U.S. academics dominate Canadian ivory towers

By Ulli Diemer

An awareness of American domination of Canada has grown in recent years. It is a commonplace that economically, politically, culturally, Canada is under the suffocating hegemony of the United States.

There is much less agreement as to what, if anything, can be done to reverse this state of affairs, or indeed, whether anything should be done.

But certainly, among those who think that this problem is in fact a problem there is a consensus that something must be done soon, before the takeover is complete.

Especially disturbing to a great many people is the foreign domination of Canadian universities – the cultural and ideological centres of society, the focal point for creativity, experimentation discussion.

The university may have been overrated as simply a cultural significant force. Equally importantly, it has a powerful economic impact, an impact that affects the entire society, while the cultural and ideological contributions it makes filter down much more gradually.

Since Canada’s economy is controlled by American interests, our universities have become geared to the production of trained technicians and professionals for a branch plant economy, in which capitalist and imperialist priorities dominate.

There is less need for scientists and engineers on a per capita basis in this country than in the U.S., because employment opportunities are fewer in the branch plant than in the metropolis. It is probably significant that the greatest fee increases resulting from the recent university cutbacks in Ontario hit the professional faculties. Canada, with less developed industrial structure, and more emphasis on raw materials, simply does not need technicians to the same extent as the developed United States.

In the academic year 1970-71, Canadian students made up just 47 per cent of ME degree students in engineering and 37 per cent of the PhD enrolment.

Too often, the question is simply posed as one detrimental to the Canadian people. But this is misleading. Some Canadian people – specifically the Canadian bourgeoisie – benefit materially and significantly from American domination of the Canadian economy. Even a junior partnership in a going imperial concern is nothing to be sneered at. So Canadian state and the Canadian capitalist class has, for the most part, complied with this domination, accepted its terms and reaped somewhat limited but still major benefits.

Domination of Canadian universities is just one – very important – facet of this mutually agreeable deal.

The Canadian bourgeoisie has not cooperated with the American one because it is totally weak, decrepit, or defunct, (Though weakness has played a role.) It has displayed consideration adeptness at imperialist exploitation itself. But its main interests are bound up with those of the United States.

Canadian capitalists both invest in Latin America and the U.S. and welcome American branch plants to Canada. They are both exploit other countries and aid other countries in exploiting Canada.

Since Canadian capitalism has benefited from its close interaction with American capitalism, Canadian liberals have not hesitated in embracing the American model of capitalist development, American concepts of freedom and “social justice”, American pragmatism and empiricism, etc.

The Canadian liberal academic establishment has been practically void of any original contributions to political, scientific, or intellectual thought generally and has failed to undertake any critical analysis of Canadian capitalism or arrive at any understanding of Canada’s colonial relationship to the United Sates. The notoriety accorded to the few exceptions only prove the rule.

This is hardly surprising, of course. The ideas of American liberal capitalism have been accepted in one form or another in most of the capitalist world. They are accepted in Canadian universities not simply because Americans teach there, or because the U.S. dominates Canada, but because they are capitalist ideas, and Canada is a capitalist country.

Opposition to this dominion has come from two (somewhat overlapping) sources: sentimental liberal nationalists, and leftists of various persuasions.

Liberals such as those in the Committee for an Independent Canada seem to have concluded that their American partners in exploitation are taking more than their share of the pie and that they are quite capable of exploiting the Canadian people on their own, thank you.

Thus, there is the ideology that there is something uniquely special and good about “Canadian culture” and the “Canadian way of thinking” that has been buried by the big bad U.S. and that only has to be uncovered in order for Canadians to again enjoy their own pure special way of living.

While there is certainly some Canadian culture worth preserving the important fact is that Canada has always been dominated by some form of imperialism either British or American. There is no point in looking to the past for values to preserve: the Canadian past has been ugly, in many ways (though different and it is important for Canadians to understand their own history if they are to move beyond it) as the American. N there a Canadian ideology that has been superseded by American ideology general outlines are only too similar the details differ.

If Canada is to have a different culture and different values, ideals and outlook than the U.S., then these have largely be created. An independent capitalism Canada like that advocated by the C.I.C. is an impossibility, for there is no basic differentiation strong enough to overcome the homogenizing influences.

