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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


Unknown said...

Imagine being at a party with these people? I'd rather slit my wrists.

lwestin said...

If we wish really really hard maybe Iggy will lead an exodus of these 'intellectuals' to Europe, where they can all die out together... (NOT a threat.. merely a commentary on the unlikelyhood of them reproducing)

truepeers said...

Nobody has ever claimed that scholarship can be neutral in any sort of absolute way. It is a matter of degree

-why make this half nod to cultural and moral relativism? If one accepts the general constitution of one's society, then one can situate scholarship in a manner not unlike that of a judge in a court of law.

In the ongoing generation of culture, scholarship does not have to imagine itself the leading edge, some avant garde; and in fact it is not particularly scholarly if it does (the fact that these "radical leftist" theses are in fact highly ritualistic, uncreative gestures, also speaks to this point).

Scholarship reflects on events already past their early stages; it should not seek to create them. And it reflects, if loyal to its society, by judging events in terms of what does or does not help renew the constitutional order that maximizes the freedoms of the individual in society (recognizing that some "freedoms" are destructive, not creative). Accordingly, a scholar may or may not, as the case may suggest, defend or oppose given political movements or ideologies without trying to be any kind of consistent partisan.

To say scholarship cannot be basically neutral is to go along with the Gnostic agenda, as if mere loyalty to one's existing society and constitution is some kind of outrageously political act.

Anonymous said...

Thanks goodness for work like this that seeks to push the limits of academia and to include scholarship that may be at the "fringes" of what others may consider "good scholarship"...

Heaven forbid someone wants to use an anti-racist frame... or to investigate queer issues...

rasp said...

I downloaded the Peto and 1 other for reading later.
I was unable to locate the one by Griffin Epstein. If you have a link please post it. Thanks.

Pieface said...

The academic freedom to turn society into a reflection of leftist paranoia, guaranteed to bring us to our knees with a triumphant green flag overhanging the Maple Leaf.

Roseberry said...

For many years I have been involved in hiring committees seeking to find faculty to teach prospective teachers. Each year we hope to find people who have a solid grounding in a discipline and who have done honest research in how to initiate young people into those disciplines and into analytical and critical thinking. Most years, however, we are buried under a pile of applications from people from OISE (and other offenders) whose "research" fits in quite nicely with what has been presented here.

Unknown said...

here is a link to the thesis by Griffin Epstein:

rasp said...

Thank you for the link.

Unknown said...

The OISE-Matic!

harebell said...

Objectivity in scholarship is achieved through argument and counter argument.
It appears that you don't want anything to be published unless it espouses the "correct" view at it's first release.
The authors made their points, if you don't like them, find the errors, point them out and make your case. All the papers you dislike are available and you don't have to go through any approval process you have a blog.
If science is improved through falsification then less objective disciplines like the humanities can be too.
It's just that some folk are too lazy to do the work, so screaming and shouting their opponents down and advocating censorship is all they can do.

Skinny Dipper said...

I will agree with Harebell. While I would like "objectivity," the problem with this word is that it eventually becomes meshed with subjectivity. People are objective when we agree with them; people are subjective when we don't agree.

I did read the Peto thesis paper. I can be critical of people of different ideological backgrounds. While Ms. Peto attempted to connect the lobbying of teaching about the Holocaust in relation to the current debate about Israel, I did not find anything new in her thesis that made me go "Wow!"

truepeers said...

If science is improved through falsification then less objective disciplines like the humanities can be too.

-no, that's wishful thinking; humanistic thinking is not falsifiable by empirical means; yes, our thinking about the human is tested in the laboratory of history, but success or failure is a question of a long-term evolution in what is generally recognized as common sense and what is not. And common sense cannot be neatly broken apart or reduced to a formula.

For example, let's say I want to prove that Shakespeare is a great writer. How do i present my hypothesis in a way that is neatly falsifiable? The attempt would lead me to try to isolate some variable(s) whose measurement would prove or not the claim. But you can never find the right variable because what we are really concerned with in the humanities are not isolated features or qualities, but a vision of the interacting whole. Consequently, scholars never stop talking about Shakespeare because they can never settle or isolate the question of just what it is that makes him great as a revealer of human truths.

No single human trait that a "scientific" mind might try to isolate, so as to allow a falsifiable hypothesis, can be well explained absent a compelling hypothesis of what made us wholly human in the first place. For example, you can't well explain language in terms of some language gene, but only in terms of what must have been necessary for the emergence of a first event in which multiple people came to understand the referent or meaning of some arbitrary sign that they came to share.

This is why a place like OISE can be taken over by a cultic religion - religions are hypotheses of our human origins as a whole and these, in one form or another, are necessary to allow for more discrete studies.

If you want to be able to show how Shakespeare is a great writer, while none of the OISE tribe is, you cannot make the case neatly falsifiable; you have to convince us that Shakespeare's concerns speak to the kind of truth that is known to a well-differentiated consciousness while the OISE cult that reads history as little more than one big conspiracy of evil power is a much more primitive or simplistic religion.

It is a question of what learned experience tells us.

Anonymous said...

I agree a statement of preference is tough to analyse, but then it's claims are usually trivial and/or are easily dismissed as nothing more than a preference. "Dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate," isn't going to start a discussion like this paper did.

You can analyse the facts stored within a paper making a claim like Ms Petos. You can assess her logic for fallacies and the like. An argument can be weighed logically and dispassionately using analysis. Empirical analysis of a claim of fact is possible; a statement of preference may be not.

If there is a trend of sloppy research and poorly supported arguments coming out of OISE then that will be recognised by those outside the school. Eventually the University will have to step in and clean house. Shutting folk up because you can't be bothered dealing with them is never the answer.

Anonymous said...

Mr Cohen, how incredible your intellectual prowess must be that you can determine – without actually having read any of the 18 theses in question – that they are without scholarly merit! When you go on to say that the political agenda of these (unread) theses fail to engage with “a conservative viewpoint, or a Christian one, or Heaven forbid, Zionism” you clearly demonstrate the impoverished intellectual and philosophical models these misguided students have succumbed to. Not sharing your providential gifts for understanding without the actual reading of texts – I cannot comment on the controversy surrounding Peto’s thesis (as I haven’t read it), but frankly wonder at your ability to lump together topics as disparate as the number of women in computer science programs, the education system of Bangladesh, queer marriage and civil/state rights, the use a particular novel in class room based anti-racism education, and a critical engagement with Flow 93.5! You are then able to dismiss – on a prima facie basis – the merit of any and all of this work (and by implication the work of an entire department within OISE). Truly, a remarkable feat. It’s almost poetic how your critique demonstrates the very flaws you aim to expose. If your objective is to highlight your “analysis” of this body of work – then I can only say that your letter and blog demonstrate the very lack of critical awareness, intellectual rigour, breadth of analysis and scholarly practice you claim to be pining over for OISE. So in the spirit of a genuinely robust debate – I offer this comment for your consideration.