Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary, Alberta was set to run an international geography field school called “Sustainable Europe” in the Spring 2020 semester, but the university has quietly cancelled the field school.
Field schools are generally only cancelled due to illness or low student enrolment, but the Sustainable Europe field school was cancelled for a different reason.
According to correspondence between MRU’s Dean, Faculty of Science and Technology, Jonathan Withey, and Brian Sevick, Chair of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the school cancelled the field program because “the full-time faculty in geography… no longer support” it.
“After consulting with full-time faculty in geography…there is no longer support for offering the Sustainable Europe field school,” said Withey, according to a letter shared with True North.
Perhaps the cancelling of the Sustainable Europe school trip had more to do with the fact that the lead instructor was Mark Hecht.
Hecht, an instructor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at MRU, penned an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on September 6th, 2019 entitled “Ethnic diversity harms a country’s social trust, economic well-being, argues instructor.”
The article was met with immediate criticism on social media, with activists and journalists accusing Hecht, the Vancouver Sun and Postmedia (the Sun’s parent company) of bigotry, hate, and white supremacy.
BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender declared Hecht’s article a “call to hatred”, and NDP MLA Ravi Kahlon wrote a response op-ed, saying that Hecht’s piece was “racism and white supremacy wearing a thin disguise of academic bluster.”
Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun, apologized for running Hecht’s article. The article was then pulled from the Vancouver Sun’s website, though it was too late to pull it from the print edition.
Much of the criticism over the article was filled with name-calling and hyperbolic accusations, while few refuted Hecht’s claims, which he himself admitted were controversial.
Critics tended not to engage in discussion about the research cited in Hecht’s op-ed or evaluate his arguments in good faith: they simply denounced Hecht and the newspaper as white supremacist bigots.
The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) wrote a letter to Mount Royal University to inquire into the reasoning behind this sudden cancellation.
“Can you clarify that Mr. Hecht’s views on social trust and immigration played no role in the decision to cancel the field school?” they asked in a letter, shared with True North.
They add “If Mr. Hecht’s views…played a role in the cancellation of the field school, then Mount Royal has violated Mr. Hecht’s academic freedom and compromised its academic mission and its usefulness to the public.”