Category Archives: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

University of Toronto: fundamentalism and voodoo scholarship

A fundamentalist, literalist, absolutist theology cannot work in religion, and it cannot work in the area of academic freedom. And this notwithstanding the blind trust in a mythic absolute academic freedom on the part of University of Toronto officialdom.

The problem is that all such absolutisms can be put on paper but can never be practiced with acceptable results.

Here is a recent discussion in Times Higher Education of London. Constantine Sandis, a professor of philosophy, explained why academic freedom cannot be an absolute:

Suppose a history lecturer systematically maintains that the Second World War never happened or that the Crusades took place in 1986, and responds with coarse verbal abuse to anybody who dares to challenge her. It would be plain silly to suggest that her union and/or employer ought to protect her right to do so in the name of free speech.

But there was a counter-argument, by Alastair Fraser, a political scientist at Cambridge:

What would happen in the case you cite of the false date (why would anyone do this?) is that the students, having a range of sources and not relying, zombie-like, on their lecturers, would laugh the guy out of town. … In terms of the academy, we put our faith in core processes of collective reasoning, such as peer review. Most of us are susceptible to a combination of peer review, peer pressure and reason. Where we aren’t, putting up with the odd nut is a price worth paying to secure the possibility of disagreement and prevent any form of endorsed, official knowledge holding sway. This is the only process by which we can proceed towards knowledge.

Both Sandis and Fraser posit a hypothetical case. Fraser, to make his absolutist argument, posits that Sandis’s strange professor could only be an “odd nut,” quickly isolated by what would surely be, in Fraser’s view, self-correcting activity on the part of his colleagues. It’s easy enough to win an argument if you posit circumstances to fit your theology. But suppose, in real life, Fraser were confronted not with a single “odd nut” of a professor but rather with a sizable group of academics, all in the same department, all maintaining in their teachings and writings that the Second World War never happened, that the Crusades took place in 1986 ? And suppose further that these professors had recruited a sizable number of students, all busily producing learned theses proving either that WWII never happened and/or that the Crusades occurred in 1986 ? I would say that any such university would soon lose all credibility and would, in fact if not on paper, cease to exist as an academic institution. It would have committed the very suicide that courts have always warned would result from an absolutist view of our constitutional freedoms. It is, in fact, what is in the process of happening at the University of Toronto.

As we have seen in previous postings, the U. of T. has imprimatured at least two MA theses that maintain, and here I exaggerate only slightly, that all Jews are oppressive racists. And we have seen that these theses were not the work of single “odd nut” but rather the work of at least a preponderance of the teaching staff at the Department of Sociology and Equity in Education (SESE) at the U. of T.’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Apparently the U. of T. officials are embarrassed in private, but they won’t let on to any discomfiture in public. In replying to critics of the SESE theses, these officials quote again and again, without further comment, the absolutist U. of T. 1992 Statement of Freedom of Speech which holds, very broadly, that there are just about no limits to freedom of expression on campus. (The only exception would be “when members of the University use speech as a direct attack that has the effect of preventing the lawful exercise of speech by members or invited guests, or interfering with the conduct of authorized University business.”) There is no mention in this Statement of any possible scholarly limits on the absolute freedom of speech at the University, and that, of course, as far as this document goes, leaves the door open to the practice of voodoo scholarship. Which is what goes on at the University of Toronto.

The problem is not academic freedom at all. The problem is that any provision for academic freedom must, to be meaningful, go beyond an abstract statement of “freedom” to a specification of how a regime of freedom can operate in an academic setting. This has been done, for example, by the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (UNESCO, 1997).

The UNESCO document speaks at some length for the rights of professors to conduct their teaching and research without hindrance or restriction; its call for freedom is at least as ringing as that of the U. of T. Statement. Nevertheless, UNESCO here is also careful to specify that academic freedom, to be academic, cannot be in violation of the canons of scholarship and science:

Considering that the right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education and that the open communication of findings, hypotheses and opinions lies at the very heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research ….

Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching.

A congruent statement has just recently been made by Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors; he may have had the U. of T. situation in mind:

Academic freedom gives both students and faculty the right to express their views — in speech, writing, and through electronic communication, both on and off campus — without fear of sanction, unless the manner of expression substantially impairs the rights of others or, in the case of faculty members, those views demonstrate that they are professionally ignorant, incompetent, or dishonest with regard to their discipline or fields of expertise.

Statements about academic freedom, including that by the U. of T., generally include the observation that a diversity of views is desirable and conducive to the free exercise of academic work. But as we have seen, the U. of T. practices, under flag of academic freedom, have resulted in at least one SESE department being dominated by a single political dogma, to the exclusion of all other viewpoints. Not only did the academic freedom absolutism lead to voodo scholarship, it also abolished, in at least one department, the very freedom it ostensibly protects.

Finally, a word about what formal statements can and cannot do for academic freedom.

