As some colleges in America are doing away with “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives that forgo merit for identity politics, Canadian institutions are doubling down on the controversial ideology.

A reckoning south of the border:

A sizable backlash against DEI has recently been taking place on American campuses, as well as in corporations and elsewhere.

In April 2023, North Dakota became the first state to enact an anti-DEI law – banning diversity statements and mandatory DEI training in educational institutions. Other states soon followed, including Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. 

In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the affirmative action practices of American colleges and universities were unconstitutional – severely limiting racial preferences in enrollment.

The attacks of Oct. 7 further strengthened the movement against DEI, amid woke activists coming out in favour of Hamas, while claiming that Jews were oppressors. This led to several prominent figures, including billionaires Elon Musk and Bill Ackman, speaking out against the ideology. Several wealthy donors also announced they would no longer donate to universities like Harvard – who have fully embraced DEI. 

In Jan. 2024, Harvard president Claudine Gay resigned amid criticisms of her handling of antisemitism on campus as well as damning allegations of plagiarism. Gay was seen by many as a DEI hire, amid a lack of credentials, as well as reports that the Harvard search committee was only considering presidential candidates that met DEI criteria. 

A different story up north:

In Canada, not a single province has passed anti-DEI legislation, despite many DEI controversies taking place on campuses – especially following the Oct. 7 attacks.

DEI has also been linked to tragedy in Canada. In July, long-time Toronto principal Richard Bilkszto committed suicide, and his family alleged that his death came amid stress caused by a series of anti-racism training sessions led by DEI consultant Kike Ojo-Thompson of the KOJO Institute .

Despite Bilkszto’s death, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government opted to double down on DEI, pledging to continue DEI training in education settings and announcing more funding for DEI. The federal government has also continued its DEI agenda.

Why is there such a stark contrast?

True North spoke to Quillette Canadian editor Jonathan Kay and philosophy professor and former Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship president Mark Mercer, two individuals well-versed on the topic.

Kay noted that there are a few major differences between Canada and the United States when it comes to DEI programs at universities. 

“Canadian schools rely much less on donations from alumni and big endowment funds, so they have a lot less to lose if they alienate their traditional private supporters with unpopular DEI programs,” he noted.

Kay added that government funding sources like the Canada Research Chairs program are also contributing to the DEI agenda. 

“The biggest factor right now is the Canada Research Chairs program. Everyone I talk to at Canadian universities talks about how obsessed school administrators are about getting money from this program.”

“And under Trudeau’s government, since the late 2010s, this funding stream requires universities to impose all sorts of elaborate DEI measures, or they don’t get their cash. So a lot of this comes from the top down.”

True North previously reported on Canada Research Chairs positions being open to everyone but able-bodied white men.

Canadians may also be surprised to know Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms exempts affirmative action programs from its anti-discrimination provisions.

Mercer believes that another issue is a lack of awareness among the general population about extreme DEI initiatives in Canadian universities. While True North has been extensively reporting on the issue, the legacy media has either stayed quiet or promoted  DEI initiatives.

“When I talk to people outside the university (about what is going on), they are quite concerned. There are some parents who have children in university who are concerned about the lack of intellectual diversity, the movement towards bringing the students online with certain values and certain ideas rather than investigating matters academically.”

But while there is some concern out there, Mercer said, “it doesn’t seem to be well reported” by the legacy media. 

Could things change?

Mercer believes that more people being informed about DEI ideology and its impacts on academia would be the first step in achieving more pushback. 

He also believes Canadians may get weary about DEI if they start noticing the effects of institutions no longer valuing merit.

“If ordinary people are perceiving that the quality of goods and services is declining, and they can draw a connection to the abandonment of meritocracy in the university, that might cause something to happen.

If mediocrity in universities, the lack of the merit principle in universities, comes to affect people’s daily lives, their pocketbooks, their standard of living, then that could be something that would bring people together.”

However, Mercer again noted that “it needs to be reported, it needs to be talked about.”

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