Rick Me­hta ad­dresses Aca­dia’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ha­rass­ment

Psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor ar­gues ideas in class, so­cial me­dia don’t con­sti­tute ha­rass­ment

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Rick Me­hta is draw­ing a line be­tween what may of­fend some peo­ple and what con­sti­tutes ha­rass­ment.

The pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Aca­dia Univer­sity has re­cently gar­nered both sup­port­ers and come un­der fire for dis­cus­sions he’s hosted dur­ing lec­tures and com­ments he’s made on so­cial me­dia on cur­rent po­lit­i­cal is­sues and top­ics.

These com­ments, which in­clude state­ments ar­gu­ing a gen­der pay gap doesn’t ex­ist, that mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is a sham and that de­col­o­niza­tion is a scam, have re­sulted in per­sonal and sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints from stu­dents.

But Me­hta wants to make it clear that none of what he has said comes close to ha­rass­ment, even if it has ruf­fled a few feath­ers.

“I’m treat­ing the public as a court­room and am pre­sent­ing these ideas as neu­trally as pos­si­ble. If it seems these per­spec­tives are alt-right, it’s only be­cause they don’t re­flect main­stream so­ci­ety,” he says.

Of­fend­ing doesn’t con­sti­tute ha­rass­ing: Me­hta

Me­hta leaked a let­ter he re­ceived from Aca­dia’s vi­cepres­i­dent Rick Me­hta says his dis­cus­sions at Aca­dia and in so­cial me­dia do not con­sti­tute ha­rass­ment.

aca­demic, Heather Hem­mings, which states the univer­sity has a “le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment free from dis­crim­i­na­tion, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and per­sonal ha­rass­ment,” and the num­ber of stu­dent com­plaints against Me­hta pro­vided grounds to in­ves­ti­gate these and other top­ics Me­hta has cir­cu­lated in class, over cam­pus emails and on so­cial me­dia.

Me­hta de­nies these al­le­ga­tions, say­ing there is ab­so­lutely no proof ha­rass­ment took place.

He also re­ceived a let­ter and an email from Rob Rae­side, Me­hta’s

des­ig­nated depart­ment head, ask­ing him to stop pub­licly shar­ing record­ings of class lec­tures, which Me­hta had been shar­ing to show how he raised top­ics like fem­i­nism, when he asked stu­dents to pon­der whether telling women there are bar­ri­ers fac­ing them in STEM – sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics-re­lated fields – was re­ally in their best in­ter­ests, and whether a gen­der pay gap truly ex­ists.

Me­hta says the re­quest from Rae­side in­fringes di­rectly on his aca­demic free­doms as a pro­fes­sor.

He also main­tains these com­ments, which in­clude state­ments like, “fem­i­nism in places like North Amer­ica seems hell bent on tak­ing down Western civ­i­liza­tion,” are not an as­sault on true fem­i­nism.

Me­hta feel the univer­sity has zero grounds to in­ves­ti­gate him, stat­ing since his com­ments were di­rected at no one stu­dent or in­di­vid­ual in par­tic­u­lar, they are not ha­rass­ment.

“These have all been ob­jec­tive state­ments. Are they go­ing to up­set some peo­ple? Maybe, but then let’s have a dis­cus­sion about that,” he says.

Res­i­den­tial school com­ments: ‘all that mat­ters is the truth’

Among the most con­tentious state­ments Me­hta has made on cam­pus and so­cial me­dia is his sup­port of fed­eral se­na­tor Lynn Beyak, who ar­gued some Indige­nous peo­ple may have ben­e­fit­ted from the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem.

His sup­port drew loud crit­i­cism from peo­ple like Juno award-win­ning Inuk mu­si­cian Tanya Ta­gaq, who tweeted “Rick, I sup­port free speech. You are un­der-rep­re­sent­ing the hu­man race and I pity your stu­dents.”

He has also drawn sup­port­ers, like Dal­housie phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Tom Vinci, who wrote a let­ter of sup­port to Hem­mings, stat­ing, “pro­fes­sors must be able to dis­cuss in their class­room their own the­o­ret­i­cal ap­proaches with­out fear.”

Me­hta says these con­tro­ver­sial ideas are his way of open­ing stu­dents’ eyes to a view op­pos­ing what he calls dom­i­nant cam­pus nar­ra­tives.

In a Face­book post, Me­hta says the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion al­lows for “the past [to be] used for end­less de­mands for fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion.”

He be­lieves these nar­ra­tives are so sup­ported due to a trick­le­down ef­fect of lib­eral univer­sity cam­puses ac­cept­ing nar­ra­tives con­structed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Peo­ple crit­i­cized Harper, and yet no one is crit­i­ciz­ing Trudeau, and be­cause he sup­ports this, it’s be­come a dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive at uni­ver­si­ties. That is con­cern­ing to me,” he says.

‘Does there need to be a line?’

Me­hta does not be­lieve his com­ments have crossed a line and also does not be­lieve he is a voice of dis­sent based on prin­ci­ple alone.

“I’m not do­ing dis­sent for the sake of, it’s just that there are a num­ber of is­sues where the per­spec­tive is bi­ased and doesn’t serve so­ci­ety’s in­ter­ests,” he says.

“Does there need to be a line? There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing of­fended and be­ing of­fen­sive. I might say some­thing, and peo­ple may feel of­fended, but I’m not go­ing out of my way try­ing to make that hap­pen.”

Me­hta also says his state­ments on so­cial me­dia are ob­jec­tive fact, not opin­ion, since he uses ar­gu­ments made by aca­demics like Scott O. Lilien­feld, who re­futes the ex­is­tence of mi­cro ag­gres­sions, and Erika Chris­takis, the as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Yale who wrote in an email that she felt stu­dents dressed in fake Abo­rig­i­nal cos­tume for Hal­loween were only ‘a lit­tle bit ob­nox­ious.’

Me­hta feels his po­si­tions are morally right, and that should he lose his job be­cause of what he has pub­licly stated, it’ll ul­ti­mately be worth it.

“I’m not giv­ing my opin­ion – these are just an­other side, an­other per­spec­tive on an is­sue. Peo­ple are more than wel­come to re­fute me with real ev­i­dence, but that has not hap­pened yet,” he says.

“The univer­sity has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion but has not re­futed my claims. It’s en­tirely with­out ba­sis and is not ac­cept­able,” he says.

Scott Peter­son, a spokesper­son for Aca­dia Univer­sity, said the univer­sity will not be is­su­ing com­ment at this time.


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