As in the related (but not identical) area of freedom of speech, there are at least two ways in which general statements of principle can work. The first is the American way, in which there is an absolutist First Amendment which is then modified by court decisions and in actual practice so as to allow for the necessary limitations that make a free society work. The second is the Canadian way, which allows in its very Charter of Rights and Freedoms for deviations from absolutist interpretation through the “notwithstanding clause” (Section 33 of the Charter). (As a matter of fact, the Canadian Charter has been held not to be applicable to universities.) The University of Toronto, surprising for a Canadian university, has gone the American way in its verbal absolutism, but without the American practical provisions for limitation.

The upshot is this: The University of Toronto has a creeping problem of voodoo scholarship that invades its precincts. Its response so far has been: no problem, no problem ! freedom of speech ! outsiders: mind your own business ! But the fact is that there is a problem. And the public, which pays for this university, has a right to be involved. The officials need to take a close look at the voodoo in its ranks and need to take steps to restore public confidence.

Like most areas of democratic governance, an authentic regime of academic freedom needs to be responsive to the complexities and nuances and grey areas of a vibrant academic culture. And it needs to respectful of the core value of academic life: the pursuit of truth.

For a thoughtful defense and analysis of academic freedom, including its complexities, see the article by Terence Karran

Also: read the important analysis of academic freedom by Arthur Gross-Schaefer: Academic Freedom; Moving Away from the Faculty-Only Paradigm

Update 9/4/11:  yet another piece of anti-Israel propaganda, in the guise of an MA thesis, from the University of Toronto.

Peto’s Freedom of Speech

When the University of Toronto chose to accept and then publish Peto’s M.A. thesis on the internet, it thereby gave its warrant that the thesis meets scholarly standards. A number of scholars and journalists, me included, objected: the thesis, we said, cannot reasonably be held to meet any academic standards, no matter how relaxed. The response from U. of T. officials has been quite simple. In endorsing Ms. Peto’s work, they say, they have done no more than uphold freedom of speech on campus. The implication, of course, is that we, the critics, are enemies of freedom of speech, or Fascists. Well, thanks a lot.

(Statements by U. of T. officials can be found here and here. There is also a somewhat similar statement by Professor Anna Shternshis, which I have answered here.)

I must say that I found it disconcerting to see high-ranking academics play a freedom-of-speech card with so little attention to what this concept — or rather this group of concepts — involves. At the very least, it is essential to distinguish between the freedom of speech that we all enjoy as citizens, in the public sphere, and the much more limited freedoms we enjoy in our more limited roles in private spheres, say as employees, or as students and professors.

In the public sphere, these freedoms are often referred to as freedoms of expression. The basic document in the United States is the First Amendment, and in Canada the much more recent Charter of Rights. These documents have been interpreted many times by courts of each country. They guarantee broad rights to freedom of expression, and, indeed, they define the great difference between free countries on the one hand, like Canada and the United States, and dictatorships on the other. But, as interpreted by the courts, such freedoms are not without limits. “Freedom of speech,” for example, does not allow you to “falsely shout fire in a [crowded] theater” (Schenck v. US, 1919), nor to incite violence (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969). Nor, of course, are we free, in either country, to libel our neighbor, or to place fraudulent advertising. In Canada, there is also a prohibition against hate speech. Such limitations warn us that when we seek to defend any given expression under the principle of freedom of speech, we defend that which is defensible by this principle, not that which is not. We need to be aware of the limits.

In any case, none of the criticism of the U. of T. in this case has contested Peto’s right to an expression of her opinions in the public sphere. That is her democratic right, and she should exercise it in public.

When we go outside the public sphere, the legal protections of free speech are much narrower, although of course we still expect, broadly speaking, to enjoy the benefits of living in free countries. But there are other principles that come into play that may be in tension with maximum freedom of speech. For instance, an employer can expect loyalty from his employees; a Coca Cola salesman is not allowed to tell his customers that Pepsi is better. And a university must expect its teachers and students to pursue academic excellence.

In academia, as the U. of T. officials ceaselessly point out, we need what is called “academic freedom.” Scholarship could hardly exist if individual scholars were constrained to voice agreement with the theories of their superiors. Or with the political doctrines favored by politicians. Or with the conventional tastes and attitudes of the community. All this is well understood and is not contested by anyone that I know of.

But the U. of T. officials give an entirely new twist to the whole idea of academic freedom. Their argument, at least as it is presented in their statements on the Peto case, is that the principle of academic freedom overrides all considerations of scholarship; that it dictates that any thesis whatever, as long as it gets the approval of the thesis advisor(s), is protected by the principle of academic freedom. Are there limits to this idea ? Again and again I have asked them whether it’s OK to present a thesis that the moon is made of cheese, and again and again they have refused to answer. The message we get here, clearly, is that freedom is all, scholarship is nothing. At this stage, the stance of U. of T. officials can hardly be considered coherent. Do these people really believe what they say ?

