Academic Left-Wing Bias in Canada Threatens Dissenting Voices

May 24, 2021 Updated: May 24, 2021

Some three-quarters of Canadian academics describe themselves as being on the political left, leaving right-wing professors quiet about their contrary views.

The U.S.-based Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology surveyed academics and PhD students at universities in Canada, the United States, and the UK. In a recent report, it found that 73 percent of Canadian social sciences and humanities (SSH) academics identify with the left, while only 4 percent identify with the right.

Those in the right-leaning minority said they censored their own ideas and research as a result. Other bright right-leaning people left academia entirely. A majority reported a hostile work climate.

The survey focused more on the SSH, as “political considerations are a larger aspect of these fields’ conceptual foundation.” However, the 73 percent figure includes academics in both the SSH and the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Christopher Dummitt, a professor of Canadian history at Trent University, told The Epoch Times that an academic monoculture hurts everyone and that “ultimately, universities should be about figuring out what the truth is.”

“The best way to do that is to build a system of checks on any one way of thinking, [to prevent] any one individual having the right to say, ‘I know what the truth is here, and to disagree with me is to say something really evil, unsafe. or dangerous, or … racist, hateful, or discriminatory,’” Dummitt said.

“The real danger … is if all the scholars in a certain community either think the same way or are too frightened to speak up for fear of repercussions,” he said. “[Then] we’re not testing knowledge claims in the way that we really have to be.”

‘Dominated by One Side’

Even the University of Calgary, reputed in the 1990s to have the most right-leaning political science department in Canada, never had more than six conservative professors, said Tom Flanagan, a professor emeritus of political science.

“I was on the staff affairs committee when several of the so-called ‘Calgary School’ were hired, but they were hired because of their academic credentials, not because they happened to have a conservative point of view. In the same period, we also hired several people who were anything but conservative,” Flanagan said in an interview.

“I think the point is that in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, political opinions, left or right, weren’t usually decisive in hiring, at least in Canada.”

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s efforts to expose communists in the 1950s helped facilitate a larger leftist presence in Canada decades ago, said Flanagan.

“When I joined the University of Calgary in 1968, I had colleagues who were communist refugees from McCarthyism as well as other colleagues who had worked for the CIA. I won’t say everyone always got along swimmingly, but the university was capacious enough to hold people of very different orientations,” he said.

However, the situation has changed, Flanagan said. “One new development is that universities as organizations have embraced various social justice ideologies, setting up programs and departments that have to be staffed by people with certain views—Women’s Studies, Native Studies, Environmental Studies, etc.”

Dummitt said he believes universities should not create programs or post jobs that have a built-in political bias.

“The evidence that I’m aware of shows that people on the left and right are equally happy to discriminate against their political opponents,” he said. “No one side has the moral high ground here. But when an institution is so dominated by one side, … if you’re a conservative scholar, … your ideas are going to face so much more scrutiny at every level—every time you apply for a job, apply for a grant, and submit an article to get published.”

Value of Academic Freedom

Geoffrey Hale has spent 22 years as a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge, where the recruitment webpage reads, “At uLethbridge, you learn how to think, not what to think.” He told The Epoch Times that this is not an empty slogan.

“It certainly reflects the attitude that we have taken in our department, and I know some other departments have taken, in terms of commitment to academic freedom. It is very strong in the faculty association. It is one of the hills that my colleagues there are prepared to die on. And I do not believe that it is ideologically predetermined how that should play out.”

Dummitt says academic freedom is the goal, not a political consensus.

“We’re always the loser if any one way of thinking would take over. I would say the same if a conservative strain of thought were to take over and dominate as well.”

A countermovement against discrimination in academia is growing worldwide. Jonathan Haidt, Chris Martin, and Nicholas Rosenkranz founded Heterodox Academy in 2015 as a venue for social researchers to share their work and challenges. It soon grew into an international network dedicated to “advancing the values of constructive disagreement and viewpoint diversity as cornerstones of academic and intellectual life,” the academy’s website says.

Dummit is an academy member but has a larger vision for Canada: a new think tank that would promote diversity of opinion and conduct in-depth polling on problems academics face with ideological censorship. He said many academics support him in private but are afraid of professional consequences if they join his initiative publicly.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I didn’t have tenure. I wouldn’t dare because—just too much at stake,” he said.