Queen's University, in Kingston, is one of our older and finer institutions of higher learning. It attracts students from all over the world -- 94 nations, by one count. Its campus is swelling with Asian Canadians, who have stampeded into the top schools across Canada. Its faculty includes Koreans and Nigerians. The two vice-presidents of the student government are non-white.
You'd think Queen's is doing not too badly in the diversity stakes, especially since it's located in a small, white city. But you'd be wrong.
"White privilege and power," says a damning, newly released report, "continues to be reflected in the Eurocentric curricula, traditional pedagogical approaches, hiring, promotion and tenure practices, and opportunities for research." According to the report, the problem isn't simply that there are too many white people at Queen's. The problem is the "culture of Whiteness," which, in turn, means that systemic racism is pervasive and inevitable. The report urges the university to step up minority hiring, offer scholarships to attract minority students (though presumably not Asians, who are quite well represented), and set up a resource centre on campus for visible minorities.
Like every other university, Queen's has a vast administrative apparatus to ensure diversity is encouraged and racism is stamped out. It has a University Adviser on Equity, a Human Rights Office, an Employment Equity Council, a Joint Sub-Committee on Employment Equity, and an Educational Equity Committee. None of this has solved the racism problem. It has merely made it harder to identify. "The more traditional or 'old' forms of racism have mutated into more subtle and less overt manifestations," says the report, which argues neutrality and colour-blindness are merely "a cover for the persistence of racial bias."
The report, which is titled "Systemic Racism Towards Faculty of Colour and Aboriginal Faculty," was commissioned five years ago after one minority faculty member quit, citing racism, and several others followed. It was written in 2004, but released only now, as part of a new diversity drive. The methodology would earn any serious sociology student an "F." Faculty members were e-mailed a survey with questions about their perceptions of racism and discrimination. Of the 117 self-identified faculty of colour and aboriginal faculty, only 43 bothered to respond. Of those, less than half said they had experienced harassment or overt discrimination. In other words, only a handful of the minority faculty cited problems. Among their complaints was that white students were resistant to signing up for anti-racism courses.
"The fact that there were limited numbers of people involved in the study should not undermine the reality and impact of personal experience," said Prof. Joy Mighty, chair of the university's equity committee. (Prof. Mighty, a woman of colour, says she personally has not experienced discrimination.) One focus-group participant admitted, "I've never really heard of any cases of open discrimination or harassment against a minority faculty member . . . I think lots of things are very subtle . . . like a smile or a lack of politeness."
In any place I've ever worked, such high employee satisfaction would be a cause for celebration. Not at Queen's, where the conclusions, it appears, were foregone. Frances Henry, the anti-racism expert who was hired to write the report, has made a career of exposing racism in every nook and cranny of society, even when it's invisible to the naked eye. "All of the specific concerns and issues that are experienced by some faculty of colour and Aboriginal faculty," she concluded, "are a function of the culture of Whiteness."
Pity our universities. When somebody produces this type of rubbish, nobody dares to denounce it -- least of all the (mostly white) administration. That's left to cranky old white men like noted historian James A. Leith, professor emeritus. "Most of the faculty are very skeptical about all of this," he told me. "Some people haven't intervened because they think the report is silly, and others because they think it's futile."
Justin Lau is another skeptic. He's a student. "Although Queen's has been stereotyped as a university with a large proportion of white students, I have found there is ample diversity there," he wrote in a letter to the Toronto Star. "Personally, I am part of a minority at Queen's; however, I do not feel isolated at all."
Perhaps Mr. Lau is less concerned with the culture of whiteness than the culture of excellence. Perhaps he's grasped that excellence, not race, is what a university is really supposed to be about.