Professor Shternshis has suggested that Peto’s is probably not the only thesis devoid of scholarly value that has been accepted, and that, therefore, a criticism of her work amounts to some sort of selective prosecution. I agree that the petulant hate in Peto’s writing, in addition to her lack of scholarship, has helped to bring her to public attention. And yes, I also agree, very strongly, that the Peto case is not the only one that needs public scrutiny. But if there is anything unfairly selective about the attention given to Peto, surely the remedy lies in more scrutiny of more theses rather than in just putting up with this one. (See For OISE, the Peto thesis was no aberration)

OISE’s Argot

Argot (pronounced /ˈɑrɡoʊ/; French, Spanish, Romanian and Catalan for “slang“) is a secret language used by various groups—including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. Wikipedia

The University of Toronto’s OISE, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, is in many ways quite a world in itself. Much has been made here and elsewhere of one of its recent MA theses, the one by Jennifer Peto. But the same OISE faculty member who supervised Peto’s thesis, Sheryl Nestel, also supervised five others since 2009. All six can be downloaded from the U of T website. The authors, besides Peto, are Abdullah, Ejiogu, Noss, Riley, and Epstein. These six theses are so full of linguistic tics and mannerisms that outsiders are hard put to follow what is being said:

“Hegemonic.” All six of the theses use the term, as in

What I am critical of is that this struggle against anti-Semitism has become so enmeshed with Zionist politics that the effects of hegemonic white Jewish human rights activism are often racist and imperialist. (Peto)

“Interrogate,” used as a transitive verb with an inanimate object, used by all six writers, as in

While both concepts help in rendering the national subject intelligible, it is the character of the muscular Christian that I find particularly generative for the research questions I wish to interrogate in this paper. (Ejiogu)

“Queer,” used by five out of six, as in

As much of this project is about Jewish identity, race and madness, in writing it I might accidentally clear a discursive space for Jewish identity in critical race theory, or for queerness in mad/disability studies. (Epstein)

“Racialized,” used by all six, as in

I suggest that these western feminist constructions of sexual liberation rely on
depicting racialized women as primitive and degenerate. (Noss)

These four pieces of argot can obviously describe only a small part of the esoteric nature of OISE’s language. To OISE initiates, no doubt, this language sends some signals. But to the uninitiated, what does it all mean ? I don’t think that OISE, or the part of OISE that engages in this kind of talk, can claim to communicate with the public that pays its bills.

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists


Here are more details about the extent of ultra-left dominance at the Sociology Department at OISE.

Captive social science is not new, of course, nor is it restricted to OISE. Here is a course description for an offering at Wheaton College in Illinois, an Evangelical Christian institution:

ANTH 355. Human Origins. This course surveys the biological and cultural evidence for fossil humans and seeks to understand that evidence within a Christian framework that is true to the integrity of the data, philosophy of science, biblical hermeneutics, and theology.

Before modern times, teachings about society were widely constrained by the dogmatic prescriptions of religious institutions. And of course the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships admitted no viewpoint except their own.

Now at the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto), we have a fairly modern and fashionable version: social science held captive by ultra-left dogmatists. There are two interesting features of this new dogmatism: 1) it is not freely agreed to by its constituency, as is the case with the Evangelical Christians, nor 2) is it enforced by state power. Instead it has come about and is enforced by stealth: the new dogmatists have been able to seize control of a publicly-financed institution, and they seem to perpetuate their control through their power over recruitment procedures. The closest analogue are the Communist-controlled trade unions that existed in North America for a number of decades in the last century.

My previous posts have focused on how the SESE dogmatics have affected the writing of graduate theses. Here I am concerned over how SESE faculty members describe their professional interests. One of the SESE web pages lists 16 Teaching Faculty, 5 Sessional lecturers, and 11 Cross-Appointed Associated Faculty, for a total of thirty-two SESE professors and instructors. Next to each person’s name is a listing of “Teaching Emphasis.” In twenty-one of these thirty-two, these descriptions indicate adherence to left-wing dogma.

Sometimes this adherence seems mild and almost inoffensive, as when it quietly lists “gender” or “gender studies” (more on that later). But in many other cases these listing are very much in-your-face: “Anti-racism and domination studies,… anti-colonial thought”, “Gender, colonialism … black feminism, anti-racist education.”

And perhaps even more interesting is what is not in these listings. I found nobody prepared to teach research methods, nobody interested in statistics. So here is a sociology entirely devoid of quantitative methods. How can that possibly wash ? Haven’t any of the U of T powers-that-be noticed that ?

