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Sunday, December 12, 2010

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists


Here are more details about the extent of ultra-left dominance at the Sociology Department at OISE.

Captive social science is not new, of course, nor is it restricted to OISE. Here is a course description for an offering at Wheaton College in Illinois, an Evangelical Christian institution:

ANTH 355. Human Origins. This course surveys the biological and cultural evidence for fossil humans and seeks to understand that evidence within a Christian framework that is true to the integrity of the data, philosophy of science, biblical hermeneutics, and theology.

Before modern times, teachings about society were widely constrained by the dogmatic prescriptions of religious institutions. And of course the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships admitted no viewpoint except their own.

Now at the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto), we have a fairly modern and fashionable version: social science held captive by ultra-left dogmatists. There are two interesting features of this new dogmatism: 1) it is not freely agreed to by its constituency, as is the case with the Evangelical Christians, nor 2) is it enforced by state power. Instead it has come about and is enforced by stealth: the new dogmatists have been able to seize control of a publicly-financed institution, and they seem to perpetuate their control through their power over recruitment procedures. The closest analogue are the Communist-controlled trade unions that existed in North America for a number of decades in the last century.

My previous posts have focused on how the SESE dogmatics have affected the writing of graduate theses. Here I am concerned over how SESE faculty members describe their professional interests. One of the SESE web pages lists 16 Teaching Faculty, 5 Sessional lecturers, and 11 Cross-Appointed Associated Faculty, for a total of thirty-two SESE professors and instructors. Next to each person's name is a listing of "Teaching Emphasis." In twenty-one of these thirty-two, these descriptions indicate adherence to left-wing dogma.

Sometimes this adherence seems mild and almost inoffensive, as when it quietly lists "gender" or "gender studies" (more on that later). But in many other cases these listing are very much in-your-face: "Anti-racism and domination studies,… anti-colonial thought", "Gender, colonialism … black feminism, anti-racist education."

And perhaps even more interesting is what is not in these listings. I found nobody prepared to teach research methods, nobody interested in statistics. So here is a sociology entirely devoid of quantitative methods. How can that possibly wash ? Haven't any of the U of T powers-that-be noticed that ?

Faculty attitudes toward Jews and Israel are not shown in the listings of "teaching emphasis." But seven out of the thirty-two are publicly on record as condemning Israel, as shown by their signatures on petitions dated Jan. 12, Feb. 27, and Feb. 28 of 2009. At about the same time other academics signed petitions favoring Israel, but I was not able find SESE names on that kind of statement. Now obviously, a faculty member can have a private life, and in that private life can express political views of any and all sorts. But as we have seen in the current discussion on the Peto and Epstein theses -- the only recent SESE theses dealing with Jews -- all of the SESE scholarship on that topic suggests, not to put too fine a point on it, that the vast majority of Jews are Fascist pigs. Surely more can be said on the subject ? Apparently not, apparently not at SESE.

The most often mentioned "teaching emphasis" in these listings is "gender." (In addition, there are numerous mentions of "feminism.") On the surface, "gender" appears to be neutral; it could mean an entirely scholarly interest in sex differences in learning, or whatnot. But in the current context I found that an interest in "gender" is short-hand for a desire to engage in advocacy on behalf of a grievance-based political action. In every case that I have been able to check in this SESE context, "gender" means that there is perceived disadvantage to women, and thus a grievance that requires redress by way of writing and teaching at SESE.

To appreciate just how deleterious this stance is to scholarship, let us recall the well-established and often replicated data concerning sex differences in mathematical abilities. On average, the two populations, male and female, seem very close or perhaps identical on this trait. But when you look at the relatively small number of people who are in the very highest level of mathematical ability, there is a very marked, stark difference. At this very highest level, men outperform women dramatically. These findings are robust and remain after the application of control values.

The findings are a challenge to scholars. How do we explain them ? There is no simple answer, and certainly not one that insists on environmental variables alone. But while we have no simple answers, we do know that the feminist "gender" approach, which is dogmatic and a-priori and always apologist, cannot possibly be at all satisfactory.

These two examples -- the study of Jews, the problem of sex differences -- may seem extreme or isolated, but I think that they point to a very general problem, viz. the systematic anti-scientific, anti-intellectual subversion of academic life by the new dogmatists. And unfortunately, it is most unlikely that OISE is the only institution so affected.

