Category Archives: Toronto University of

George Marlen’s Ghost at the University of Toronto

Corey Balsam
Yet another diatribe against Israel from the University of Toronto, again in the guise of an MA thesis,  using the time-honored methods of the late George Marlen.  Reviewing another work, I had occasion to describe the Marlen method as follows:

The method he uses, the Marlen Method of Great Insight (MMGI), is so named to honor George Marlen, a Trotskyist thinker of the 1940’s. Marlen discovered that World War II was not a real war at all. It was a hoax, Marlen discovered, perpetrated as a conspiracy of the German, British, and American ruling class to fool the workers of the world. It was a phony war from beginning to end. Professor Noam Chomsky, among others, has testified to Marlen’s importance to his own thinking.  

MMGI can prove any idea that the powers that be wish to suppress. MMGI can be used, and indeed has been, to prove that the world is flat, that Napoleon never existed, that the moon is made of green cheese, that Zionists are really Nazis. This is how MMGI works. First and foremost, you decide what it is want to prove. Anything will do, as long as it is an idea that most of the world would find preposterous. Next, you go to a big library (Marlen worked at New York Public), you consult hundreds of books, you carefully write down on little pieces of paper any phrase, factoid, or even single word that fits into your pre-determined idea. Finally, you publish or at least self-publish your idea, buttressed by all these little papers you have taken from the library, and, voilà, you are a fearless, independent, scholarly thinker, and will gain, at the very least, a dozen people who think you’re great.

The work at hand here is called “The Appeal of Israel: Whiteness, Anti-Semitism, and the Roots of Diaspora Zionism in Canada.” It is written by a young student named Corey Balsam and supervised by Sheryl Nestel, a professor at the U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  Nestel has supervised a number of similar theses over the last two years. (See my previous postings on her and OISE.)

True to the Marlen tradition, there is no scholarship in this thesis.  There is an appearance of scholarship — footnotes and bibliography — but none of its substance.  I will give but three examples of its many flaws:
1)  Although accepted in a department of sociology, there are no social science methods in evidence.  The author presumes to tell us something about the state of mind of Canadian Jews but at no point is there any reference to the many empirical studies of Canadian Jewish attitudes. (Quantitative methods seem to be completely absent from OISE sociology.)
2)  The author insists that aspiring for “whiteness” has something to do with how Canadian Jews think.  How would he know a thing like that ?  This concept — whiteness — is not, as far as I can tell, one that Canadian Jews employ to describe themselves, and the author does not claim that they do.  It is something that he imputes unto them.   Several OISE theses have used this term;  it is a piece of in-jargon at the Institute.  (That, and other such jargon, establish OISE as a cultist organization).  Stripped of its verbal acrobatics, when these OISE writers use “whiteness” they mean racist.  Together with the other theses on Jews that Nestel has supervised at OISE, Balsam asserts that  North American Jews are racist, no more, no less.  All this, moreover, in the face of actual empirical studies that show the very opposite to be true.
3)  True to Marlenite methodology, the author likes to refer to other writers whenever these seem to agree with his thesis.  One of his authorities is particularly instructive:   Shlomo Sand’s anti-Israel screed  “The Invention of the Jewish People.” This book holds that the very notion of a Jewish people is a Zionist propagandist lie. Sand is described by Balsam as an “Israeli historian,” forgetting to mention that Sand is a specialist in modern France without any background whatever in either ancient or medieval history, nor indeed in genetics, all subjects that he claims to master.  Sand’s book was published in English by an anti-Israel group, and has been wildly applauded by political groups hostile to Israel.  The specialists who have written about it, for example Martin Goodman of Oxford University and David Nirenberg of the University of Chicago, have said that the book is the work of a charlatan.  But to Mr. Balsam,  Sand remains an unchallengeable authority.

4)  Most of all:  the tone, the announced intentions, the atmosphere of this essay run counter to even the most relaxed canons of scholarship.  There is no curiosity, no spirit of enquiry. The author obviously has little interest in the ostensible subject of his thesis, the Jews of North America.  He opines about things in general and concocts a mock-radical theory of capitalist society.  He goes on and on citing  Freud, Fanon, Foucault, Gramsci.  It is a huge mumble jumble of sloganeering and half-digested ideas from others, without any apparent relevance to Canadian Jews.  Is there a point to all this, beyond his apparent interest in impressing his cultic teachers and comrades ?  The only point seems to be this one:  look how radical, how anti-racist, and especially how smart a thinker I am.