Faculty attitudes toward Jews and Israel are not shown in the listings of “teaching emphasis.” But seven out of the thirty-two are publicly on record as condemning Israel, as shown by their signatures on petitions dated Jan. 12, Feb. 27, and Feb. 28 of 2009. At about the same time other academics signed petitions favoring Israel, but I was not able find SESE names on that kind of statement. Now obviously, a faculty member can have a private life, and in that private life can express political views of any and all sorts. But as we have seen in the current discussion on the Peto and Epstein theses — the only recent SESE theses dealing with Jews — all of the SESE scholarship on that topic suggests, not to put too fine a point on it, that the vast majority of Jews are Fascist pigs. Surely more can be said on the subject ? Apparently not, apparently not at SESE.

The most often mentioned “teaching emphasis” in these listings is “gender.” (In addition, there are numerous mentions of “feminism.”) On the surface, “gender” appears to be neutral; it could mean an entirely scholarly interest in sex differences in learning, or whatnot. But in the current context I found that an interest in “gender” is short-hand for a desire to engage in advocacy on behalf of a grievance-based political action. In every case that I have been able to check in this SESE context, “gender” means that there is perceived disadvantage to women, and thus a grievance that requires redress by way of writing and teaching at SESE.

To appreciate just how deleterious this stance is to scholarship, let us recall the well-established and often replicated data concerning sex differences in mathematical abilities. On average, the two populations, male and female, seem very close or perhaps identical on this trait. But when you look at the relatively small number of people who are in the very highest level of mathematical ability, there is a very marked, stark difference. At this very highest level, men outperform women dramatically. These findings are robust and remain after the application of control values.

The findings are a challenge to scholars. How do we explain them ? There is no simple answer, and certainly not one that insists on environmental variables alone. But while we have no simple answers, we do know that the feminist “gender” approach, which is dogmatic and a-priori and always apologist, cannot possibly be at all satisfactory.

These two examples — the study of Jews, the problem of sex differences — may seem extreme or isolated, but I think that they point to a very general problem, viz. the systematic anti-scientific, anti-intellectual subversion of academic life by the new dogmatists. And unfortunately, it is most unlikely that OISE is the only institution so affected.

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

Also: Read Robyn Urback’s analysis of the Peto thesis

Eighteen OISE Theses

Eighteen OISE Theses

A Report Submitted to President David Naylor,

University of Toronto


Werner Cohn, Dec. 10, 2010

Introduction: The public attention that has been paid to the Peto thesis (and to a lesser extent the equally objectionable Epstein work) has raised the following question: can the principle of academic freedom override the need for objectivity in scholarship ? U. of T. pronouncements so far have used this principle – freedom – to dismiss criticisms of faulty scholarship in these theses. Obviously, political partisanship and scholarly integrity do not always and necessarily exclude one another. Nobody has ever claimed that scholarship can be neutral in any sort of absolute way. It is a matter of degree. We, the critics of OISE in this matter, have said that the political agitation that dominates Peto’s work, her complete neglect of the empirical work by others, and the imprimatur granted to all this by the University of Toronto – all these factors hurt the scholarly reputation of one of the world’s great universities.

In this Report, I suggest that the unfortunate results of the Peto thesis are related to a larger systemic problem at OISE.

The following is an analysis of all of the 36 currently internet-available theses completed at the SESE department of OISE, University of Toronto.

In half the cases, these theses appear to be so marred by political jargon and political preconceptions that they should never have been accepted into the corpus in which they are in fact found, viz. a collection of putative contributions to knowledge — theses officially certified by the University of Toronto.

The University of Toronto’s website shows thirty-five recent theses that were accepted in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education (SESE) of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). To this I have added one additional thesis (thus making a total of thirty-six SESE theses), by Griffin Epstein, which was completed in a different department of OISE but which was supervised by a SESE faculty member, Sheryl Nestel.

The U of T website gives direct access to the abstract of each thesis, and also provides a facility for the downloading of each of the theses in pdf format. As a result, any reader can check for himself whether he agrees with the opinions I express here concerning these theses.

I have read the abstracts of all eighteen theses and have determined, on a prima facie basis, that eighteen of these works are so politicized that – again on a prima facie basis – I would not accept them as scholarly contributions. Obviously, had I done a more complete study of the theses themselves, it is conceivable, but not probable, that I would have reached a somewhat different conclusion.

Not only do these eighteen theses propound political agendas rather than detached scholarship, but the politics of all eighteen are of one sort and one sort only: radical leftism. I found no thesis that, for instance, urged a conservative viewpoint, or a Christian one, or, Heaven forbid, Zionism. This political uniformity of the theses contradicts the recent statements by U of T officials to the effect that OISE promotes freedom of speech and diversity of opinion. OISE, or at least SESE, does not seem to be a place where deviation from the left-wing orthodoxy is at all tolerated.

I did read the complete theses in two cases, the one by Jennifer Peto and the one by Griffin Epstein. As I explained elsewhere : a) I found neither of these to have any scholarly merit whatever, and b) I found them both to consist of hate propaganda, possibly in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada, Sections 318 – 20.