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

Also: Read Robyn Urback's analysis of the Peto thesis

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eighteen OISE Theses

Eighteen OISE Theses

A Report Submitted to President David Naylor,

University of Toronto


Werner Cohn, Dec. 10, 2010

Introduction: The public attention that has been paid to the Peto thesis (and to a lesser extent the equally objectionable Epstein work) has raised the following question: can the principle of academic freedom override the need for objectivity in scholarship ? U. of T. pronouncements so far have used this principle – freedom – to dismiss criticisms of faulty scholarship in these theses. Obviously, political partisanship and scholarly integrity do not always and necessarily exclude one another. Nobody has ever claimed that scholarship can be neutral in any sort of absolute way. It is a matter of degree. We, the critics of OISE in this matter, have said that the political agitation that dominates Peto’s work, her complete neglect of the empirical work by others, and the imprimatur granted to all this by the University of Toronto – all these factors hurt the scholarly reputation of one of the world’s great universities.

In this Report, I suggest that the unfortunate results of the Peto thesis are related to a larger systemic problem at OISE.

The following is an analysis of all of the 36 currently internet-available theses completed at the SESE department of OISE, University of Toronto.

In half the cases, these theses appear to be so marred by political jargon and political preconceptions that they should never have been accepted into the corpus in which they are in fact found, viz. a collection of putative contributions to knowledge -- theses officially certified by the University of Toronto.

The University of Toronto’s website shows thirty-five recent theses that were accepted in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education (SESE) of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). To this I have added one additional thesis (thus making a total of thirty-six SESE theses), by Griffin Epstein, which was completed in a different department of OISE but which was supervised by a SESE faculty member, Sheryl Nestel.

The U of T website gives direct access to the abstract of each thesis, and also provides a facility for the downloading of each of the theses in pdf format. As a result, any reader can check for himself whether he agrees with the opinions I express here concerning these theses.

I have read the abstracts of all eighteen theses and have determined, on a prima facie basis, that eighteen of these works are so politicized that – again on a prima facie basis – I would not accept them as scholarly contributions. Obviously, had I done a more complete study of the theses themselves, it is conceivable, but not probable, that I would have reached a somewhat different conclusion.

Not only do these eighteen theses propound political agendas rather than detached scholarship, but the politics of all eighteen are of one sort and one sort only: radical leftism. I found no thesis that, for instance, urged a conservative viewpoint, or a Christian one, or, Heaven forbid, Zionism. This political uniformity of the theses contradicts the recent statements by U of T officials to the effect that OISE promotes freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. OISE, or at least SESE, does not seem to be a place where deviation from the left-wing orthodoxy is at all tolerated.

I did read the complete theses in two cases, the one by Jennifer Peto and the one by Griffin Epstein. As I explained elsewhere : a) I found neither of these to have any scholarly merit whatever, and b) I found them both to consist of hate propaganda, possibly in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada, Sections 318 – 20.

Here are extracts from the abstracts of the 18 politicized theses:


This qualitative study examines the social, spiritual and political role the Black Oneness Churches play in Black communities. It also provides an anti-colonial examination of the Afro-Caribbean Oneness ..... But 40 years later, the insidious nature of colonization has weaved through the church and “prosperity theology” as an impetus of colonialism has reshaped the social justice role of Black Churches.


....In this thesis I will explore this ruling using a methodological approach that engages practices of: self-reflexivity; tracing historical and political genealogies; and case study analysis.... Through an engagement with transnational and black feminist theorizing, anticolonial studies, and disability studies, I will suggest that “medical inadmissibility” is one of many regulatory mechanisms that work to fashion the Canadian nation-state as white, healthy, fit, and productive.


Curricula in classrooms facilitate a national amnesia of colonialism that renders inconceivable the possibility of Aboriginal heritage or mixed-blood presence in national subjects. .... I argue that this facilitates ongoing Canadian colonialism that continues to circumvent the possibility of particular mixed-blood Aboriginal identities within the confines of national belonging...


In recent years, there has been a significant amount of new attention to white dominance and privilege (or whiteness) as the often unmarked inverse of racial oppression. This interest has spawned the academic domain called Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS). While the critical investigation of whiteness is not new, and has been pioneered by Black scholars beginning at least since the early 1900s in the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, what is notable about this new interest in whiteness is its advancement almost exclusively by white scholars ... It outlines the importance of Black embodied knowledge to racial equity work ...


.... By using African centered paradigms, Afrocentricity and juxtaposing robust anti-colonial and Black feminist thoughts, the thesis investigates and recreates systematic narratives


Framed within an Anishnaabe method and an anti-colonial discursive framework, this thesis explores how Aboriginal students confront narratives of colonial violence in the postsecondary .... I trace how education for Aboriginal peoples has always been and continues to be part of the colonial regime—one that is marked by violence, abuse and a regime that has had devastating consequences for Aboriginal peoples....


