A casual stroll through the departments of Languages and Cultures and English and Writing Studies, in the early afternoon of a Wednesday in January 2023, ruined the rest of the day for me. After more than a decade of not having visited the University College I noticed a few but drastic changes that have taken place in the last decade.
The first impression upon entering the premises was pleasant. The walls were painted in a clean white, the halls were shiny but reminded me rather of hospital walls. There were a few study areas where once there were offices, at least according to my recollections. The greatest surprise for me was the absence of students. In almost an hour of peeping through the small windows of office doors, of reading announcements such as Shakespeare or Indigenous Studies? and walking through the halls, I saw altogether four students and one woman who was covered up in black from head to toe in prohibitively unattractive attire, with modest parts of her face exposed but with no sexually exciting lock of hair visible. I felt safe.
Where have all the students gone? It must have been Reading Week, I mistakenly reasoned, or all the professors are on leave. Or is it possible that the professors, all or most of them, teach from their home offices and are meeting students who perhaps want the professors’ lecture notes from their missed classes, lectures which were skipped due to the Chinese Virus or some form of depression, listlessness or general ennui? Were the students perhaps all busy denouncing Israel on the hill for objecting to payments to Palestinians for the murder of Jews that they committed? One murdered Jew deserves a salary of a certain amount, two murdered Jews double the sum, etc., all salaries partially financed by righteous Canadians. We live, after all, in a progressive, enlightened world with an elevated sense of ethics and social justice. Murderers and their families must be paid salaries and pensions for their deeds!
There are, of course, good arguments for teaching from the cozy surroundings of one’s home. The children provide background and even foreground stimulation and much appreciated distractions from the all too repetitive counselling (“You should write in sentences… sentences, not pidgin and not burps or intestinal jargon”). The odors coming from the kitchen announce the coveted lunch break, but one remains always available for resolving vociferous family disputes that demand immediate attention. Home office is really pro-family.
Electronic meetings with students can be pleasant and mutually beneficial. The chance to be denounced for having sexually harassed a student and later to be harassed by the Harassment Office, this chance is less likely compared with working in one’s office on campus, but male professors can still be accused of ogling at a particular student on screen, ogling that makes even robustly healthy students feel unsafe. The professor, in addition, is spared the view of the exposed patellas and the well aerated femurs of the ‘girls’ (as young women are commonly called on campus), and the distracting view of the flesh of their bellies which may protrude as much as their mammary glands. The list of advantages of staying with one’s Penates is simply too long to be tried for anything but an encyclopedia.
Luckily, I ran into two students with friendly faces. They have never heard of a German or Slavic Department and a secretary (probably called “executive senior administration manager”) has not either. These departments have disappeared. Giving in to my longstanding habit of addressing somebody who looks like a woman to treat her in that manner I did just that. I was relieved not to be reprimanded and chastised for having ill chosen the pronouns that confirmed her innermost self-identity of the day. Of course, I was worried of having made somebody feel unsafe by my well entrenched, careless habit of not respecting the current etiquette of first asking for the pronouns that I should use.
Many members of my generation, certainly, could do much better than we, the undifferentiated and exclusive minds, have behaved in the past. But, despite my efforts, I still find it challenging to keep the 31 in New York City legally recognized and mandated genders sorted out in the paleobrain of my head. The morphology of woke grammar is certainly more complex than that of ancient Greek, and I had trouble with that. Hopefully, we can postpone arrival of such regulations in Ontario, but I am not optimistic. We need perhaps Professor Jordan Peterson to help us ward off the onslaught of the pronouns, zie, sie, ey, ve, tey, e, zim, sem, em, ver, ter, zir, hir, eir, vis and many more. How many specialized washrooms will we need to accommodate Trudeau’s diverse peoplekind?
Thankfully, our federal government is guiding us gently towards legislation that will mandate women’s hygienic pads and tampons to be installed in all stalls of restrooms for cis-gendered men, earlier avatars of humankind, and this in the name of equity! Will we later get urinals in women’s washrooms? We certainly should for equity’s and hilarity’s sake.