Here are extracts from the abstracts of the 18 politicized theses:


This qualitative study examines the social, spiritual and political role the Black Oneness Churches play in Black communities. It also provides an anti-colonial examination of the Afro-Caribbean Oneness ….. But 40 years later, the insidious nature of colonization has weaved through the church and “prosperity theology” as an impetus of colonialism has reshaped the social justice role of Black Churches.


….In this thesis I will explore this ruling using a methodological approach that engages practices of: self-reflexivity; tracing historical and political genealogies; and case study analysis…. Through an engagement with transnational and black feminist theorizing, anticolonial studies, and disability studies, I will suggest that “medical inadmissibility” is one of many regulatory mechanisms that work to fashion the Canadian nation-state as white, healthy, fit, and productive.


Curricula in classrooms facilitate a national amnesia of colonialism that renders inconceivable the possibility of Aboriginal heritage or mixed-blood presence in national subjects. …. I argue that this facilitates ongoing Canadian colonialism that continues to circumvent the possibility of particular mixed-blood Aboriginal identities within the confines of national belonging…


In recent years, there has been a significant amount of new attention to white dominance and privilege (or whiteness) as the often unmarked inverse of racial oppression. This interest has spawned the academic domain called Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS). While the critical investigation of whiteness is not new, and has been pioneered by Black scholars beginning at least since the early 1900s in the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, what is notable about this new interest in whiteness is its advancement almost exclusively by white scholars … It outlines the importance of Black embodied knowledge to racial equity work …


…. By using African centered paradigms, Afrocentricity and juxtaposing robust anti-colonial and Black feminist thoughts, the thesis investigates and recreates systematic narratives


Framed within an Anishnaabe method and an anti-colonial discursive framework, this thesis explores how Aboriginal students confront narratives of colonial violence in the postsecondary …. I trace how education for Aboriginal peoples has always been and continues to be part of the colonial regime—one that is marked by violence, abuse and a regime that has had devastating consequences for Aboriginal peoples….


This body of work endeavours to interrogate mainstream media and popular culture [mis]representations of racialized persons, in addition to the negative impact such imageries have on identity formation processes….The ultimate goal of this project is to propel racialized students to move away from the [mis]educative effects of the media, toward beginning to define themselves on their own terms.


This thesis presents a case study of Canada’s first Black owned radio station, FLOW 93.5 FM, to demonstrate how official multiculturalism, in its formulation and implementation, negates Canada’s history of slavery and racial inequality…. As a result, multiculturalism poses serious consequences for imagining and engaging with Blackness as a politics that may address the needs of Black communities in Canada.


…. Analyses of these topics are taken up from an anti-racist and critical mixed race studies perspective.


… First, I examine how the media socially constructed the Somali identity through a colonial gaze in a Toronto Life article. ….Finally, I stress the importance of and the need for Somali youth to engage in de-colonizing/ de-racialization processes that encompasses their re-discovery of their indigenous Somaliness.


…This thesis builds on the work of critical researchers who locate the Chilean authoritarian regime in the transnational politics of the Cold War and their effect in implementing neo-liberalism in Chile. This literature demonstrates that terror was a constitutive, rather than an incidental, element of neo-liberal governmentality: governmentality that inscribed itself on Chilean bodies through terror practices and that remains unscathed through the transition to democracy …. I propose that human rights constitute a biopolitical governmental regime that in a manner comparable to the authoritarian terror captures human life within the realm of state power. As a regime, human rights submit experiences of terror to specific power-knowledge technologies that render terror intelligible, manageable and governable. Rather than promoting essential values of truth and justice, the human rights regime produces specific discourses of truth and justice as well as specific discourses of subjectivity and nation. In concrete terms, this thesis explores how the post-authoritarian nation and it subjects use the human rights regime to discursively construct a national truth in order to promote and protect specific governmental arrangements.


… Working from an anti-racist framework, this research interviews two teachers who have used the novel in their classrooms, and considers the value and limitations of the book as an anti-racist teaching tool. … I also examine the ways that Bifocal – and young adult literature in general – can be read in order to encourage more critical discussions about systems of racism and privilege.


…. My background in feminism, queer studies, anti-racism, critical theory and social justice, as well as my interest in consciousness and psychedelics, led me to conduct a literature review and analyze it with a critical framework. The literature showed an overwhelming gap in the field in regards to inclusion and analysis of issues pertaining to race, gender and class. This gap needs to be addressed ….


