18 December 2023

In the past weeks we have all been confronted with the state of academia. In the US Congress, the presidents of MIT, Harvard, and Penn State were all hard-pressed to give a concrete response as to whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated the schools’ codes of conduct. The free speech absolutist and academic in me would usually want to be encouraged discussions of context over knee-jerk reactions. However, that’s a little tough to swallow when it’s a simple question concerning a call to genocide. The answer should obviously be YES, that’s across the line. It’s also difficult to celebrate nuance when its coming from a place that has a reputation for dismantling free speech. These universities who refused platforms for legitimate social, political, and academic debate now find that the beast they created has turned around to bite them. Personally, I say ‘good stuff’ if it means we get back to protecting open discourse.

Canadian academia is facing these same challenges, challenges that are deeply affecting me and are in fact driving me to leave the country I love and have served. In point of fact, one might argue they are even worse here in “progressive” Canada. I put progressive in quotes here because I question how progressive Canada really is when we have at both the Provincial and Federal levels amended human rights laws to protect institutions that discriminate in the name of advancing diversity quotas. You may not be aware but Canadian Universities commonly practice exclusive identity-based hiring which, although discriminatory, is protected under the law. For example, Jamie Sarkonak at the National Post recently brought forward these examples from Western, McGill, Queens (here, here and here), or the University of Toronto (here, here, here, here, and here). You may have recently learned of the University of Victoria’s “Blacks only” posting.

Believe it or not, this isn’t just a problem for myself and other academics, but one that directly affects you and I’m going to explain why. To start, I am an ‘academic’ a filthy word these days, not unjustifiably. I have an MA in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada and a PhD in Defence Studies from King’s College London, which is hands down the best security studies school in the world. What does that mean? Basically, I am a historian. Broadly speaking, I study societal collapse, revolt, revolution, and civil war. Specifically, political culture and policy responses within the context of these conflicts. My research focuses on the history of policy development (Inter/Intra agency relationships, organisational behaviour, institutional culture, and social responses). You might find yourself now starting to say, “ah ha.” I study how states deal with the messy unclear forms of conflict we often encounter wherein we find ourselves confronted with partners and/or enemies that we might, for simplicity’s sake, call ‘non-state actors’ or ‘proxies.’ So, although I am a historian, the history I study has larger military and national security implications, hence my studies being supported by the departments they were.

This is not to say, ‘look at me I am a big deal’, I am not that special. The point I am making is that I have a world-class education in national security and military matters. I bring this up because it’s important to what follows. Since resurfacing after a decade of academic grind I encounter an entirely different world, one where I, and others like me can’t find work. Academia has undergone a profound and radical change in the last 10 years, and it has a direct impact on you in terms of government policies and in particular your security. If you have wondered why the Canadian Government seems totally lost on Foreign Policy and Defence, it is because there is absolutely no focus on it within Canadian academia and therefore no one to inform the Canadian Government or at least call them out.

I have spoken to the Chair of every English-speaking history department in Canada. The story that has come back is uniform across the board. At best the response is, “We don’t have anything in the budget to hire for years.” Many are shrinking the department due to the claim of decreasing enrollment. As for the worst, I have had a few, that have admitted there are discussions of discontinuing the department entirely. As for the declining enrollment, this comes right back to the beginning of the article and the mindset that has taken over universities. Entire departments have shifted to exclusively focusing on divisive grievance-based history. “Decolonization”, “intersectionality”, and “critical theory” are the new watchwords.

The consensus I have gathered from colleagues across the field is that without any interest from the Government to buoy this kind of study, Canadian academia has become openly hostile towards it. There are relatively few jobs posted in history, and without exception, they are focused on elevating a grievance-based social history directly tied to the activist agenda I have referenced above. I have encountered many Canadian academics who openly disdain European history (particularly British) and anything to do with security, intelligence history, military history, or international relations. Indeed, you are labeled toxic (sometimes a warmonger), part of the problem, and either Eurocentric or even white supremacist. As a result, I know several Canadian academics who have ended up leaving for the UK.