Mr. Balsam has of course every right in the world to think as he does, to be as pretentious as he wants to be, to write as he does, and to work, as he says he does, against Israel.  Obviously Ms. Nestel, his sponsor, has all these rights as well.  But none of this makes Balsam’s a work of scholarship in any sense whatever.  For OISE to say otherwise is a piece of legerdemain.
So, University of Toronto, for how long, for how long will you allow the OISE rot to undermine your academic credibility ?
hat tip:  Richard Klagsbrun

University of Toronto: Now Anti-Semitism Without Fig Leaf

First, we heard about the Peto case (on which I reported extensively in earlier posts on this blog), in which the U of T covered itself with the fig leaf of academic freedom in order to justify its sponsorship of anti-Semitic propaganda. Now there is the case of a U of T junior professor of social work who conducted a “Jew count” of professors and university donors, thereby exposing, she appeared to say, the domination of Canada by the Jews. This lady had previously been on record as opposed to “Zionism,” but in her latest activism she dispensed with any such pretext for her anti-Semitism. The students who participated in this “count” were sworn to secrecy. But not all heeded her on this, so the story came out.

None of this would be remarkable if it were not for the shameful cover-up by U. of T. officialdom. In the months that followed the incident, no University official rebuked this professor; instead, she was rewarded by a renewal of her contract.

The details of this story can be found in the blog Eye on a Crazy Planet and also in the more extensive article by Professor Ernie Lightman of the U of T.

Germany has a lesson for the University of Toronto

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, whose doctorate has been questioned

Within the last two days all the German papers have headlined a Peto-like academic scandal at the University of Bayreuth: a recent doctoral dissertation by a prominent politician has been described by critics as intellectually unacceptable. The author of the dissertation, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, is not only the scion of an aristocratic German family but is also Germany’s young and popular minister of defense.

And here is what the German university did within hours of these serious allegations: it charged its standing control commission with the case, and it told Guttenberg to submit a detailed response to the criticisms.

There are differences between the Peto and Guttenberg cases, to be sure. Guttenberg’s work has been accused of plagiarism, while Peto’s was accused of falsification of facts and general scholarly incompetence. But the similarities are more striking. The accusations, in both cases, came from outside the institution. In each case, the integrity of the institution and its reputation was called into question. In each case, the public, which foots the bills, expressed a concern over what goes on within the walls of academe.

Now look at the difference on how these universities have reacted. Toronto has told the public to mind its own business: everything is fine within our borders, it has said, repeatedly. Bayreuth has told the public: we appreciate your concern; we will investigate; we have required the dissertation’s author to submit explanations.

In both cases, senior professors were involved in approving the theses in the first place, and the accusations of academic malfeasance will cause internal political difficulties for the administrators. These difficulties, matters of administrative inconvenience really, have carried the day in Toronto. In Bayreuth, God bless that University, integrity has, at least so far, won out over bureaucratic hanky-panky.

For further reading:

The English-language press has had little to say on the Guttenberg case so far. But here is a very brief BBC report. For a longer treatment, in German, see FAZ, here. Here is a fascinating, hour-long video of a round-table conducted by Anne Will on German TV

Revelations of plagiarized material in the Guttenberg dissertation increase by the hour as scholars all over Germany continue to scrutinize the work. A special blog has been established for this growing body of criticism. Here is the trenchant critique of Guttenberg’s thesis by Prof. Andreas Fischer-Lescano. It is this work by Fischer-Lescano that brought the whole affair to public attention.

And… for those who don’t quite recall the Peto matter: I have done a number of postings about it on this blog in the recent past.

UPDATE, FEB. 23: The University of Bayreuth has rescinded the doctorate of zu Guttenberg. See today’s Tagesschau. The University of Toronto, on the other hand, persists in its academic dereliction in the Peto matter.

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.

By their words ye shall know them

Ever since the lugubrious events recounted in Judges 12:1-15 — having to do with the pronunciation of the Hebrew word “shibboleth” — it has been understood that, at least under certain circumstance, your words will give you away.

Take the unfortunate little publication sent abroad by the University of Toronto; you know, the one with “hegemonic” in its title. In its 108 pages of text and notes, it uses the word “hegemonic” fifty-two times. Once and once only in these fifty-two instances is there an attempt at definition:

Here I am defining hegemonic Holocaust education as projects that are sponsored by the Israeli government and/or mainstream Jewish organizations. These projects also tend to have the support of Western governments and institutions.

Clear ? Not to the uninitiated who might think that “hegemonic” has something to do with the ordinary dictionary take on the word: domination over others. Now if that is what the author means to say — domination over others — why not just put it that way ? Because, in context, it can be seen (by those schooled in the politics of neo-Marxist groupuscules) that the author has something much broader in mind: a general policy of racism, imperialism, anti-“queer” crimes, and many, many other bad things besides. “Hegemony” in something like this meaning was introduced by the dissident Bolshevik Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and then became more and more of an all-purpose cuss word for latter-day Gramscists. In British Columbia, for instance, one writer who opposed the Social Credit Party found that party to be “hegemonic,” urging his readers to become “counter-hegemonic.”

“Hegemonic” is an example of what I have called the esoteric language of fringe groups. An old article of mine deals with Communist usages of the words “provocation” and “red-baiting,” usages that I found strange, illogical, and self-defeating as political arguments. Those unfortunates in Judges 12 gave themselves away as foreigners by their language. The U. of T. author here, similarly, gives herself away as a cultist, removed from the common sense.

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