This paper focuses on issues of Jewish identity, whiteness and victimhood within hegemonic Holocaust education. I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West…


In A White Wedding? The Racial Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, I examine the inter-locking relations of power that constitute the lesbian/gay subject recognized by the Canadian nation-state as deserving of access to civil marriage. … By centring a critical race/queer conceptual framework, this research project follows the discursive practices of respectability, freedom and civility that circulate both widely and deeply in this legal struggle. I contend that in order to successfully shed its historical markers of degeneracy, the lesbian/gay subject must be constituted not as a sexed citizen but rather as a neoliberal citizen, one who is intimately tied to notions of privacy, property, autonomy and freedom of choice, and hence one who is racialized as white. …. The conclusion of this thesis provides reflections for developing an ethics of activism that dislodges and resists the (re)production of racialized relations of power in lesbian and gay equality rights activism. In so doing, I seek to provoke, question and re-draw the landscape of our thinking, not only about same-sex marriage but also about the terms with which we conceive, articulate and practice racial and sexual justice.


…Using an anti-colonial and post-colonial theoretical framework, the study situates the education system of Bangladesh within its histories of colonial domination and argues that the discourses present in these textbooks reflect colonial forms of racism and oppression, and reproduce class and ethnic hierarchies characteristic of the larger Bangladeshi society. …


… My research problem emerges from earlier feminist research addressing the low numbers of women in university Computer Science programs, particularly at the graduate level. After over twenty years of active feminist representation of this problem, mostly through large survey-based studies, there has been little change. …, I demonstrate how they variously endorse, subvert and exploit the contradictory subject positions produced for them. I illustrate how a North American-based institutional feminist representation of ‘women in computing’ ignores the everyday experiences of ethnoculturally diverse female student participants in graduate Computer Science studies. I argue that rather than accepting the organization of universal characteristics which reproduce conditions of exclusion, North American feminist scholars need to consider the specificity of social relations and forms of knowledge transnationally..


note: this thesis, under the supervision of SESE faculty member Sheryl Nestel, was completed in OISE’s Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning

Can we be accountable to privilege? Can we find a space for coherent anti-racist secular Ashkenazi Jewish identity in North America, where Jews have been deeply implicated in structural violence? Can we be agents of both complicity and change?

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

For OISE, the Peto thesis was no aberration

Ms. Peto of SESE, doing what SESE
Adapted from Toronto Star

The University of Toronto has now backed down on the subject of the anti-Jewish Peto thesis, if only just a little and if only disingenuously. When the story first broke, U of T officials insisted on the following mantra: the thesis is fully protected by principles of freedom of speech. Period. Criticisms from outside scholars stating that the thesis has no scholarly merit, regardless of its point of view, were simply ignored. Instead, U of T officials kept suggesting that the critics were motivated by a desire to suppress freedom, that they are, more or less, Fascists. Offense was the U of T’s defense.

(The thesis was completed at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education [OISE}, more particularly in OISE’s Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education [SESE].)

Now the tone has changed, a little:

U of T provost Cheryl Misak said she has been “a little alarmed at the kinds of things being said about a piece of student work.”

“It would be a good idea for us all to remember that it’s a student paper,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t know this student, but I certainly wouldn’t want to see this kind of scrutiny and unhappy attention on students in general.” (According to a report in the Toronto Star)

“So,” Ms. Misak seems to say, “well, yes, maybe this thesis isn’t so perfect after all, but come on, it’s a student paper, you know, and students will be students.” Wrong, Ms. Misak. Surely, being a provost, you know the difference between a “student paper” and an officially imprimatured M.A. thesis ?

The Star now tells us that Ms. Peto’s work has received unfavorable attention in the Ontario legislature, and not a minute too soon. But the Peto thesis is no aberration at OISE, and the public’s attention should not be confined to it. On the contrary, the thesis is unfortunately rather typical of what is done at OISE, at least in OISE’s Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education. As we shall see, OISE, or at least SESE, often resembles a political cult more than an institution of higher learning.

1) Peto’s thesis supervisor, Sheryl Nestel, supervised at least one other recent anti-Jewish MA thesis, by a student called Griffin Epstein (2009). I find this work a totally incoherent anti-Jewish rant, a piece of free association without any pretense of academic argument. While it has less structure and less neo-Marxist rhetoric than Peto’s thesis, the basic ideas are strikingly similar: the Jews are a racist bunch, responsible for the death of innumerable Palestinian children.

2) I have looked at the abstracts of the thirty-six SESE theses available online (including one supervised by Nestel in a different OISE department). I found eighteen of these to be so full of leftist position-taking that it would appear, prima facie, that there is no attempt at scholarly detachment in these works. I did not find anyone who professed a conservative, or Christian, or, G-d forbid, a Zionist point of view.

3) The website of SESE maintains that the Department is, in fact, a “constitutional democracy:”

The department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education (SESE) is organized as a constitutional democracy with a General Assembly and Standing Committees which provide policy and decision-making in departmental programs, selection of incoming students, etc. …. Our constitution is based on one person/one vote, and everyone in the Department (staff, faculty, and registered students) has voting rights and is welcome to participate in the General Assembly…..

Does that mean that the students vote on academic matters, on equal footing with faculty ? That would be a bit curious, to say the least. And more in line with a political movement than with a university department.

