chancellor Angela Campbell, have continued to grow in recent years. In addition to expected and necessary services (mental health, sexual violence, etc.), employees are offered training in inclusive leadership and micro-aggressions, a very controversial concept. There are also various sources: pseudo-scientific bibliographies on discrimination (Robin DiAngelo), not to mention a yoga site for people called racist, a calculator that can (apparently) detect your gender bias …

The huge amount of money allocated to all these initiatives distracts the university from its fundamental missions. When it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion, don’t they deserve better? Business of virtue?

To see in the video

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