This body of work endeavours to interrogate mainstream media and popular culture [mis]representations of racialized persons, in addition to the negative impact such imageries have on identity formation processes....The ultimate goal of this project is to propel racialized students to move away from the [mis]educative effects of the media, toward beginning to define themselves on their own terms.


This thesis presents a case study of Canada’s first Black owned radio station, FLOW 93.5 FM, to demonstrate how official multiculturalism, in its formulation and implementation, negates Canada’s history of slavery and racial inequality.... As a result, multiculturalism poses serious consequences for imagining and engaging with Blackness as a politics that may address the needs of Black communities in Canada.


.... Analyses of these topics are taken up from an anti-racist and critical mixed race studies perspective.


... First, I examine how the media socially constructed the Somali identity through a colonial gaze in a Toronto Life article. ....Finally, I stress the importance of and the need for Somali youth to engage in de-colonizing/ de-racialization processes that encompasses their re-discovery of their indigenous Somaliness.


...This thesis builds on the work of critical researchers who locate the Chilean authoritarian regime in the transnational politics of the Cold War and their effect in implementing neo-liberalism in Chile. This literature demonstrates that terror was a constitutive, rather than an incidental, element of neo-liberal governmentality: governmentality that inscribed itself on Chilean bodies through terror practices and that remains unscathed through the transition to democracy .... I propose that human rights constitute a biopolitical governmental regime that in a manner comparable to the authoritarian terror captures human life within the realm of state power. As a regime, human rights submit experiences of terror to specific power-knowledge technologies that render terror intelligible, manageable and governable. Rather than promoting essential values of truth and justice, the human rights regime produces specific discourses of truth and justice as well as specific discourses of subjectivity and nation. In concrete terms, this thesis explores how the post-authoritarian nation and it subjects use the human rights regime to discursively construct a national truth in order to promote and protect specific governmental arrangements.


... Working from an anti-racist framework, this research interviews two teachers who have used the novel in their classrooms, and considers the value and limitations of the book as an anti-racist teaching tool. ... I also examine the ways that Bifocal – and young adult literature in general – can be read in order to encourage more critical discussions about systems of racism and privilege.


.... My background in feminism, queer studies, anti-racism, critical theory and social justice, as well as my interest in consciousness and psychedelics, led me to conduct a literature review and analyze it with a critical framework. The literature showed an overwhelming gap in the field in regards to inclusion and analysis of issues pertaining to race, gender and class. This gap needs to be addressed ....


This paper focuses on issues of Jewish identity, whiteness and victimhood within hegemonic Holocaust education. I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West...


In A White Wedding? The Racial Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, I examine the inter-locking relations of power that constitute the lesbian/gay subject recognized by the Canadian nation-state as deserving of access to civil marriage. ... By centring a critical race/queer conceptual framework, this research project follows the discursive practices of respectability, freedom and civility that circulate both widely and deeply in this legal struggle. I contend that in order to successfully shed its historical markers of degeneracy, the lesbian/gay subject must be constituted not as a sexed citizen but rather as a neoliberal citizen, one who is intimately tied to notions of privacy, property, autonomy and freedom of choice, and hence one who is racialized as white. .... The conclusion of this thesis provides reflections for developing an ethics of activism that dislodges and resists the (re)production of racialized relations of power in lesbian and gay equality rights activism. In so doing, I seek to provoke, question and re-draw the landscape of our thinking, not only about same-sex marriage but also about the terms with which we conceive, articulate and practice racial and sexual justice.


...Using an anti-colonial and post-colonial theoretical framework, the study situates the education system of Bangladesh within its histories of colonial domination and argues that the discourses present in these textbooks reflect colonial forms of racism and oppression, and reproduce class and ethnic hierarchies characteristic of the larger Bangladeshi society. ...


... My research problem emerges from earlier feminist research addressing the low numbers of women in university Computer Science programs, particularly at the graduate level. After over twenty years of active feminist representation of this problem, mostly through large survey-based studies, there has been little change. ..., I demonstrate how they variously endorse, subvert and exploit the contradictory subject positions produced for them. I illustrate how a North American-based institutional feminist representation of ‘women in computing’ ignores the everyday experiences of ethnoculturally diverse female student participants in graduate Computer Science studies. I argue that rather than accepting the organization of universal characteristics which reproduce conditions of exclusion, North American feminist scholars need to consider the specificity of social relations and forms of knowledge transnationally..


note: this thesis, under the supervision of SESE faculty member Sheryl Nestel, was completed in OISE’s Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning

Can we be accountable to privilege? Can we find a space for coherent anti-racist secular Ashkenazi Jewish identity in North America, where Jews have been deeply implicated in structural violence? Can we be agents of both complicity and change?

