Jordan Peterson, Lindsay Shepherd & The Corruption Of Our Universities

Thanks to the quick thinking of Lindsay Shepherd, a young graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, the latest episode of campus craziness has been caught on tape. In brief, the hapless Shepherd was hauled before an “informal” committee bent on chastising her for the heresy of presenting two sides of the debate on gender-neutral pronouns; or, if you like, for “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler” – opinions differ.

That debate was had last year, on Steve Paikin’s The Agenda, between the University of Toronto’s Jordan Peterson – no stranger to controversy – and Nicholas Matte, who confidently averred that “it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex.” Scientists say so, you see, and as an “historian of science” he is well-positioned to disabuse us of our collective ignorance. Perhaps, if Professor Matte’s definition of a scientist is as elastic as his definition of an historian, he might be able to produce people eager to make the claim that biological sex is a fantasy, but if he only left the safe space of his Sexual Diversity Studies department, he’d discover, to his horror, that “scientists” believe no such thing. You cannot study anatomy, neurology, endocrinology or any of our mammalian relatives without confronting the reality of biological sex, and the uneasy détente that presently exists between the sciences and the humanities – particularly the ill-defined “studies” departments – was purchased at the expense of the intellectual integrity of our universities.

Which brings us to the trial of Lindsay Shepherd. Her would-be inquisitors – Herbert Pimlott and Nathan Rambukkana – spent 40 minutes bullying and shaming her, seeking to provoke a conformity she, to her eternal credit, stubbornly withheld. During that time, they traced a conspiratorial and frankly incoherent line between Jordan Peterson, a tenured professor of a major university, and the amorphous boogeyman of the 2016 American presidential election, the alt-right, and suggested ­– by way of this chain of faulty associations – that Shepherd is somehow morally culpable for her classroom presentation. They also demonstrated a remarkably patronizing attitude towards their own students, who were deemed too “young” to be able to contend with controversial arguments and opinions. Follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion and you arrive at an argument for indoctrination, not education – or perhaps for raising the voting age.

The real headline-grabbing quotation, however, belonged to Rambukkana, who directly compared Jordan Peterson to Adolf Hitler. The academic left’s dislike of Peterson is well documented, and has manifested itself in libelous poster campaigns and coordinated efforts to have him fired or, failing that, shout him down at every opportunity. There is a growing list of professors, pundits and writers who have received similar treatment, at universities in Canada and abroad, and a pattern emerges, not only in the tactics these academic bullies employ – bullhorns to drown out debate; fire alarms to empty lecture halls; behind-the-scenes shaming to quell dissent – but in who the perpetrators are, and where their encouragement comes from. It is not physics majors mobilizing against open dialogue on campus; the computer science labs do not empty every time a controversial speaker ascends to the podium.

The ire directed at Jordan Peterson, the outrageous vilification that seems so incomprehensible to the outside world, has its own ruthless logic. Almost alone among his peers, he has dared to speak out; he has been unsparing in his denunciations of the pernicious ideology that has grabbed hold of the academy, made a mockery of its educational mission, and transformed whole departments into propagandist wings of a quasi-Marxism. Gore Vidal once quipped that our universities had become “giant make-work programs for the conventionally educated,” but alas, even a conventional education far exceeds what today’s puffed up professors have to offer students.

Take a closer look, for example, at the academic pedigree of Professor Rambukkana, whose Wilfrid Laurier profile “areas of expertise” list encompasses “discourse analysis,” “non-monogamies” and “privilege,” and who has been awarded well over $100,000 in government grants. This man’s entire career has been nurtured within a closed environment, subsidized by the “privileged” whose taxes funded his research and pay his salary, and he has the gall to threaten Ms. Shepherd with class auditing because she won’t bow before his orthodoxy?

In response to this public relations fiasco, Laurier’s vice-chancellor, Deborah MacLatchy, has variously promised to assemble a “task force” or engage an “independent party” to assess Shepherd’s mistreatment, but these are the standard responses of a university administrator disavowing responsibility and giving the appearance of action; in reality, she and her fellow administrators are merely waiting for public interest to wane. Meaningful change won’t come until we examine the underlying methodologies of entire academic departments. And to accomplish that, we will need to emulate the courage of Lindsay Shepherd and Jordan Peterson.