4) The cult-like terminology that I found in the MA abstracts is also used by faculty, including the Department Chair, Professor Rinaldo Walcott. Professor Walcott’s specialty is “Black queer theory.” And at least six of the SESE teaching staff, including the Chair, can be seen together as a cozy bunch when signing anti-Israel pronouncements and petitions (the statements I have checked are dated 1/27/09 and 2/27/09; obviously there are many more that I could have consulted).

So here are my conclusions:

A) SESE, and perhaps even OISE as a whole, is a nice warm place for those who agree on a radical left-wing worldview. There is a lot of “freedom of speech,” as they would put it, for these co-thinkers. There does not seem to be much of that freedom for others.

B) SESE, and perhaps even OISE, is more of a cult than an institution of higher learning.

C) Obviously, these nice folk have every right in the world to believe and to proclaim that Israel is evil, or that the moon is made of green cheese. But do they have a right to i) call themselves scholars ? or to ii) conspire to have the Ontario taxpayer finance their nice little cult ?

D) Perhaps it’s time for the U of T to cut itself free from its OISE encumbrance.

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

The world is flat ! The moon is made of green cheese !

Do you have a sincere belief that the world is flat ? The University of Toronto will give you an M.A. for saying so. Do you think the moon is made of green cheese ? Ditto. Do you think that Jews, though they may look like humans, are actually pigs and/or monkeys ? An M.A. — perhaps a Ph.D. — is yours, again, of course, compliments of the U. of T. And, it goes without saying, compliments of the Ontario taxpayer.

Or so it would seem, judging by how the U. of T. has replied to critics of the MA that it awarded to Jennifer Peto. That MA, it will be recalled, held that the Jews of the world, mainly through Holocaust education, oppress the “people of colour” throughout the world.

Those who criticized this MA made three points, in order of importance:

1) The thesis was devoid of scholarship

2) It was untruthful

3) It was hateful

The U. of T. has now answered all three of these criticisms in a statement that may be condensed as follows: We believe in freedom of speech; to us freedom of speech is absolute. You, the critics of the thesis, are out to suppress academic freedom. Neither integrity of scholarship, nor indeed scholarship of any sort seems to enter the U. of T.’s thinking. Here is the statement, as reported by the Canadian Jewish News:

Responding to a request for an interview, the University of Toronto issued a written statement by vice-president and provost Cheryl Misak: “Due to our privacy obligations to students, I cannot discuss an individual student’s academic work or his or her performance. What I can, say, however, is that freedom of expression issues are ever-present in our society, especially on a university campus. The University of Toronto’s Statement on Freedom of Speech makes it clear that freedom of inquiry lies at the very heart of our institution: ‘all members of the University must have as a prerequisite freedom of speech and expression, which means the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large.’

“Of the thousands of MA theses written at the University of Toronto in partial fulfilment of degree requirements, it is inevitable that some will have elements that offend various individuals and groups. In such cases, the university is committed to allowing and encouraging a full range of debate. The best way for controversy to unfold is for members of our community to engage with the perspectives and arguments they dispute. It is intelligent argument, not censorship, that lies at the heart of our democratic society and its institutions.”

I have received similar statements from the President of the U. of T. and the Dean of OISE (see below for the link to this correspondence). In each instance, these University officials made the insulting suggestion that the critics of Ms. Peto’s thesis are motivated by a desire to restrict freedom of speech. Neither President nor Dean took notice of the fact that the criticism of the thesis concerned its scholarship, not its point of view.

I cannot believe that this can be the final word from one of the world’s great universities. The many great scholars there, and the friends of the University around the world, simply cannot allow this to happen.

See my correspondence with U. of T.’s President Naylor and OISE’s Dean O’Sullivan.

See story in Toronto Star of Dec. 7

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists

The Frauds of OISE

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, is associated with the University of Toronto, one of the world’s foremost institutions of learning. And now this year OISE has given its imprimatur to a hateful and fraudulent piece of anti-Semitic propaganda. And it all started with a misguided but apparently sincere student who was allowed to vent her hateful emotions …

There is a striking scene in the classic documentary about the Wannsee Conference — the 1942 meeting of Nazi leaders to plan the Holocaust. One of the attending Nazi officials urges quick action against any remaining Jews in German cities. “Can you tolerate,” he says, or words to that effect, “that Mrs. Israel and Mr. Cohen should live in comfort in our cities while our brave soldiers suffer on the front ?” The man was so sincere in his outrage; no wonder he quickly obtained the approval of his assembled accomplices.

And so is Ms. Jennifer Peto sincere. I can summarize her thesis at OISE, “The Victimhood of the Powerful; White Jews, Zionism, and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education” as follows:

The Ashkenazi Jews of the world, in particular those in North America, constitute an over-privileged White group which is ever trying to extend its hegemony over others, especially people of color. To that end, these Jews have organized various forms of Holocaust remembrances. Such observances serve to oppress Palestinians and people of color everywhere. Decent people, for example the author of this thesis, have therefore been forced to become anti-Zionist Jews and Palestine solidarity activists, as well as, apparently not incidentally, activists for LGBT rights.

