Anti-Racism as Office-Politics Power Play: a Canadian Academic Case Study

Last week, 53 top Canadian academic administrators convened in Ottawa for a biannual membership meeting of Universities Canada, a group dedicated to “providing university presidents with a unified voice for higher education.” The 89-page meeting agenda, which was leaked to me after the event, makes for an interesting read.

The pandemic has been a challenging period for Canadian universities, as the adoption of virtual classrooms has caused some families to wonder whether the traditional bricks-and-mortar education model is worth the price. Many Canadian schools are financially dependent on foreign students, an income source that’s now  in flux thanks to COVID. In April, Laurentian University in Ontario declared itself insolvent, cut dozens of programs, and laid off about 100 professors—an unprecedented development.

And yet none of these issues are listed on the October 27th Universities Canada meeting agenda. Laurentian University isn’t mentioned at all, in fact. And the only substantive reference to the COVID pandemic consists of an aside to the effect that “women are disproportionately being impacted negatively during the pandemic.” Instead, all of the agenda’s main action items are dedicated to social justice.

The first item updates attendees on Universities Canada’s multi-year effort to draft a statement on “Social Impact Principles.” A subsequent action item details the “Scarborough National Charter,” a document aimed at “mov[ing] from rhetoric to meaningful concrete action to address anti-Black racism and to promote Black inclusion.” There’s also a related item titled “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” under which members were asked, by formal motion, to affirm their commitment to an affirmative-action doctrine known as “Inclusive Excellence.”

Later in the document, there appears an action item relating to “Principles of Indigenous Education,” detailing the by-now year-and-a-half-long consultation process aimed at renewing Universities Canada’s original Indigenous Education manifesto (which itself was announced with much fanfare in 2015 after a year of work). Among the proposed editing refinements are that language be added “recognizing [the] intersectionality of Indigenous identities”; and that a new preamble be added “acknowledging that Universities Canada and its member universities are located on Indigenous lands across Turtle Island.” The final version, it’s predicted, will be ready by April 2022.

But the agenda’s real centrepiece is a 46-page standalone report commissioned by Universities Canada, called Building a Race-Conscious Institution: A Guide and Toolkit for University Leaders Enacting Anti-Racist Organizational Change.

The report’s main theme is that university leaders must decisively reject the idea of “colour-blindness” (which the author asserts should properly be termed “colour evasion”) in favour of becoming “race-conscious individuals” who “explicitly reflect on their ethno-racial identity and group membership.” The author also exhorts university presidents to “actively examine their personally mediated racial biases, consider their individual experiences with respect to racism, and acknowledge their relative race-related marginalization or privilege in the larger society.” To persist in colour evasion, the author warns, is to erect “discursive barriers to antiracist organizational change.”

And colour evasion is just one of 10 listed “dominant ideologies and pervasive narratives [that] undermine efforts to counteract racism.” Among the other “barriers” listed by the author are “equal opportunity,” “tradition,” and “tolerance.” The report also contains tangents on “white fragility,” “allyship,” and the “ethics of care” prescribed by “critical feminist and antiracist scholars”—as well as instructions regarding the use of certain words and phrases. For instance: “Representation gaps among students, scholars, and staff in higher education are not ‘achievement’ gaps, but rather ‘opportunity’ gaps.”

There are plenty of diagrams. On one page, readers are instructed to organize their anti-racism efforts into four categories: “affirmative introspection,” “self-governance,” “intercultural literacy,” and “social architecting.” On the next page, they’re asked to situate themselves on a 15-pointed star that sets out the “Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression.” Three pages later, racism has become a stepladder, with sequential steps indicating “bias,” “stereotyping,” “prejudice,” and “discrimination.” A page later, there’s a linear chart describing the personal journey from “monocultural” ignorance, through “multicultural” inclusion, then on to the promised land of the truly “Anti-Racist Conscious” elite. After that come pie charts (“Four Layers of Diversity: Analyzing Your Diversity Lens”), Venn diagrams (“Conceptualizing Cultural Safety”), and flowcharts (“Continuous Improvement Cycle for EDI Organizational Change”).

