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Quebec blocks the appointment of a professor studying systemic racism to the INRS board of directors

Photo: Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press The decision of Minister Pascale Déry is causing turmoil in the University of Quebec network.

The Minister of Higher Education, Pascale Déry, has caused turmoil among professors and in the highest echelons of the University of Quebec by blocking the appointment of a professor who is interested in his work to multiculturalism, Islamophobia, systemic racism and, more recently, the anti-woke movement.

On December 20, Professor Denise Helly, of the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS), received a message from the secretary general of her institution, who informed her with “regret” that her candidacy for the board of directors ( CA) of INRS had not been “retained” by the Ministry of Higher Education.

The reason ? In the email that Le Devoir was able to consult, the Secretary General Michel Fortin wrote to Ms. Helly that the decision was of “ministerial discretion” and that in this type of situation, “the Ministry of Higher Education does not provide any additional explanation”.

INRS is part of the University of Quebec network. In an interview, its president Alexandre Cloutier said he was worried about this intervention by the minister, which is not “usual”. “This raises two issues. One which is linked to the autonomy of universities and the other, that of academic freedom, also deserves analytical attention,” he says. These two principles are enshrined in the Act on academic freedom in academia, adopted by the Legault government in June 2022.

Mr. Cloutier said he requested — and obtained — a meeting with Minister Déry. “The meeting is scheduled for the end of next January, and it is certain that we will assert the validity of our internal processes for the appointment of members of our CA,” he warned. Asked for this article, the minister's office refused to comment on the matter.

In an email to: Devoir, INRS said it had informed the ministry of the fact that “not appointing a professor designated by its assembly was unusual and contravened, [in its opinion], university autonomy.” Under the Law on Academic Freedom, “universities must be able to accomplish their mission without doctrinal, ideological or moral constraints”, also underlined in a joint press release Jean-Charles Grégoire, president of the INRS professors' union, and Madeleine Pastinelli, president of the Quebec Federation of University Professors.

Blocked why ?

The two unions are demanding explanations from Minister Déry regarding the rejection of Ms. Helly’s candidacy. “In our eyes, if it is justified, this refusal can only be based on very serious reasons, and these reasons must be communicated clearly and without delay to all the authorities involved,” they write.

In an interview, Ms. Helly said she expected the same thing. “If [the minister] does not give explanations by exercising her discretionary power, it becomes arbitrary,” she believes. Lacking justification, it formulates hypotheses to justify the ministerial refusal.

In the professor's opinion, the decision could constitute “age discrimination, because I am 81 years old.” Or else, it could be considered “interference”, an “attack on university autonomy and an attempt to politicize the debates”. Saying she is still very active in university life, Ms. Helly tends to favor her second and third hypotheses, that she was dismissed because of her research orientations.

“I have been working for 40 years on Canadian multiculturalism, systemic racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, Muslims. And then recently – and the minister does not know this yet because I have not yet published – on the anti-woke currents, the latest political and public offensive against the rights of minorities,” she lists. “So these are somewhat annoying subjects for the people of the CAQ. » She says she does not understand “the point” of prohibiting her from being present on the INRS board of directors, a role which constitutes “a detail” in university life in her opinion. “So why take such a risk ? I think it’s a political error on the minister’s part,” she says.

Professor Helly explains that she was elected by the faculty of her institution, in accordance with the internal procedure. His application was then submitted by INRS to the Ministry of Higher Education. According to the rules, the ministry must select an application before proposing it to the Council of Ministers, which makes the final decision. In the case of Ms. Helly, the application was not accepted, which means that it was not submitted to the executive council. In an exchange with Le Devoir, INRS ensures that it has respected “each of the stages of the nomination process”.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116