Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto (U of T) and graduate of McGill, has raised alarm among students and faculty following his proposal of a website that helps students identify and avoid courses that offer “radical left social justice-oriented” material. Peterson’s actions were met with strong opposition from the Women’s and Gender Studies Institute and the University of Toronto Faculty Association, as well as from the editorial board of The Varsity, a student-run newspaper at U of T. Peterson first garnered public attention in 2016 when he posted a YouTube video expressing his opposition to Bill C-16, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This incident marked the beginning of his crusade against faculties and courses that offer critical, diverse, and social justice-oriented perspectives. His oppressive agenda targets women’s studies, gender studies, and racial and ethnic studies in particular. His presence as a faculty member at U of T gives his violent and oppressive views a dangerous amount of clout, and U of T should seriously reconsider the place of such a person at their university.
Peterson’s proposal endangers the safety and well-being of students, inciting hate speech and violence beyond the university campus. Peterson has explicitly refused to recognize gender-neutral pronouns. In a recorded interview published earlier this year, he also claimed that he cannot “control crazy women” because he is forbidden to physically fight them. At a U of T panel on free speech, Peterson stated that individuals expressing arguments from a “postmodern neo-Marxist” perspective should be “punched in the nose hard enough to knock [them] out.” When a protest against the encouragement of hate speech led to the cancellation of an event at Ryerson University where he was scheduled to speak, Peterson doxxed two students who organized the rally by tweeting links to their Facebook profiles, thereby deliberately subjecting them to a tirade of hateful messages and verbal attacks from his supporters. Peterson has identified himself as an outspoken supporter of “free speech” in universities, while hypocritically advocating for the suppression of diverse voices on campus by using tactics of intimidation and violence.
Furthermore, Peterson is profiting from this hate speech. In addition to his U of T tenure pay, he receives thousands of dollars a month from Indiegogo and crowdfunding platforms to continue his hateful campaign. He has since amassed international online support from conservative groups and the alt-right, contributing to the spread of violent and oppressive sentiments and to the online harassment of doxxed activists. His behaviour cannot be pardoned on the basis of freedom of speech. Using one’s public platform as a professor and clinician to not only target, but also encourage violence against students is a malicious abuse of power. Peterson’s campaign is not founded on academic freedom, but on dangerous tenets of hate, discrimination, and violence.
As long as U of T continues to endorse Peterson, and fails to hold him accountable for this behaviour, they are complicit in his hate-mongering. Written warnings are not enough to counter the threat Peterson represents to the health and diversity of academic discourse, along with the safety and well-being of individuals on and off campus. We support The Varsity’s call on the U of T administration to seriously reconsider Peterson’s employment. We also call on the administration to uphold their values of equity, justice, and “the right to radical, critical teaching and research” by taking substantial action against Peterson and by openly denouncing his harmful behaviour.