I’d like to add to my view in the discussion at Prof. Stackhouse’s blog on how affirmative action has degraded educational standards, with a note from retired Professor of law at University of Western Ontario, Ian Hunter, who wrote an article entitled “Academia’s road to ruin” (The Next City, 1999). He wrote the following lines about affirmative action:
My former colleagues have witnessed 15 years of affirmative action hirings, where merit is secondary to an applicant’s race, gender, even sexual proclivity. No academic institution can pursue a deliberate policy of hiring mediocrity and expect to build a meritocracy.
The hiring policy at York University — that pons asinorum of Canadian higher education — is, alas, fairly typical. In academic units in which 45 per cent or less of the tenure-stream faculty are women, a female candidate must be offered the position unless there is a “demonstrably superior male candidate.” Every hiring committee, even more every dean, knows that proving “demonstrable superiority” is a steep hill to climb. How much easier, how much better for one’s career prospects, to avoid trouble, to avoid confrontation, to avoid the accusation of chauvinism, and to just go along with the university’s stated policy of “encouraging diversity.” So let us have the “diversity” candidate, although perhaps not the “best” candidate. A decade and a half of such hiring decisions have reduced Canadian universities to the intellectual backwaters they now are.
Prof. Hunter wrote later that many who responded, but only a slim minority in defense of the university (in “Can The Universities Be Saved? So It’s Agreed Our Universities Are A Farce. But What Can Be Done About It?” (Report newsmagazine, Jan 24, 2000; emphasis mine):
The reaction came all right, but the magnitude and depth of it surprised me. First, portions of The Next City article were reprinted in the Montreal Gazette and Halifax Chronicle Herald. Second, The Next City received more letters about it than about any other article in the magazine’s four years of publication. Most remarkably, the letters that flooded in all said essentially the same thing. They said: “Yes, what you say is true, but you understate the institutional corruption. Now let me tell you how bad things are here.” It was as though the letters had been composed from a common template. The response came from professors (emeritus professors predominating, perhaps because they are free to speak without fear of reprisal), from Newfoundland to Victoria, and many universities between.
Now I emphasized part of the text because it requires a certain kind of courage to say that the preferential hiring of women and certain visible minorities has been detrimental to education. Prof. Hunter said in 2000 that retired professors do not fear speaking out against affirmative action and the other problems of the university. The academy isn’t a forgiving community and it has a long memory.