Furedy Academic Freedom Award: Presentation to Doreen Kimura: The Opinions of The Wise Versus The Comfort of The Many

September 2002

It’s appropriate that the SAFS board should have chosen our founding president to receive the academic freedom award on this, our tenth anniversary. But there is a more substantial reason why the choice is particularly apt. In her defence of academic freedom, Doreen Kimura represents, in the Socratic phrase, ‘the opinions of the wise’ standing firm against the ‘opinions of the many.’ Socrates, who was killed by ‘the many’ of Athens for ‘corrupting the youth,’ symbolizes those who put the search for truth above societal concerns such as offensive speech and disturbing views.

Causing offense or discomfort remains an inevitable aspect of good education. Doreen won’t take offence, I’m sure, if I say that this has been something of a signature theme in her career. As she put it when receiving one of her honorary degrees a few years ago: “I have taught at a university for over 25 years, and I hope that in that time I have offended many students, in the sense that I have suggested ideas to them that they had not entertained before, and which they therefore found disturbing.”

When political correctness began to take hold in Canadian campuses a decade ago, with speech codes and penalties against those voicing offensive or disturbing opinions, Doreen took the initiative to protect the academic freedom of first one and then all of the Canadian academic community. I’m sure this was not an easy move because she is, by nature, a scientist rather than an advocate.

Once she publicly joined the fight against political correctness, the disciples of ‘diversity’ turned their ad hominem artillery on her with a vengeance. Perhaps the most odious example of this was the photograph of Doreen published by This Magazine in a scurrilous piece on SAFS in 1995. (Written by Krishna Rau and Clive Thompson, it was entitled “Hate 101," and argued that SAFS’ opposition to employment equity was based on racist theories, that SAFS was linked to white supremacists, and was spreading hate on campuses). Doreen was interviewed, and provided a photo for the magazine, but the interviewer insisted on taking numerous pictures of her for twenty minutes. The result was a large, distorting, almost demonic picture to illustrate the article.

Doreen responded, as usual, in a cool, rational, and witty way. In a letter to the magazine (reprinted later in the July 1995 SAFS Newsletterunder the title “THIS fails Logic 101”) Doreen dissected some of the article’s more obvious falsehoods, using logic and evidence to defend SAFS. Ultimately we got the last laugh on This Magazine(which, by the way, enjoyed both provincial and federal governmental funding, and was edited by Naomi Klein). We used the distorted photograph to illustrate how the politically correct attempt to demonize those with whom they disagree. Subsequently, when Doreen and I had our disagreements over email about SAFS tactics, I would threaten to present only the bad photo of her at my next talk!

In the April, ‘convention,’ issue of the SAFS Newsletter, in discussion with Nancy Innnis, Doreen has conveyed the bare facts about the assaults on academic freedom that led to the founding of our society. She rightly mentions those who joined her in protesting infringements of academic freedom, but I am convinced that there was no other individual who could have succeeded in launching SAFS in those early nineties. She was, and is, a scholar of great renown, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and recipient of other notable honours. Without someone of her scholarly stature at the head, SAFS could easily have been dismissed as being merely a bunch of middle-aged, white, male professors, protecting their parochial and irrelevant interests.

Her scholarly status, however, did not make her too shy to call a spade a spade in defending SAFS’s principles. The titles of what she terms her “non-science” writings include:

  • Affirmative action is junk science;
  • Universities and the thought police;
  • How the thought police threaten education;
  • Thought police have no place in a university.

This is not the sort of stuff that is likely to make her welcome among those who wish to increase the feeling of comfort in universities. She has garnered no awards from the deans of ‘diversity’, nor, to my knowledge, has she been offered any equity officer positions. Instead, she has had to content herself with awards like the Nora and Ted Sterling prize in support of controversy presented to her by Simon Fraser University in 2000.

Doreen’s wise judgment on the many tactical choices that the Society faced in the early years, in determining what issues and cases to take up, how best to make a public impact, and how to deal with attacks upon us, were of untold value. Her writings on these matters are models of clarity and directness.

