Editorial Board 1999-2000
The tables have turned at the University of Ottawa, as students have recently delegated a failing grade to their professor for a question which appeared on an exam.
The question asked students in a microbiology class in bio-terrorism to design a bacterium which could eliminate Québec separatists, but not federalists.
After receiving complaints on the appropriateness of the question, the professor sent a written apology to everyone in the class and the university sent a formal apology to the community, calling the question deplorable.
The university has placed the matter under review and the professor cannot teach until the situation is resolved.
This incident comes on the heels of another question of "appropriateness." CTV anchorwoman Avery Haines was promptly fired when a technician broadcasted a tape not meant for air, which featured her joking about the disabled, among other things.
Superficially, it is possible to make the argument that the Ottawa professor should face the same fate as Haines.
There's no doubt that all campaigners for political correctness would have him targeted and be ready to fire, armed with the argument that each student at U of O, separatist or not, fundamentally deserves to feel welcome in an unbiased environment at their school. Therefore, who is this man to target a specific group or suggest personal opinions in this kind of forum?
Our post-modern ears have been tuned to a hypersensitive level. The result of this is that any slight against any group makes us shudder in response. For the most part, this sensitivity is a good thing. However, there is a difference between being sensitive towards comments involving groups which are inherently different, such as races and groups which differ in matters of personal choice, such as political parties.
There is no doubt the comment made by this professor was a gross act of inappropriate behaviour the exact hypothetical could have been worded using non-descript "Group A" and "Group B" terms. But at the root of his sentiment he was merely expressing a political opinion.
The manner in which he expressed it is an issue and for that, he should be punished. However if he loses his job over this incident it would be a sordid example of our own over-sensitivity adversely affecting our better interests as a democratic nation. Our tendency to take political correctness as an absolute may ultimately serve as a detriment to our progression as a country.
When dealing with such sensitive issues in the future, it is important to evaluate them in the framework in which they were delivered. In this case, the damage has been done, the apology has been issued and a lesson has been learned.