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

For OISE, the Peto thesis was no aberration

Ms. Peto of SESE, doing what SESE
Adapted from Toronto Star

The University of Toronto has now backed down on the subject of the anti-Jewish Peto thesis, if only just a little and if only disingenuously. When the story first broke, U of T officials insisted on the following mantra: the thesis is fully protected by principles of freedom of speech. Period. Criticisms from outside scholars stating that the thesis has no scholarly merit, regardless of its point of view, were simply ignored. Instead, U of T officials kept suggesting that the critics were motivated by a desire to suppress freedom, that they are, more or less, Fascists. Offense was the U of T's defense.

(The thesis was completed at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education [OISE}, more particularly in OISE's Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education [SESE].)

Now the tone has changed, a little:
U of T provost Cheryl Misak said she has been “a little alarmed at the kinds of things being said about a piece of student work.”

“It would be a good idea for us all to remember that it’s a student paper,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t know this student, but I certainly wouldn’t want to see this kind of scrutiny and unhappy attention on students in general.” (According to a report in the Toronto Star)

"So," Ms. Misak seems to say, "well, yes, maybe this thesis isn't so perfect after all, but come on, it's a student paper, you know, and students will be students." Wrong, Ms. Misak. Surely, being a provost, you know the difference between a "student paper" and an officially imprimatured M.A. thesis ?

The Star now tells us that Ms. Peto's work has received unfavorable attention in the Ontario legislature, and not a minute too soon. But the Peto thesis is no aberration at OISE, and the public's attention should not be confined to it. On the contrary, the thesis is unfortunately rather typical of what is done at OISE, at least in OISE's Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education. As we shall see, OISE, or at least SESE, often resembles a political cult more than an institution of higher learning.

1) Peto's thesis supervisor, Sheryl Nestel, supervised at least one other recent anti-Jewish MA thesis, by a student called Griffin Epstein (2009). I find this work a totally incoherent anti-Jewish rant, a piece of free association without any pretense of academic argument. While it has less structure and less neo-Marxist rhetoric than Peto's thesis, the basic ideas are strikingly similar: the Jews are a racist bunch, responsible for the death of innumerable Palestinian children.

2) I have looked at the abstracts of the thirty-six SESE theses available online (including one supervised by Nestel in a different OISE department). I found eighteen of these to be so full of leftist position-taking that it would appear, prima facie, that there is no attempt at scholarly detachment in these works. I did not find anyone who professed a conservative, or Christian, or, G-d forbid, a Zionist point of view.

3) The website of SESE maintains that the Department is, in fact, a "constitutional democracy:"

The department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education (SESE) is organized as a constitutional democracy with a General Assembly and Standing Committees which provide policy and decision-making in departmental programs, selection of incoming students, etc. .... Our constitution is based on one person/one vote, and everyone in the Department (staff, faculty, and registered students) has voting rights and is welcome to participate in the General Assembly.....

Does that mean that the students vote on academic matters, on equal footing with faculty ? That would be a bit curious, to say the least. And more in line with a political movement than with a university department.

4) The cult-like terminology that I found in the MA abstracts is also used by faculty, including the Department Chair, Professor Rinaldo Walcott. Professor Walcott's specialty is "Black queer theory." And at least six of the SESE teaching staff, including the Chair, can be seen together as a cozy bunch when signing anti-Israel pronouncements and petitions (the statements I have checked are dated 1/27/09 and 2/27/09; obviously there are many more that I could have consulted).

So here are my conclusions:

A) SESE, and perhaps even OISE as a whole, is a nice warm place for those who agree on a radical left-wing worldview. There is a lot of "freedom of speech," as they would put it, for these co-thinkers. There does not seem to be much of that freedom for others.

B) SESE, and perhaps even OISE, is more of a cult than an institution of higher learning.

C) Obviously, these nice folk have every right in the world to believe and to proclaim that Israel is evil, or that the moon is made of green cheese. But do they have a right to i) call themselves scholars ? or to ii) conspire to have the Ontario taxpayer finance their nice little cult ?

D) Perhaps it's time for the U of T to cut itself free from its OISE encumbrance.

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

Monday, December 6, 2010