Friday, March 19, 2010

Don't Be So Bloody Sensitive

Liberals back FNUC out of "cultural sensitivity"

In an era in which being insufficiently sensitive to any number of things can result in a complaint to a human rights commission, a great many people are feeling pressure to twist themselves in the name of cultural sensitivity.

For the Liberal Party of Canada, the demands of cultural sensitivity also seem to include supporting the embattled First Nations University of Canada, which recently had its funding cut by the federal government and government of Saskatchewan.

At issue are numerous issues -- ranging from questions of academic freedom related to the search of computers (an arbitration board eventually found insufficient evidence for violation of academic freedom), governance issues related to the Board of Directors, and questions regarding financial mismanagement.

The FNUC board of governors recently offered a plan to solve some of the problems at the university, a plan of which Minister of Indian Affairs Chuck Strahl seems skeptical.

There are many good reasons to support an institution like FNUC.

Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale insists that FNUC should be supported because many of its students allegedly wouldn't continue their education due to an alleged lack of cultural sensitivity.

That isn't a terribly compelling reason to support FNUC.

To begin with, many of Canada's universities have Native Studies departments where students at institutions like the FNUC could study in an environment every bit as culturally sensitive as FNUC.

But one can't help but wonder what kind of "cultural sensitivity" it is that Goodale believes the FNUC supplies. Many aboriginal leaders have expressed disagreement and even outrage at the views of Tom Flanagan, who is an outspoken critic of the current model of first nations governance.

The answer to such criticisms is not to insulate students from them. Rather, the proper way to answer such criticisms is to debate them -- an approach taken by the University of Manitoba when students and faculty objected to a speech by Flanagan at the institution.

On the other hand, to insulate aboriginal students from criticisms of their governance model does them a great disservice -- it doesn't lead them to confront any of the numerous shortcomings of that model (including an absolultely massive democratic deficit) so that they may one day fix them.

So, the lesson for Ralph Goodale and the Liberal Party should be: don't be so bloody sensitive.

Sensitivity has its time and place -- a university campus is rarely one of them.

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