Its about scholarship, stupid

If women’s studies programs exist to advance an agenda at the expense of scholarship, then reform is needed


The heat generated over the National Post‘s editorial last Tuesday excoriating women’s studies programs obscures the most important question: is the research and teaching in women’s studies departments held to the same academic standards as more traditional programs? The Post‘s editorialists blame women studies for the adoption of hiring quotas, family law that punishes men, and a general climate where males are viewed as de-facto date-rapists. The newspaper didn’t even consider questions of scholarship, teaching standards, and academic freedom. Unfortunately neither do the Post‘s detractors.

Instead, some of the Post‘s critics adopt one of the newspaper’s central underlying arguments: that women studies programs exist for political reasons, not academic ones. For example, a letter to the editor penned by Pennie Stewart of the CAUT and Katherine Giroux-Bougard of the CFS, argue that women’s studies are still necessary because “women still hit a glass ceiling.” (As an aside, my colleague and friend Erin Millar, endorses this letter.)

Stewart and Giroux-Bougard’s letter does nothing but concede the point that the legitimacy of women’s studies departments is to be measured against factors extraneous to the logic of the university. A better defense would be to demonstrate that such programs contribute to human understanding as rigourously and responsibly as we should expect from a university department. Even if women studies programs were implemented for political purposes, that does not mean that they still do. However, if this cannot be shown, and women’s studies programs really do exist to advance an agenda, and the quality of scholarship and teaching suffers as a result, then serious reform is needed.

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Its about scholarship, stupid

  1. Students are voting with their feet. If intro women’s studies courses were more valuable to undergrads, then more students would choose women’s studies as a major.

    Perhaps potential recruits recognise that women’s studies is such a politically-charged discipline that the rest of us don’t respect it as an objective academic subject. Undergrads can learn better skills in poli-sci, history or sociology in order to be prepared for grad school.

    For example, if I were a professor looking at grad school apps, I would want someone who had learned to think objectively by writing poli sci papers, instead of someone who had spent 4 years consumed by a single particular political ideology.

    And I’d just like to point out, if women hit a glass ceiling in their jobs, it’s often because they still bear more responsibility in individual households for child care. Practically every corporation and public service in Canada has adopted an official or de facto affirmative action program for women, so it’s clear that the decisions that lead to fewer women at the top are made at the individual family level – often by women themselves. I have never seen any evidence in school or the workplace of systemic discrimination no matter how hard I look. It’s in the past. Get over it.

    That said, all history is important and women’s studies clearly do help keep the unique history of women alive. This is one argument made for keeping women’s studies programs funded that I can agree with.

    However, if women’s studies programs are truly adapting to teach more women’s history and less blunt and unwarranted activism, then perhaps they should be rolled into history departments.

    History at least has a reputation for teaching objective tools for investigating the past – while allowing for different viewpoints – instead of teaching ideology that is premised on the idea that men are scum. We aren’t! We deserve better.

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