Does this point of view make sense ? As a point of view, as an emotion, yes it does. Ms. Peto thinks she is right, and she declaims her beliefs with disarming verve and obvious sincerity. It is the sincerity of someone with a strong and consuming idée fixe. And she is an autodidact who knows how to quote from others, whenever that seems to serve the cause, and thus to give her thesis the sheen of formal scholarship.The only problem is that the footnotes and references to the literature in no way support her contentions, and that she does not muster facts or data of any kind to give her thesis the weight of an academic argument.

As it happens, the sociological literature is exceptionally rich in empirical studies of Canadian and US Jews (to which I have made modest contributions in the past), their demography, political alignments, and ideological commitments. But Ms. Peto’s bibliography is strictly bereft of empirical work. To take one example, the problem of political alignments of North American Jews. If US Jews were indeed committed, as Ms. Peto contends, “tirelessly” so, to “align [themselves] with oppressive forces in their own country” (p. 6), “especially [against] people of color” (p. 78), how would they have voted in 2008, two years before Ms. Peto completed her opus ? For Obama or for McCain ? Well, the empirical data show an overwhelming Jewish support for Obama, exactly what Ms. Peto’s thesis holds could not have happened. She does not deign to discuss these widely-available data. She does not discuss any data. She cannot, apparently, be distracted from her holy rage by mere facts.

From the point of view of scholarship, there is a most telling item on the very first page of Ms. Peto’s thesis. She recalls that when she was in 9th grade, in 1995, she attended a Jewish school (unnamed) in Toronto at the time that the Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein killed some 49 Arabs in a rampage in Israel. Ms. Peto tells us that her teacher supported Goldstein, and that she, the fifteen-year-old, had difficulties with both the teacher and principal about the matter. She tells this story as a pivotal point in her awakening to the evils of “the oppressive beliefs of my parents, teachers, and religious leaders” (p.2).

I can see how to a 15-year old, or even to the now-thirty-year-old ideologue that she is today, this unexamined putative incident can loom large. But it is purely subjective. The value of our scholarly tradition is that it can take such subjective events and test them against objectively-available social data. The obvious question, from a scholarly point of view, is whether what Ms. Peto remembers as having taken place in her (unnamed) Toronto school is in any way typical of the reactions of Canadian or North American Jews. The record happens to be very clear. All sections of world Jewry, with only tiny exceptions in very restricted ultra-religious circles, reacted with shame and horror at the deeds of Baruch Goldstein. Why didn’t it occur to Ms. Peto to examine (or, as she would put it, “interrogate”) the record of world Jewry’s reaction to Goldstein ? Because she is in no way a scholar, obviously; because empirical data mean nothing to her, as indeed they mean nothing to the ideologues of any sort. I do not blame her for this. She is entitled to believe as she wishes, to be in the throes of any delusion that she was unfortunate enough to contract.

But it is a different matter with OISE, a taxpayer-financed institution affiliated with the world-famous University of Toronto. OISE has accepted this thesis, it is being made available to the world under the OISE imprimatur, and it is OISE that, in effect, promotes a fraud by sponsoring wild accusations and hatreds as if they had a scholarly basis.

In her introduction, Ms. Peto pays tribute to her OISE thesis supervisor, Professor Sheryl Nestel. Now why didn’t Professor Nestel press her student to take a scholarly approach to evidence ? One answer may be that Prof. Nestel herself is identified, on the internet, as an anti-Israel activist. But the true fault obviously lies in OISE itself, since it does not seem to have institutional safeguards against passing off subjective feelings as verified facts.

The Baruch Goldstein story in this thesis — suggesting that the Jews of the world supported Goldstein when in fact they overwhelmingly rejected him — is part of the anti-Semitic fraud that is perpetrated by OISE here. But only part of it. The thesis as a whole — no matter how forgivable when presented by an untutored naif — is an act of both fraud and hatred when it comes from the halls of academe. And let’s not forget that the perpetrators receive their salaries from the taxpayers of Ontario.

Read my my correspondence with U. of T. President David Naylor and OISE’s Dean Sullivan

For more information on this thesis, and on yet another thesis at OISE under the tutelage of the same thesis adviser, see the article and blog by Richard Klagsbrun.

Klagsbrun suggests that if you are unhappy about the goings on at OISE, you may wish to write to John Milloy, the Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities,

Also, see story in Toronto Star of Dec. 7

And the column by Geoffrey Alderman in London’s Jewish Chronicle

My related postings on this topic:

The Frauds of OISE

The World is Flat !

My correspondence with U of T officials

For OISE, the Peto Thesis Was no Aberration

Eighteen OISE Theses

Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel

OISE: Social Science Captured by the New Dogmatists