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A book on campus debate by Dalhousie University’s interim president that stirred controversy at the Halifax school is among the books shortlisted for the $50,000 Donner Prize.

Peter MacKinnon’s University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate and Dissent on Campus (University of Toronto Press) is one of five finalists for the award recognizing the best public policy book by a Canadian.

MacKinnon’s interim appointment at Dalhousie earlier this year was met with outcry from a group of students who rebuked his book for expressing “racist perspectives” and “oppressive rhetoric,” prompting some to call for his dismissal.

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A group of law professors at Dalhousie University also wrote a letter to school’s provost in February asking MacKinnon to confirm that blackface violates the code of student conduct and personal harassment policy.

In the book, MacKinnon suggests there was a “lack of proportion” in the outraged responses to campus incidents involving white students in blackface, saying these were “just Halloween parties.”

In response to the backlash, MacKinnon issued a statement saying he does not condone blackface.

Ken Whyte, chair of the Donner Canadian Foundation, announced the 2018/2019 short list on Tuesday. In a statement he said the selected titles, which also examine topics including basic income, police reforms, and population growth and climate change, “will undoubtedly provoke debate and elevate the conversation in Canada.”

Other Donner finalists include:

  • Indigenous Nationals, Canadian Citizens: From First Contact to Canada 150 and Beyond by Thomas J. Courchene (Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Queen’s University)
  • Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change by Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak (Global Warming Policy Foundation)
  • Basic Income for Canadians: The Key to a Healthier, Happier and More Secure Life for All by Evelyn L. Forget (James Lorimer & Company Ltd.)
  • Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing by Alok Mukherjee with Tim Harper (Douglas & McIntyre)

The winner of the $50,000 honour will be announced at an awards ceremony in Toronto on May 1. Each other nominated title receives $7,500.

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