How useful to have an Equity Vice-President, Equity Advisors, Equity Specialists, courses on equity, scholarships on equity, rewards for promoting equity, and never admitted, but very effective, mandates to have DIE criteria supersede qualifications in hirings and promotions. When a woman, who does not know who is a woman, can become a Supreme Court Justice as long as she is black, and when a woman can be Governor General of bilingual Canada who does not know any French, as long as she is Inuit, then we can surely forgive our students for not knowing what a sentence is. We really have made racism into a virtue.
To reveal one’s conviction that men are men and women are women or to disclose somewhere in one’s correspondence “I ♥ J. K. Rowling” would, irrespective of qualifications, shortcut any interview and send the candidate (nurse or professor) to the Human Rights Tribunal for punishment. These contentions and such love affairs are in our woke universities simply verboten.
Thinking about who else could help the university administration remain focused on becoming administratively more and more obese, there is of course already a plethora of positions that are profiting from recognition of their necessity: vice-presidents (she/her), associate vice-presidents (she/her), acting associate vice-presidents, vice-provost, deans galore, special advisers, directors, vice-directors, chief communications director, lowly subaltern communications directors, etc., etc. Quite a few of these positions, probably all remunerated with way more than $100,000 annually, justify their salaries by arguing that without these specialists in diversity, inclusiveness and equity (DIE) the university would be a (post)colonial, cis-gendered male, white, patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic.…polyphobic, violent monster, a true Leviathan. This is weighty stuff indeed! Being bureaucratically obese, of course, guarantees not dying of administrative anorexia, a very desirable goal.
Our distinguished Ivey Business School is at the forefront of “leading inclusive teams and neurodiversity in organizations.” Neurodiversity! This is truly avant-garde thinking and justifies the bloated registration fees, but diversity, we all agree, is our strength. Neurodiversity certainly includes the learning disabled and other slow thinkers whom we justly grant 50% more time for testing.
Further ambling through the halls of University College I experienced perhaps the most serious shock. I was not prepared for this and thus did not count the incidences of reading “Department of English and Writing Studies.” I wonder what the prerequisite for admission is. Is it that the student with an A average in high school must show some familiarity with the alphabet, or does he or she actually have to know the alphabet to have the basis, in the second year at Western, for learning how to form or decipher words?
Ignorance is today probably less harmful than it used to be since with the Internet, Google and Wikipedia it can metamorphose into erudition in no time. With this in mind I am reminded of the perennial dilemma how to explain why UWO has the highest average of incoming students of all Canadian universities, that is 91%. Does this mean that we attract the brightest of Canadians or those who come from high schools with the least demanding standards or, more likely, no standards at all? An average of 91% for Western freshmen, freshwomen and the other freshpeople (in the terminology of the Prime Minister, our primus inter primates) means that practically all applying students are A students, whereas the other universities get the academic plebs. Should we be proud or ashamed of ourselves and our aristocratic status?
The fact that we have a “Writing Department” seems to be based on the insight that many Western students need to learn to write, perhaps at least at the level of junior high school. I remember having seen enough essays that did not reveal that level.
Reflecting on my many years of university life in Canada and abroad, I bemoan the dullness of academic life as it was. Today we can make an academic career by making sociological field studies in women’s shower rooms and by writing about convicted rapists in women’s prisons strutting their excited priapic appendages in communal showers. As well, we can write abundantly about graveyards without graves or skeletons and receive accolades and grants for our creative research. Residential schools today, of course, provide a rich fountain for research on the cultural richness and abundance of food (always harvested fresh from under the snow) in the well heated native tipis, compared to the residential schools where they learned nothing and had to eat grass and stones in freezing classrooms.
Somewhat despondent and with a heavy heart I walked home trying to digest the indigestible diet of my visit. Is the answer to my malaise perhaps in Indigenous knowledge or Chinese medicine, after all, both practiced for thousands of years, for building better bridges and refining our surgeons’ tools and techniques? With a feeling of shame and guilt I arrived at my home which like the university is situated on Indian land stolen and colonized by my ancestors, coming with horses and wheels, purloined from people who were put there not by a white European king, but aeons ago by our Creator himself.
Absurditas absurditatum, et omnia absurditas.