A Curricular First: Psychology Course on Political Correctness

April 2000

Professor Heinz-Joachim Klatt, Department of Psychology, Kings College, University of Western Ontario, has designed a course (to be offered in the 2000-2001 academic year) that considers the relation of psychology to social activism, in particular, statements and prohibitions that can be classified as ‘politically correct.’ The media have shown much interest in this course.

A shortened version of the course description is given here. – Ed.

PSYCHOLOGY 383E (2000-2001): Psychology and Ideology: The Study of Political Correctness.

This course examines a wide variety of issues in which psychology is in conflict with ideology, and in which psychological theory and methodology are used to justify socio-political agendas. The seminar investigates the role of psychology in promoting and legitimizing social activism.

Political Correctness is a canon of orthodoxies and prohibitions, a set of claims that society today does not readily allow to be questioned. Examples are statements such as:

  • All cultures are equal and equally meritorious; there are no universal values;
  • If women do not constitute at least 50% of the workforce (e.g., engineering departments), then it is a sign of discrimination justifying preferential hiring;
  • If men constitute less than 50% of the workforce (e. g., nursing), then it is self-selection without consequences;
  • The diversity that is considered desirable at universities is racial rather than one of intellectual perspectives;
  • Nothing must be said in the academic classroom that may make a student ‘uncomfortable.’

Anyone who becomes politically incorrect by daring to challenge a prohibition of this unwritten code is accused of insensitivity or hate, of being sexist, racist, and a right-winger or even something worse. There is very little debate in North American universities on these and countless related issues because deviation from political correctness is sanctioned by harassment codes (that function as speech codes), by ‘hate’ legislation, and, above all, the Human Rights Commissions.

There is no taboo subject in this course. Every student is urged to use his or her academic freedom to the fullest. Every student who enrols must understand that this class is a forum for intellectual diversity. No viewpoint or use of vocabulary, no matter how unconventional or distasteful, will be considered legitimate reason to accuse someone of harassment. No effort will be made to make everyone feel ‘comfortable’. No respect will be paid to written or unwritten speech codes, merely to rules of etiquette and civility. Students who want a censored classroom should not sign up!

Prerequisite: 3rd year in psychology or instructor’s permission.