Equity and diversity initiatives in universities serve ideological ends: Campus Freedom Index

The 2019 Campus Freedom Index sheds light on the increasing efforts by Canadian universities to promote ideological advocacy under the guise of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programs.

Disclaimer: Lindsay Shepherd and Michael Kennedy are co-authors of the Campus Freedom Index published annually by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The 2019 Campus Freedom Index sheds light on the increasing efforts by Canadian universities to promote ideological advocacy under the guise of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programs. This new research unveils a growing threat to freedom of expression on campus, and increases awareness about the federal government’s efforts to fund university initiatives that put free expression at risk.

Earlier this year, Minister for Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced $5.3 million in federal funding would be put towards diversity, equity, and inclusion grants for 15 Canadian postsecondary institutions, in the form of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Institutional Capacity-Building Grant.

The federal government claims the funding is to identify and eliminate “systemic barriers that impede the career advancement, recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups”, including women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minority/racialized groups, and members of LGBTQ2+ communities.

The first round of funding was distributed to 15 small universities and colleges, each receiving between $200,000 and $400,000 over a two-year period. Some institutions have already declared what they’re going to spend the money on, like hiring more diversity officers or implementing unconscious bias training for their staff (even though studies show these trainings do not work). OCAD University vows to invest in more campus diversity training sessions, even though all incoming students are already required to sit through anti-oppression training at orientation, and all faculty receive mandatory anti-oppression and Indigenous Cultural Competency Training.

This is not the first university-based diversity initiative to be introduced by the federal government: in 2017, Duncan announced universities must address the underrepresentation of women, indigenous people, visible minorities, and those with disabilities among their Canada Research Chairs, declaring that if their chairholders were not diverse enough, their Canada Research Chair program would be entirely defunded.

Postsecondary diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are a big business. Consider their heavily-staffed offices, with at least 12 “diversity officers” at the University of Toronto, while the University of British Columbia’s Equity and Inclusion Office boasts a whopping 25 staff members (double the number of staff members working in the President’s Office).

Senior diversity officers consistently make six-figure salaries: the University of Guelph’s Assistant Vice-President, Diversity and Human Rights made $199,729 in 2018, and Ryerson University’s Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion made $300,000. What exactly they accomplish, besides implementing scientifically dubious training programs and hosting well-catered speaking events, is largely mysterious.

While universities have a duty to prevent discrimination and harassment on campus, the slogans of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are sometimes abused, to stifle the discussion and debate of social, moral, political, religious, and philosophical ideas. For example, in March of 2017 Dr. Jordan Peterson was shouted down by a loud, unruly mob at McMaster University after the President’s Advisory Committee on Building Inclusive Community had declared that Dr. Peterson should not have been invited to speak at McMaster. The Council argued that “there is little to be gained by debating Dr. Peterson because he presents no argument founded on evidence that would actually be worthy of debate.”

Nevertheless, there is an important difference between creating a good work environment for university employees and restricting the debate of controversial ideas on campus. Problems arise when EDI policies apply (or are interpreted as applying) to all speech on campus, in the absence of a clear statement that limits their application to the workplace.  In the absence of such clarity, these policies easily become a tool to censor the expression of ideas that some find offensive.

The Campus Freedom Index reports that University-based diversity officers are known to interfere with freedom of expression on campus. The “Acting Manager, Gendered Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention” of Wilfrid Laurier University, Adria Joel, took it upon herself to initiate the disciplinary process against Lindsay Shepherd, one of the authors of this article, for daring to play a TV Ontario clip featuring Dr. Jordan Peterson while teaching a communications tutorial in 2017.

Federal funding encourages Canadian universities to embrace the EDI craze, adversely affecting the freedom to teach, to learn, and to engage in a truly free exchange of ideas. As universities expand EDI programs, we hope they do not lose sight of their core mission: the free and unfettered pursuit of truth, no matter how offensive.