Many thanks to Ava Lon for this translation from Le Devoir:
College professors at Maisonneuve self-censor
by Marco Fortier
February 17, 2018
A “very deep” malaise has taken hold of the teaching profession: teachers practice self-censorship to avoid hurting the religious or cultural beliefs of their students. They ignore works about sexuality, nudity or mental illness for fear of triggering an explosive controversy.
This troubling observation is part of a report on the “COEXIST” milieu at Collège de Maisonneuve, made public Friday. This CEGEP [public educational institution that constitutes the first stage of Québec higher education], east of Montreal has been a place of radicalization of students who went to wage jihad in Syria for three years.
The religious tensions calmed down in the establishment of 7,000 students, who took a series of measures so that peace would return within its walls. A pilot project on “COEXIST”, which has just ended, however, brought to light a real uneasiness among college teachers.
7,000 — This is the number of students attending Collège de Maisonneuve, half of whom come from recent immigration.
“The main problem lies in the fact that many teachers claim to have adopted a form of self-censorship over time (especially in the last decade or so) and thus have avoided being inconvenienced by cultural or religious clashes. For example, particular contents may be discussed only superficially, significant works are not touched, humorous remarks put aside, etc.,” says the report of the pilot project on “COEXIST”.
“One cannot help but note here that in most cases these changes are made in advance, and not necessarily as a result of an intercultural incident. The phrase ‘I buy peace’ is, in this respect, symptomatic. If the threat is not always real, the discomfort, meanwhile, is very deep, and reminds some teachers of periods when censorship and blacklisting were well-established. The stakes are far from trivial,” the document continues.
Cultural and religious diversity is partly responsible for the malaise. About half of Collège de Maisonneuve students are first- or second-generation immigrants, i.e. the students or their parents were born abroad.
The report notes that young people are comfortable with diversity. This is the reality of Montreal: they grew up alongside friends from all backgrounds. It is relationships with adults (especially teachers) that give rise to tension, explains the 98-page document.
A form of do-goodism that is taking over on Canadian campuses also gives rise to mistrust among teachers. Le Devoir recalled this week the way of the cross for a lecturer from the Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, who had the misfortune of screening in class a public affairs show starring Jordan Peterson, the professor and controversial author. She was summoned and lectured by three superiors. She finally received an apology after being crucified in the public square.
Guy Gibeau, director of studies at the college (and one of the three authors of the report), admits to being surprised by the self-censorship of teachers. “It’s something we didn’t see. We will have to think about it. The teachers say: ‘I don’t feel like launching endless debates. I buy peace in advance’,” he explains.
“Professors are encouraged not to censor themselves,” he adds. “We have just realized the problem. We will certainly talk about it and try to find solutions.”
The danger is that teaching will be sanitized, to omit works that disturb, to sink into political correctness. “If the Western intellectual heritage exists to support the Quebec school in the training of the coming generations, generations in which we wish to see the development of critical thinking, it would be inappropriate to select the key references so as to buy peace,” the report indicates.
The Collège de Maisonneuve brought to light the phenomenon of self-censorship simply because it took the trouble to consult the entire institutional community, Guy Gibeau argues. He is convinced that the lessons of the pilot project on “COEXIST” can be applied to all CEGEPs and universities. “People talked because they were asked candid questions.”
The place of Islam
Contrary to popular belief, the hijab gives rise to little tension at the Collège de Maisonneuve. Physical education teachers say they fear that wearing the hijab could lead to injuries for the young woman or for the class. Some teachers feared that the hijab could conceal headphones during an exam. Teachers can do all the necessary checks, says the report.
Food restrictions — no pork or alcohol — have caused tension in the diet department. “That said, it should be made clear that these accommodation challenges are not necessarily more numerous or more acute than those generated by food allergies or vegetarian beliefs,” the report says.
The $400,000 pilot project on “COEXIST”, funded by Quebec City, made it possible to hire three hall workers (the contract of one of these workers was extended) and a psychotherapist in intercultural relationship, with the aim of supporting students who have difficulties with their identity. The college organized a series of events to help people from different cultures come closer to each other and to encourage teachers and students to talk. Minister Hélène David announced Friday an additional $300,000 to help other CEGEPs and universities draw on Collège de Maisonneuve’s recommendations on “COEXISTing”.