Open thread: Michael Marrus and Massey College


in Canada, History, Language, Law, Massey College, Politics, Toronto

For at least a year now people have been quite appropriately doing important work in questioning legacies of racism and institutionalized forms of racism at Massey College, including in the traditional use of the title “Master” to refer to the head of the College.

A hurtful, callous, and offensive remark made in the dining hall has added urgency to the discussion. It was described in the resignation letter of the scholar who made it as “a poor effort at jocular humour” and a “bad joke”. In part, Dr. Michael Marrus’ letter from 1 October 2017 says:

First, I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humour at lunch last Tuesday. What I said was both foolish and, I understood immediately, hurtful, and I want, first and foremost, to convey my deepest regrets all whom I may have harmed. What I said was a bad joke in reference to your title of “Master,” at the time. I should never have made such a remark, and I want to assure those who heard me, and those who have learned about it, that while I had no ill- intent whatsoever I can appreciate how those at the table and those who have learned about it could take offense at what I said.

I’m not going to link the rather foolish editorials published by The Globe & Mail and the National Post (two papers that seem to share lazy assumptions and ineptitude much like Canada’s Liberal and Conservative parties). Some more meaningful commentary has already been in the public press:

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College
An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story
By Audrey Rochette

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness
A former Don of Hall reflects on moving forward from conflict at Massey College
By Juliet Guichon

Black faculty members pen letter condemning Marrus, coverage of incident
Open letter criticizes media outlets for framing incident as “political correctness run amok”
By Aidan Currie

In my six years at Massey College, I have had regular routine and polite interactions with Dr. Marrus. My only exposure to his academic work has been two lectures he gave on the theatrical quality of trials.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 10, 2017 at 2:14 am

Faculty, students pen open letter condemning allegedly racist incident at Massey College
Letter calls for punitive measures, college-wide reform
By Jack O. Denton

. October 13, 2017 at 2:08 pm
. October 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm

When it began in the 1960s, it was a snooty, men-only institution with an anglophile head, novelist Robertson Davies, who revelled in Brit pretensions. It took 10 years and a big fight just to get women in as members. The filthy rich, aristocratic Massey family endowed it, along with Hart House at U of T, also restricted to men for its first, oh, half-century.

Part of the shtick at Massey was the archaic lingo. It was the only part of U of T with a “master.” Davies loved that stuff. My own guess is that Marrus, who I’ve known since high school, wasn’t just making an offensive, tin-eared joke. He also meant to take the piss out of the pretension. His jibe was probably directed mostly at the current master, Hugh Segal, a lifelong Tory, not at the Black student who was present. But everything went shriekingly off the rails.

Apologies have now been rendered, Marrus has resigned, “master” will no longer be used — and this is how things get resolved at that weird place: with maximum public embarrassment. It’s a great piece of architecture, by the way, and you should drop by to see it, but be prepared for stuff like the gowns they still wear to dinner, where they still have a “high table” for the nobs and boffins.

. October 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm

When you are agreeable, your race is rarely an issue. It’s only when you offer pushback or articulate policies that are deemed “too radical,” that you face harassment. Caricatures are created and quickly posted on online message boards like reddit. White men are praised for strong leadership. But people of colour, myself included, are described as “bullies,” “aggressive” and “angry.” In my case, more than one anonymous commentator on reddit thought it appropriate to call me a “dictator” and “tyrant.” Society already views people of colour, specifically Black and Brown people, as more violent, so it should come as no surprise that we are being described this way when we disagree. This sends a chilling message to representatives of colour—agree or be subjected harassment.

. November 13, 2017 at 6:36 pm
. December 16, 2017 at 1:33 pm

York University scraps ‘College Master’ academic title to cut association to discrimination and racism

Harvard University made the same switch last year, preferring to change the title to ‘faculty deans,’ for much the same reasons

. December 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm

“It is an ever more frequent discussion on modern campuses, about whether the Latin roots and common academic usage of the word “master” have been eclipsed by newer connotations of racism and slavery, and what to do about it in a climate of growing vigilance to language.”

. December 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm
. February 8, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Press Release from Massey College

The Governing Board of Massey College Approves “Principal” as New Title for the Head of College

Massey College nixes ‘Master’ title four months after racist incident

A professor at the college resigned in October after making a remark to a Black student that carried connotations of slavery.

. June 19, 2020 at 7:41 pm

Margaret Wente’s Massey College appointment yields three resignations, petition demanding rescission
By Hannah Carty

Massey College is facing considerable backlash after it announced Margaret Wente as a 2020–2021 senior fellow and member of the Quadrangle Society this week. Three faculty members have also resigned from their senior fellowships at the college in response to the decision.

. June 19, 2020 at 7:42 pm
. June 19, 2020 at 7:53 pm

Massey College reviewing Margaret Wente appointment amid campus uproar

News of Wente’s appointment sparked petition signed by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors

. June 19, 2020 at 8:26 pm
. June 22, 2020 at 9:51 pm

Margaret Wente resigns from Massey College fellowship

Former news columnist Margaret Wente has resigned from a senior fellowship position at Massey College after the school said it would review her appointment.

The review was launched after Alissa Trotz, an associate professor of women and gender studies and Caribbean studies, resigned on June 18 as a member of Massey College’s Governance and Nominating Committee.

Trotz said she was “dismayed” to discover that Wente, formerly of the Globe and Mail, had been appointed a 2020-21 senior member of Massey College.

“Margaret Wente is someone who has demonstrated consistent and outright hostility to questions of equity, women and gender studies and anti-racism, and moreover someone who has demonstrated such a glaring lack of professional integrity,” Trotz’s resignation letter reads.

In a statement released by Massey College in response to Trotz’s resignation, Principal Nathalie Des Rosiers said the school would review Wente’s “writings and conduct to assess whether they are consistent with the college’s values.”

On Monday, in another statement, the college said they received a resignation letter from Wente. She was one of nearly four dozen people named a senior fellow and member of the school’s Quadrangle Society.

In her resignation letter, which Wente emailed to the Star, she called the accusations “false and outrageous.”

“I do not wish to be a member of the Quadrangle Society. The accusations against me are false and outrageous. My record speaks for itself,” the email read.

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