Sample of charts contained in Building a Race-Conscious Institution

The conventional conservative critique of doctrinaire anti-racist ideology typically focuses on its upstream intellectual influences—including Marxism, postmodernism, Critical Theory, and other movements that present a revolutionary critique of liberal, capitalist societies. But with its PowerPoint style and jargony content (complete with references to “best practices,” “evaluation rubrics,” “deliverables,” “synergistic solutions,” and “Strategic Planning Logic Models”) Building a Race-Conscious Institution often reads more like a send-up of corporate MBA-speak than a radical call-to-arms. In one memorable flourish, readers are instructed that “mechanisms to promote coordinated decentralization will ensure [that] dedicated and distributed efforts are aligned and synergistic,” words that reminded me more of a Dilbert cartoon than anything written by Paulo Freire or Ibram X. Kendi.

From Building a Race-Conscious Institution: proposed metrics for assessing EDI policies 

Critical Theory is about challenging existing power structures. But the 53 university presidents and principals who met on October 27th presumably like the current academic power structure just fine, since they’re the ones sitting on top of it. And for all the talk of ruthless personal self-interrogation contained in the opening pages of Building a Race-Conscious Institution, its author doesn’t seem interested in prodding corner-office university administrators to actually surrender their plum posts in favour of less white, less rich, less privileged replacements. Just the opposite: She calls on them to become a vanguard force that suppresses “colour-blind” ideology and imposes a top-down program of anti-racist institutional control. While the language of the report is nominally progressive, the overall tone is deeply conservative.    

The report’s author—a McMaster University professor and administrator named Arig al Shaibah (more on her below)—is especially focused on the role of both “dedicated senior administrators” who implement anti-racism policies on a campus-wide basis, and more junior “anti-racism champions” deputized to act at the level of “Faculties, Schools, and Departments.” The senior anti-racism officials must be vested with “personal agency and [a] level of authority to influence pan-institutional change,” while their junior lieutenants “must be adequately compensated through service recognition, stipend, or salary to lead EDI and antiracist priorities.”

After reading Ms. al Shaibah’s report, I looked her up, and learned that she’s McMaster’s Associate Vice President for Equity and Inclusion—which is to say, exactly the kind of “dedicated senior administrator” whom her plan would empower. As for her stipulation that anti-racism officers “must be adequately compensated,” Ms. al Shaibah leads by example. According to publicly available records, her 2020 salary and benefits at McMaster totalled about $249,000.

Building a Race-Conscious Institution demonstrates how deeply anti-racism has penetrated the administrative sinew of institutional academic culture—to such extent that it’s now difficult to disentangle the radical postures of the anti-racist movement from the everyday careerism, bureaucracy, and faculty-lounge politics that have pervaded universities since time immemorial. The author’s policy prescriptions, in particular, seem to combine the worst of both worlds, with university administrators being urged to weaponize the idiom of anti-racism as a means to impose ideological uniformity, expand their own powers, raise their own salaries, and strip academics of their traditional prerogatives.

In her report, Ms. al Shaibah argues that a “trained Equity Advisor” should be personally involved in every hiring decision. She also argues that hiring-committee members must be required to complete unconscious-bias training; that all job applicants must be asked to submit a “State of Contributions to EDI” attestation; that job-evaluation criteria must “integrate EDI”; that “interview questions include assessment of EDI”; and that “Employment Equity goals” must be “prioritized when multiple finalists are in the ‘zone of excellence’” (a model she proposes as part of a larger “counternarrative to the myth of meritocracy”). All of these race-related mandates (and many more besides), it is proposed, would be enforced though an extensive and closely supervised system of checklists, spreadsheets, and reports that academics would be required to submit to senior EDI officials (sample copies of which Ms. al Shaibah has helpfully included in Building a Race-Conscious Institution).

All in all, Ms. al Shaibah lists no fewer than 17 “best practices for inclusive excellence in hiring,” which, taken together, would seem to put those “trained Equity Advisors” and their EDI colleagues in the driver’s seat on pretty much every personnel decision. Even if a hiring committee were to go rogue by, say, assembling a short list on the basis of actual merit, there’s a fail-safe entry in Ms. al Shaibah’s “Best Practices” catalog that allows for such decisions to be amended post facto so as to “advance strong EDG [equity-deserving groups] candidates.”

(On the other hand, how often would it even come to that? Remember that going to bat for objective, race-neutral evaluation standards is itself described in Building a Race-Conscious Institution as prima facie evidence of harboring intent to “frustrate” anti-racism. And we all know what the opposite of anti-racism is.)