During those early days of SAFS, most of our activity was directed at defending academic freedom. Later, in what was to be a nine-year career as president and/or board member of SAFS, Doreen also took up defence of the second of SAFS’s basic principles, that of merit. In Canada, the main source of attack on the merit principle came from sexist institutional policies that discriminated against males. Perhaps the most blatant example of this sort of discrimination at a federal level has been the NSERC faculty fellowships (restricted to women and to aboriginal men). In her arguments against this sort of unjustifiable discrimination, Doreen drew upon her unique scientific expertise in the field of group sex differences in cognitive abilities. She has also written cogent comments on the topic of women and science. I like to think that, in the eyes of the politically correct ideologues, she has indeed become “Doreen the Demon,” wielding her sword of logic and rationality to devastating effect.

At the risk of embarrassing her, I should mention that there have been many times that Doreen has put the interests of academic freedom and of SAFS goals ahead of her personal needs. Her second period as president demanded a considerable sacrifice. She took on the job again when our arrangements for a successor to me suddenly fell through. Doreen was intending to retire from the SAFS board, being about to move from her professorship at the University of Western Ontario that she had held for more than three decades to the west coast at SFU, where she had a busy programme of research and writing lined up. She had to shift the SAFS office from Toronto to Vancouver, while engaged in her own move from Western to SFU. She dealt with this problem with her usual cool efficiency, an administrative feat which still leaves me stunned. Yet through it all she wrote her book on Sex and Cognition, and has garnered great academic and scientific acclaim. Those who cherish the cause of academic freedom and merit in Canadian universities owe her a great debt of gratitude for her heroic efforts during this crucial period.

But I do not want to give the impression that Doreen deserves the academic freedom award only on account of her unflagging efforts for our Society. By arguing the case for individual merit against collectivist and discriminatory policies in institutions, she has made a weighty contribution to the broad debate in Canadian society on employment equity in particular, and on what constitutes a just and genuinely fair society in general.

Recently Doreen has provided empirical data on an important issue: whether current tenure-stream hiring employment-equity policies merely equate opportunities between men and women, or actually discriminate against men. Following up earlier work of Clive Seligman, and providing results consistent with it, Doreen has presented clear empirical data showing that recent women candidates have about twice the success rate of male candidates in gaining appointment for tenure-stream faculty positions. This sort of systematic empirical evidence is critical for countering misconceptions about so-called ‘equity’ policies.

Doreen’s scientific authority but, more importantly, her knowledge of the complexities of sex differences in cognitive abilities are unmatched by those with whom she argues. Her writings will stand the test of time not only in Canada, but throughout the international community, or at least that part of it that Bronowski called the “democracy of the intellect”. I am sure that scholars will look back on this clear voice of reason in the midst of the Orwellian doublespeak that permeates the thinking of many in positions of leadership.

Speaking personally, in the past decade, I have come to know Doreen as a wise, loyal, and clear-thinking friend, as have others in SAFS. In her steadfast commitment to fairness and to science, she has earned the gratitude of all those who retain the vision of the university as a place where both faculty and students are dedicated to the search for truth, a place where the opinions of the wise are still valued over the opinions and comfort of the many.

Doreen Kimura's Response

I feel extremely honoured to receive the Furedy award for academic freedom. I know that there are others who have equally deserved it. But I am willing to accede to the Board's wish to make a sentimental choice, on this the occasion of our 10th anniversary. As president of SAFS off and on for several years, I was most often speaking for the Society when I composed letters or made media commentary on matters that concerned us.

When we started out many years ago, I don't think any of us knew where we would be in ten years. Along the way, we've had the usual bumps on the road that any organization will have, and I'm sure they are not at an end. But given the relatively small size of our organization, I think we can credit ourselves with having had a significant impact on both our goals - the maintenance of academic freedom, and of the merit principle, in post-secondary educational institutions. In fact, although we constantly strive to enlarge our membership, it may well be the fact that we are not huge in numbers that has allowed such cohesive action when it was called for. The strain on the president and board has been heavy, but as a society we got the job done.

Nobody who publicly espouses SAFS' goals will escape some name calling in this country. Negatively loaded labels have been the main defence against SAFS' arguments, and they are freely offered by our opposition in lieu of rational discussion. I've certainly had my share, but it's been worth it, and, truth to tell, it has usually been fun.

Thank you for an award I will hold very dear.