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Jordan Peterson gets out of wokedemia


The writer is in Australia

JORDAN Peterson, who needs no introduction, last week resigned from his fully tenured professorship at Canada’s leading university, the University of Toronto. He did so before he had turned 60. He could no longer stand the wokeness, the monolithic uniformity of outlook, all-pervasive orthodoxy and cancel culture of academic life. He took a professor emeritus position and got out. He also laid out a series of charges against staying in a job he said he had envisioned keeping until he dropped dead, and a job (when it came to students and teaching) he said he loved.

Here is the gist of one of his main charges against today’s universities: Peterson alleged that his white, heterosexual male graduate students (and he had other types, to be clear) had a negligible chance of ever being offered university jobs, however stellar and excellent their publications and credentials. The near-zero chances such students had were lowered further by being his students. You see, Peterson is a conservative of sorts. More tellingly, Peterson put this ‘white boys can’t get jobs’ fact down more to the omnipresence of huge and expensive university bureaucracies focused on ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’. (Note: Peterson reverses the order of the last two to get a more apt acronym.) Yes, huge bureaucratic salaries go to people in universities – and this is all true here in Australia, I promise you – who administer these programs.

Let me briefly warn readers who went to university three or four decades ago that today’s ‘unis’ look absolutely nothing like those in their day. Indeed, the historian Niall Ferguson, co-founder of the new anti-woke University of Austin, says the first point all people thinking about universities need to realise is that academia today is nothing — nothing — like it was then. The whole diversity et al establishment is simply a cover for affirmative action, for quotas. An excellent book-length study of the horrors of all this came out recently in the US. It’s titled A Dubious Expediency and I’ve reviewed it — coming out soon — in the top US Constitutional law review. In essence all the focus on ‘diversity’ is a focus on skin pigmentation, reproductive organs, and the sort of person one wants to sleep with. It is never, anywhere, aimed at a breadth of political or philosophical opinion or outlook. Indeed, the diversity obsession has contributed to the narrowing of professorial (and overtly expressed student) outlooks and opinions on campus so much that they barely cover the gamut of opinion from A to B (and B is a stretch). Put bluntly, this focus on so-called equity, inclusion and diversity creates a monolithic orthodoxy of acceptable opinion, with all the self-censorship that goes with that sort of world. It won’t shock readers to hear that conservative world views (of any denomination) fall outside what’s now acceptable and are more aptly seen as ‘beyond the pale’. That’s because the sort of people who want to see the world in terms of group rights, through the prism of ‘equality of outcomes for those with this set of reproductive organs or skin pigmentation’ occupy a narrow bandwidth in today’s larger political spectrum. But they massively dominate amongst the tenured professoriate and dominate even more so amongst those who end up in top university administrative jobs.

As an aside, my view since arriving in Australia in 2005 is that top university administrators — and let’s be clear, I am about to speak in generalities, so there are exceptions — are failed academics. Our universities are the most top-down, one-size-fits-all institutions that I have ever encountered in the Anglosphere. Modelled on the command economy of the former East Germany, they keep out those who don’t want to be massively over-paid middlemen (until they make V-C). Some Coalition MP can one day explain to us why our university administrators are among the highest-paid in the world and why some of our V-Cs earn over a million and half dollars a year. As I’ve said in the past, these are not billion-dollar type businesses in the private sector as the main expenses (salaries) and revenue (moolah from government and students) are locked in. I once said a moderately numerate Year 11 student could do as well as many V-Cs, not least because he or she would not impose the myriad ‘bullshit job’ administrators on academics. The definition of a ‘bullshit job’, by the way, is one which if it were eliminated overnight the institution would not just not notice, it would do better.

That takes me back to the ‘diversity bureaucracy’. Here’s how they think and, believe, me it’s incredibly illiberal and not focused on the individual. What they do is a) look for some group based on, say, race (even though the whole idea of ‘race’ is scientifically pretty much incoherent, as we’re an interbreeding species with little genetic diversity) or ‘gender’, etc. Then b) you aim for the old Marxist goal of equality of outcome – eg 50 per cent of people are women so 50 per cent of the holders of professorships, board members, fill in the blank, must be women (ignore differing human preferences and autonomy) and we will use indirect, disguised, quota-like means to get to that figure. But Jordan Peterson and others (me included) have pointed out the total arbitrariness of this way of thinking. In fact, it’s arbitrary on every imaginable axis. For instance, why focus on jobs that middle-class women see as good ones? More than 90 per cent of jobs in which people get killed at work are held by men. Shall we push women into those to achieve balance? If not, why not? Bricklayers, says Peterson, are 99 per cent men and have some horrible injury and death statistics. Why do we look to hammer only white, non-gay men? Asians are over-represented in all sorts of ‘desirable’ jobs. Why not go after them? Or take politics and political advisers. No one says, ‘Hey, homosexuals are significantly over-represented here so we need to work to lower their numbers to achieve a group outcome, “equity” result’. For liberals like me, all such group thinking is anathema. I am against all quotas and all affirmative action. Today’s universities pretend they are, while taking every indirect step imaginable to go down this group identity path.

It stinks. But it’s so entrenched you would not believe it – or the sort of inane, barf-inducing, little human resource sessions one is asked to complete. Look at the numbers of conservatives on campus. They are in free fall. In some departments the number of right-of-centre academics is zero. In law it has cratered. We know this from hard US data, from Britain, and from what every conservative academic in Australia would tell the Coalition if they ever asked – but they don’t, and in eight years of Liberal government they’ve done nothing to try to change this.

Jordan Peterson had had enough. He decided to get out. Who can blame him?

This appeared in the Spectator Australia on January 29, 2022, and is republished by kind permission

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James Allan
James Allan
James Allan is Garrick professor of law at the University of Queensland.

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