From Building a Race-Conscious Institution: "Best Practices for Inclusive Excellence in Hiring"

According to Building a Race-Conscious Institution, even fellow administrators must adhere to a 12-point plan in regard to creating a “race-conscious” university. Three of these points go directly to the hiring and empowerment of more EDI staffers. Specifically, Ms. al Shaibah stipulates that “Senior EDI Officers” such as herself should not only be vested with broad executive powers to act on their own initiative (as noted above), but also to “establish a coordinated decentralized network of distributed campus-wide leaders who cooperate within a community of practice”—or, in other words, a bureaucratic sub-structure that sits outside the university’s ordinary chain of executive command.

Radical ideological manias typically flame out quickly because their demonstrated excesses make them unattractive to new adherents. But as Building a Race-Conscious Institution helps demonstrate, anti-racism will be different—as its adherents have succeeded in embedding their precepts into the ostensibly neutral administrative machinery of the institutions they serve. This, in turn, has allowed them to expand their powers, inflate their ranks through control of the hiring process, neutralize ideological opponents with threats of investigation, and even stigmatize doctrinal criticism as a form of bigotry.

In short, proponents of this ideology have found a way to neutralize the checks and balances that typically govern the intellectual life of a university. Moreover, they’ve done it in plain sight, while earning six-figure salaries and winning public plaudits for their commitment to social justice. Even if you don’t agree with Ms. al Shaibah’s ideas, you have to admit that, from a purely Machiavellian perspective, her approach is very clearly situated within the Zone of Excellence.  


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/11/07/anti-racism-as-office-politics-power-play-a-canadian-academic-case-study/
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I wonder whether the recent election in Virginia, which to large degree was a reaction to wokeism, will have any lasting chilling effect on this ideology. I hope so. All it really takes is enough people who are willing to say the emperor has no clothes in the face of being ostracized by the mob. It’s an easy thing to say on an anonymous forum, and not everyone is up to the task, but that seems to me the only way to burst this bubble.

Here’s my favorite tweet on the subject:

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Someone take over some failing institution and rename it the University of Whiteness – explicitly unwoke, eurocentric, chrono-normative, meritocratic, and dedicated to the proposition (among others) that 2+2=4 irrespective of one’s race. At UW there is no DIE whatsoever. Looking ahead so that we could look back, we’d call UW ‘historically white’ even from its founding. There would be no ‘studies’ at UW, only traditional subjects and no Identities other than sentient being. Explicit wokeness should be countered with explicit anti-wokeness.

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Woke is the opposite of awake.

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I see Ibram X. Kendi recently deleted a Tweet about a study which showed that many white students were faking minority status in order to improve their chances of being accepted in their university applications. I guess he didn’t see the irony that they were aiming to avail themselves of minority privilege, until it was too late. Of course, none of this would be necessary if K-12 education hadn’t disproportionately harmed people of colour with the pretence that there aren’t very real reasons why kids from some backgrounds will need more discipline in schools (even modestly disrupted classrooms can result in two years worth of lost education by the end of K-12), or the fact that poorer kids are much more harmed by a lack of teacher imparted knowledge (as opposed to the grossly inefficient child-centred approach) and other forms of postmodern gobbledygook.

As usual, my essays are on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:

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Woman in some Canadian institution was just found out as not really being an Indian, there’s talk of criminal charges. The perks of Victimhood are not available to just anybody.

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This “DEI” movement has very deep roots but became institutionalized in the 1990s when a social policy movement of consultants, foundations, academics linked globalization of markets and workers (fueled by immigration in the U.S.) to “dollars and demographics” to the need for ethnically diverse institutions. I chronicled this movement in my book THE DIVERSITY MACHINE: THE DRIVE TO CHANGE THE “WHITE MALE WORKPLACE.” The concept that institutions should “look like” a changing America was a hallmark of this movement and it is now often the tacit foundation of the DEI movement. It was the changing demographics rationale that led to the “breakout” of PC and Woke ideology from the universities into the military, corporate America, government. This sort of thinking is now “in with the bricks” at most organizations, especially among savvy elites and is unlikely to change, though it may become a little less shrill.

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Kendi rushed to delete his tweet when it became apparent that his tweet proved the exact opposite of what he claims to be be true (at least with respect to college admissions)

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Why do we give such people such power?

Yeah! Then he went on a 14 Tweet defense when people pointed that out, ended up just digging a deeper hole! Good fun.

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I must applaud Kay’s low-key, ironic evisceration of the leaked document. His writing and podcasts are why I keep my Quillette subscription (while letting others go.)

