Fourth U of T prof resigns Massey College post
Academic reportedly left following columnist Wente’s appointment controversy
A famed historian and academic has resigned from her position at Massey College, the fourth professor to quit following a controversy surrounding the brief appointment of columnist Margaret Wente as a member of the college, the Star has learned.
Margaret MacMillan, who was a senior fellow at Massey, confirmed her resignation in a brief email to the Star on Monday.
MacMillan did not offer a reason for her decision, other than noting that she hopes “the college will be able to sort out its issues in private.”
Massey College principal Nathalie Des Rosiers told the Star that MacMillan resigned because she was upset with the college’s decision to “review” Wente’s appointment to the college’s elite Quadrangle Society following public backlash.
Des Rosiers said MacMillan did not believe the college needed to reconsider Wente’s appointment.
The governing board’s decision to appoint Wente, who spent decades writing for the Globe and Mail before taking a buyout in 2019, was met with fervent opposition from members of the college and the broader public who accused Wente of plagiarizing material in some of her columns and promoting pseudoscience claiming genetic racial differences.
Alissa Trotz, a former member of the college’s governing board and a professor of women and gender studies and Caribbean studies, wrote in her resignation letter that she was “dismayed” by Wente’s appointment.
“Margaret Wente is someone who has demonstrated consistent and outright hostility to questions of equity, women and gender studies and anti-racism, and moreover someone who has demonstrated such a glaring lack of professional integrity,” Trotz wrote.
Wente resigned from the Quadrangle Society shortly after the college announced it would “review” her appointment.
In her resignation letter, which Wente shared with the Star last month, she called the accusations “false and outrageous.”
“I do not wish to be a member of the Quadrangle Society. The accusations against me are false and outrageous. My record speaks for itself,” the email read.
In 2014, Wente penned a column with the headline, “What if race is more than a social construct?” where she wrote positively about a book that claims that societal outcomes are influenced by genetic racial differences, a claim that goes against the scientific consensus.
“The fact that there are some genetic differences between human population groups is acknowledged by a wide range of mainstream scientists including David Reich and Steven Pinker,” Wente wrote in an email to the Star on Tuesday.
In 2012, the Globe and Mail reported that Wente was disciplined after she was found to have copied one sentence in a 2009 column from another column in the Ottawa Citizen.
The Globe and Mail also apologized in 2016 after Wente was found to have copied sentences in two more of her columns.
In her email to the Star, Wente wrote that she was accused of plagiarism on social media several years ago.
“I had indeed made a serious error, and apologized,” she wrote. “Although those allegations were repeated, independent experts found me guilty of nothing more than carelessness.”
Wente’s brief appointment to Massey College also prompted resignations from senior fellows Rick Halpern, a historian, and George Dei, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
While Trotz, Halpern and Dei resigned due to their concerns with Wente’s columns, Des Rosiers told the Star that MacMillan resigned due to her concerns with the college’s decision to reconsider Wente’s appointment.
Des Rosiers said she spoke with MacMillan shortly following her resignation.
“I think after explaining the context to (MacMillan) with respect to plagiarism, it made a bit more sense to her,” said Des Rosiers. “But she decided not to withdraw her resignation.”
A recipient of the Order of Canada and a leading expert on history and international relations, MacMillan holds degrees from the University of Toronto and University of Oxford, and is widely known for her critically acclaimed book, “Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World.”