In the universities, their approach cannot lead to the development of a different culture and ideology, only to the hiring Canadians to teach the same set of ideas At best, the examples, the details, must be Canadian. But the ideas, the general system, would remain those of American liberal capitalism. The struggle hardly seems worth the bother except for the Canadian graduate students currently having difficulty competing for jobs at Canadian universities with their American counterparts, whose ideas they predominantly share.

The nosiest ‘left-wing’ response, meanwhile, has come from the Canadian Liberation Movement. Although calling themselves socialists, they advocate simply 85 per cent Canadian quota campaign, reducing the whole question to nationalities and percentages.

This, too, was the level of debate in the University of Toronto Waffle group in 1971. A team of students was actually sent out to do a quick survey of some 100 students to find out what they thought would be the correct figure for a quota. The CLM, meanwhile, stuck to its 85 per cent figure. This leaves only 15 per cent for foreign professors. Presumably an 85 per cent quota makes the liberation of Canadian universities possible, while an 80 per cent quota would not allow it to happen.

This approach totally ignores other considerations. It should be obvious, for example, that a Canadian citizenship does not guarantee that its holder knows anything about Canada, has a ‘Canadian perspective’, let alone that he is opposed to American domination of Canada or Canadian universities. American radicals coming to teach in Canada are often obviously more desirable to have.

Indeed, Canadians have always been importantly instrumental in furthering American domination of the universities. It is they who introduced the latest ideological mystifications developed at U.S. universities, and brought in Americans to teach them. More recently, Canadian students have been going to the U.S. in large numbers to get degrees. They come back to teach after receiving their degrees, joining the large numbers of American professors who have come up to enjoy the tax breaks and peddle the same ideas. Canadian students then learn the approaches of the empire from Canadian professors in Canadian universities. No quota campaign can touch this kind of ‘continentalization’.

Nevertheless, the desire to end U.S. domination of Canadian universities touches an important problem. Clearly the state of affairs in the universities is not a desirable one and needs to be changed.

What is needed is – especially in the social sciences – are academics who are critical of the status quo, and who can contribute to an understanding of social realities, rather than the mystification of those realities.

For social change to take place in Canada, it is necessary that study be done on Canadian problems, that intellectuals and students begin to develop detailed knowledge about Canada, and the ideas and approaches necessary to eliminate the status quo.

It means, again especially in the social sciences, that the process of continentalization (the de-emphasis of Canadian content and material) must be combatted, that there be a conscious effort to reverse the trend.

This must necessarily mean a deliberate bias, a policy of consciously discriminating in favour of Canadian content, courses, and programs in order that resources be devoted to Canadian studies. A setting of priorities in budget, in hiring, in creating courses, in research grants, would be called for.

At the same time, this should not mean ignoring ‘non-Canadian’ content. For social change to occur in Canada, Canadians must understand world conditions, and must also have the technical expertise to man the professions, free of foreign interference and ‘professional’ biases.

Naturally, the economic, political and academic elite that control Canada’s universities have no intention of agreeing to anything of the sort.

But in an era when liberal co-option has chosen to give students greater roles in decision-making in many universities, students, and their allies on the faculties, can help to force the academic establishment to move in such a direction. Rather than accepting the aimless co-optation that is so often their fate on departmental committees, they can push for certain specific objectives.

They can work, on curriculum committees, for courses that provide a critical, radical analysis of society, especially Canadian society, and that deal with Canada, the country they must know and understand if they are to change it.

In staffing decisions, they can establish a set of priorities. The first priority should go to radical professors who have done work on Canadian society. the next priority should go to other radicals. Next in hiring preference could be Canadians who are not radical. (Any information about Canada, even if covered in reactionary ideology, is better than none at all for those who want to transform it. And there is no need to pay unemployment benefits to Canadian PhD’s while American graduates pick up the education tax dollar).

Of course students do not have the power to implement this as a consistent policy. But by making it their own priority they can intervene at least occasionally to alter the balance of forces in the universities – not in terms of nationality, except incidentally – but toward universities that can help in the process of bringing about a revolutionary transformation of Canadian society.

Published in the Varsity, 28 March 1973

Related Topics: UniversitiesUniversity ProfessorsCanadian ContentCanadian IdentityCanadianization