Still I would love see his analysis come full circle, by means of a financial officer “number crunching” this document to forecast how quickly a university could expect to go belly up implementing it. Bye, bye six-figure diversity jobs!

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Unfortunately, this kind of Woke nonsense won’t be corrected by the market since the majority of colleges and universities are state funded (in the U.S., 75% of students attend public institutions). That’s one of the aspects of the DIE grift I find most appalling: the amount of money which is wasted on overpaid administrators and utterly useless consultants. If for-profit corporations want to squander their resources on this kind of virtue signaling, that’s their business (and the business of their shareholders, if they’re publicly traded). But it’s absolutely appalling that tax-payer funds are being used to peddle and embed this race-conscious (neo-racist) ideology – especially since contemporary universities are probably the least racist institutions in world history. (This only applies to racism against Blacks and Latinos, not against Whites and Asians).

Do the people purveying and profiting off these ideas actually believe that the racial achievement gap is caused by subconscious racism on the part of faculty and staff? Maybe so: they’re committed to the principle that all disparities are due to discrimination, so they’re incapable of acknowledging the impact of individual and cultural differences. Students (of all colors) struggle in higher education because they’re not academically prepared, lack the necessary work ethic for self-directed learning, face financial hardships, work too many hours at external jobs, are burdened by family responsibilities, etc. Universities should be dedicating resources to helping students overcome these kinds of challenges, not pretending that microaggressions and other supposed manifestations of “White Supremacy” are the root of the problem. Insofar as microaggressions are an issue, this kind of training amplifies their impact by teaching students (and faculty and staff) to become hypersensitive to supposed slights – even ones which are unintentional. Resilience is no longer regarded as a virtue; it’s been supplanted by psychological fragility.

Likewise, non-white faculty are not being denied positions because of unconscious racism on the part of hiring committees. To the contrary, colleges and universities are desperate to diversity their workforce. Turnover of tenure-track positions is very low, and this problem is compounded by the fact that higher education is increasingly reliant on contingent (adjunct) faculty – when tenured faculty retire they often aren’t replaced. (Perhaps because so much money is being spent on DIE czars and other categories of bureaucrat!) Even when universities are hiring, in some disciplines there aren’t enough non-white academics in the pipeline to meet the demand. Of course, the Woke attribute this fact to “White Supremacy” as well. It’s White Supremacy all the way down.

Regardless of whether the DIE evangelists believe what they’re preaching, this campaign will entrench and institutionalize their power while undermining academic freedom and ideological diversity:

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You feeling alright Bro? You’re beginning to sound a bit like me. Slippery slope!

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Wokeism exploits the very virtues that liberalism holds dear: freedom of expression, independent thought, egalitarianism etc to gain acceptance, then goes about systematically destroying those virtues. The same process is evident in the pursuit of victimhood: virtues that have served humanity so well during crisis and during better times (including resilience) have been exploited and turned into vices according to the woke:

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I have to admit to being shocked by how long it took for “white nationalism,” or whatever you want to call it, to rise in reaction to the parade of pseudo-intellectual “race” gibberish flowing out academia. I was sure that Pat Buchanan, in the 1990s, would be real possibility as a vanguard figure … but he fizzled out. Even now, the scale and scope of it is feeble indeed compared to the institutional and corporate- and billionaire-sponsored poison that pervades our society. I suppose it says something good about our society. Most people really are stuck in the 1960s, in a good way – they learned the right lessons and are just increasingly bewildered by the malign charlatanism we’ve learned to put up with.

Whitey is the only person on the planet who accepts one and all as migrants and actually prefers it if your values are utterly opposite to his. He accepts you and then listens humbly while you tell him how evil he is and how you intend to replace him at his expense. If that’s evil then the word has changed its meaning. Seems to me it is rather proof of the proposition that whitey is actually a rather nice guy tho he is also suicidally stupid to be as nice as that.

Seems to me it is rather proof of the proposition that whitey is actually a rather nice guy tho he is also suicidally stupid to be as nice as that.

Perhaps so. I was mainly thinking of the race issue in the US, not immigration. Different kettle of fish. I’ve never accepted the way the left talks about these issues, so the connections you’re assuming probably don’t hold.

I see them as almost one and the same. In both cases we have a white replacement agenda. In both cases it’s unconditional surrender to POC, be they locals or imports.