The introduction of these reforms has intensified the conflicts within the system of higher education; resistance has come from a variety of sources. Opponents of diversification have resorted to means ranging from physical force (in the United States, the National Guard was mobilized to accompany the first Black student into a Southern campus) to philosophical and legalistic arguments against what is called "preferential treatment," "discriminatory hiring," and the "quota system." The December 6th massacre in Montreal reminds us that even today overtly coercive measures aimed at exclusion are still possible,3 but for the most part the struggle continues in a more subtle way in the form of debates centered on "political correctness,"4 economic policy, and legislative and administrative action.
Conservative forces have been on the offensive since the early 1990s, arguing that the pursuit of diversity in curriculum, hiring, teaching, research and student admissions violates academic freedom - in other words, the freedom to create and disseminate White, male-dominated, middle-class and Eurocentric knowledge, which is equated with "Western civilization and culture." The tradition of excellence in higher education is threatened, the argument goes, by opening the universities to under-represented groups. For instance, the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship maintains that the "quality of education is bound to be seriously eroded as considerations of merit - i.e., qualifications and competency-are subordinated to the simplistic demographic requirements."5 One academic compares "equity codes and proceedings" and equity officers with the Inquisition and Inquisitors.6
Conservatives everywhere have put the dismantling of equity programs on their agenda. In Ontario the leader of the provincial Tories, who recently assumed power, has promised to dismantle the province's Employment Equity Act; in California the state university system, which is one of the largest higher educational institutions in the U.S., recently voted against the continuation of its affirmative action program.7 In both Canada and the U.S., the issue has been debated in radio and television talk shows and other popular media, the argument being that equity costs the taxpayer and is a drag on the economy. Much of this discourse is, however, demagogical in so far as research indicates that inequity has serious economic consequences.8
The new wave of conservative attack against change in higher education must be understood and analyzed within the context of shifting demographics, competition over ever shrinking resources, and the demand for more representation of marginalized groups in subjects of academic inquiry. The scholarship of conservatives such as Allen Bloom,9 Dinesh D'Souza10 and Roger Kimball 11 in the United States and, in Canada, of John Fekete 12 as well as of supporters of the Society for Academic Freedom, is not simply focused on the preservation of the traditional "Western" curriculum. These academics claim that any challenge to their monopoly of knowledge amounts to the subversion of democracy and freedom.13