THE AFFAIR OF STANLEY GRAY, the McGill lecturer and student-protest leader who was awarded a Canada Council grant, is a clear instance of anti-student backlash.
The campus revolt has, in large part, sprung from valid causes and, except where it has led to lawlessness, has been useful. It has opened up the education system to an examination long overdue. The challenge by the student activists forced us to look and, having looked, to see — as the child saw the Emperor had no clothes — our institutions as they are. And what we have seen is that the curricula and teaching methods in some faculties and the structure of university life on many of our campuses are anachronistic, authoritarian and needful of change.
The frequently intemperate clamor of the students has stirred adult resentment. The resentment has been caused partly by the demeanor of the students, partly by their arrogance but mostly because they dismiss adult values as irrelevant or reject them as evil. This kind of fundamental challenge elicits more than disagreement; it engenders hostility, a hostility expressed in the common question, “Who the hell do those kids think they are?” The students demand change and change disrupts and who does not resent being disturbed?
Surely resentment was the primary emotion motivating the extraordinary reaction to the news that Stanley Gray, the leader of the McGill demonstrations, had been given a $5,200 Canada Council grant. Gray is not a simple student dissenter; he is a radical, an avowed Marxist, and Marxist goals are not simply educational reform but the total overturn of our way of life. Comes the grant and comes the backlash! — furious editorials, public fulminations by commentators, demands that the Canada Council be abolished or made subject to supervision by the government. A field day for diatribe.
The need is to keep our perspective. We may oppose Gray and his goals, but ours is a democracy built on the right to dissent. We may disagree with an opinion but we must defend the right to express it. Gray won his grant, the council says, on the ground of academic excellence. To ask the council to require applicants to submit to a test of political orthodoxy is to move toward thought control and is a denial of the right to dissent. That is totalitarianism. It is also a confession of weakness : do we not have confidence in the vitality of our democratic system?
The reaction to Gray’s grant was pure backlash; an eruption of the resentment created by the student challenge of the status quo. It is, in many ways, more disturbing than the unrest on our campuses.
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