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.