Here is where I find myself. I have come to realise that I have no future here in the country I love, and I am now actively (and with very deep regret) looking to leave. I am not welcomed for wanting to be just a plain old academic as opposed to an activist. It feels very much like I am actively being driven out by those who dominate the field and seek top purge (a word I use most deliberately) the last remnant of anyone who might pose any threat to their agenda of creating a mono-culture and singular way of thought among the university body.

Here’s where you come in, if I’m leaving, so are others. Even if I could land a job, it would be a contract adjunct with no benefits or job security. Even if I had job security, forget ever having the money to buy a house, I am part of ‘Generation Fucked’, facing an economy that has been turned into one giant housing-based Ponzi scheme. As a result, this country is going to find itself hemorrhaging the young, particularly the best and brightest. What do you think healthcare will look like with an aging population as more and more doctors and nurses look outside Canada for greener pastures? And not just medicine, I know plenty of unemployed engineers, because despite talk about investing in STEM education by our leaders, there is no follow-through on investing in innovation to create these STEM jobs.

In my case, if you lose enough people like me, it could get downright dangerous. The average age of a Canadian foreign service officer below management or executive rank is 47. The police, RCMP, the Military, and CSIS, etc are all facing long brewing recruitment crisis. All of this is a result of our lack of interest or investment in this type of education. Worse still the diversity agenda that mandates quotas is compounding the problem. Canada is in a bad situation, which getting worse, and when it needs to be building capacity, it’s telling folks like me that I am not wanted because I am white or male. Ultimately, capacity building is beside the point, and I would argue that putting identity quotas on anything is fundamentally at variance with Canadian values.

I was recently speaking to a former chief of a service branch of the CAF who expressed deep concern over the situation I am describing and was heartbroken to learn I found myself forced to look towards leaving Canada. He commented that “Like it or not, Canadians will soon wake up to the fact that the world is not as they wish it to be, and will find themselves unprepared on several fronts.” Indeed! I think that as a nation Canada is beginning to waken to the reality that the international order is crumbling and we are under threat. The West is paralyzed by leaders who favour symbolism over substance and, as a result of our complacency, the world is becoming a more dangerous place. If we don’t get ourselves sorted when the shit finally does hit the fan (and it will), be it abroad or here at home, there won’t be anyone here to look to for help sorting it out.

How did we get here and how do I explain this all? Is it this divisive activism in the University, yes but no, that is a symptom, the disease is something greater. The ancient Greeks said, “a society flourishes when old men plant trees for shade they’ll never know.” This ancient social contract was broken by those born and came of age in the mid-twentieth century. They instead cut down the trees to sell to their kids for firewood and build houses they could rent to exploit their children into subsidizing a life beyond their means. Blame millennials (in their 30s) all you want but we are not the ones who created or advanced these ideas, nor are we the ones running the universities that are failing us and, as a result, society at large. We are its first victims, and this might help explain the shift among youth towards the Tories. 

There is another old adage that applies, you reap what you sow. As Canada moves forward with an aging population, stagnating economy and wages, along with increasing cost of living, all while facing an increasingly unstable geopolitical environment it will soon be confronted with the full force of what it has done to itself. In the meantime, I have to find a job in another country or end up homeless and starving. After dedicating my entire life to gaining a world-class education solely to improve this country’s national defence, I’m being driven from the country I love. I’d say damn you for doing this to me, but you have already damned yourself for putting us in this position. I may be chased away by academia’s new activist agenda, but it’s you who will be its ultimate victim.

Feature Photo: “Packing Up Desk”, Flickr, Ciphr, 2023

DefenceReport’s Recap is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here is the author’s own and is not necessarily reflective of any institutions or organisations which the author may be associated with. In addition, they are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.

By Chris Murray

Chris is the Assistant Editor at DefenceReport and Senior Analyst. He holds a PhD is Defence Studies from King’s College London, an MA in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as both an Ba in Anthropology and an HBa in History from Lakehead University. He specialises in irregular conflicts, guerrilla insurgencies, and asymmetrical warfare. His areas of focus include the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, but are primarily aimed at the Balkans. Chris is an Associate Member of the of The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King's College London, a Member of the Second World War Research Group at King’s College London, as well as an Associate of King’s College London. Chris has formally served as a defence and foreign policy advisor in the Canadian House of Commons to the office of a Member of Parliament. [email protected]