Controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson resigned from his tenured professorship at the University of Toronto, he said this week. Peterson, 59, wrote in an op-ed in Canada’s National Post that he’d always imagined working in academe until he died. Now he doesn’t want to be there anymore, and the place doesn’t want him, he says.
Peterson has gained millions of fans as a YouTube personality, self-help writer and podcaster over the last decade, preaching the patriarchy, his “12 rules for life” and all-meat diets, among other topics. Many fans also appreciate Peterson’s criticisms of what he calls “compelled speech,” such as being expected to use someone’s preferred gender pronoun, and other ills of the “radical postmodern left.”
Yet as Peterson’s star has risen in some circles, many academics have questioned the rigor of his analysis—including when it comes to gender (many of Peterson’s followers are young men). He was widely criticized, for instance, for telling The New York Times in 2018 that “the cure” for young men who feel rejected sexually by women and act out against them—so-called violent involuntary celibates, or incels—is “enforced monogamy.” Peterson, elsewhere an ardent defender of free speech, later threatened to sue the feminist philosopher Kate Manne, of Cornell University, for some of her criticisms of his thoughts on gender. One of Peterson’s former colleagues at Toronto, Bernard Schiff, a professor emeritus of psychology, also wrote a 2018 op-ed in The Toronto Star calling him “dangerous.”
Peterson’s op-ed cites two major reasons for his retirement: concerns about his students, and concerns about higher education’s embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Regarding his students, Peterson says that “my qualified and supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students (and I’ve had many others, by the way) face a negligible chance of being offered university research positions, despite stellar scientific dossiers,” because they are white and male. DEI mandates, Peterson continues, have been “imposed universally in academia, despite the fact that university hiring committees had already done everything reasonable for all the years of my career, and then some, to ensure that no qualified ‘minority’ candidates were ever overlooked.”
Peterson also says that he can no longer work with students in good conscience, lest they be denied jobs (that they presumably wouldn’t get anyway if they’re white men, by Peterson’s logic) due to their affiliation with him.
“I am academic persona non grata, because of my unacceptable philosophical positions,” he says.
Peterson’s related, larger point is that academe has gone DEI mad. His op-ed makes a number of unsubstantiated claims, such as that many of his colleagues “lie” when they fill out diversity statements for research grants and tell their students to do the same. He also says that there are “not enough qualified BIPOC people in the pipeline to meet diversity targets quickly enough (BIPOC: black, indigenous and people of color, for those of you not in the knowing woke),” and that this is “common knowledge among any remotely truthful academic who has served on a hiring committee for the last three decades.”
All of this means “we’re out to produce a generation of researchers utterly unqualified for the job,” he says. “And we’ve seen what that means already in the horrible grievance studies ‘disciplines.’”
Taking on diversity training, Peterson challenges the idea that implicit bias can be overcome by any short-term interventions. He then somewhat tangentially attacks the Implicit Association Test, which was developed at Harvard University, saying that two of its three creators have said it doesn’t do what it’s intended to do: bring awareness to one’s reliance on stereotypes. He says the third IAT creator, Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, is a leftist propagandist who is embedded “within a sub-discipline of psychology, social psychology, so corrupt that it denied the existence of left-wing authoritarianism for six decades after World War II.”
Banaji didn’t respond to a request for comment. IAT co-creator Brian Nosek, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said, “As a parent, I have learned that responding to tantrums tends to make them worse.” Co-founder Tony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, said Peterson’s assertion “is simply incorrect. It could not have been competently fact checked.”
Manne said this on Twitter about Peterson’s statement about white men not getting hired: “If you actually sit on an admissions or hiring committee, you know this to be a lie. An outrageous lie.”
Peterson did not respond to an interview request.
Peterson’s department chair at Toronto did not respond to a request for comment. In response to questions about the demographics of recent hires, the university shared its most recent DEI report finding here have been “no significant changes in how appointed faculty and librarians self-identify between the previous report (2019) and this report (2020).” Over all, the report says, “both the counts and percentages for all appointed faculty categories have increased except for those appointed faculty who self-identify as men (the percentage of appointed faculty who self-identified as men stayed constant at 52 percent although the actual number of faculty who self-identified as men increased from 1,168 to 1,214).”
Across U.S. psychology workforce, 84 percent of psychologists are white, according to information from the American Psychological Association. Sixty-nine percent of those awarded psychology doctorates in 2018 were white.
Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor of religion and political science at Queen’s University in Ontario, tweeted that academic DEI initiatives do sometimes involve “ridiculous” bureaucratic requirements, yet Peterson’s notion that “meritocracy happens in some idealistic void absent socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, gender and other factors is wrong *points to literally decades of research.* There are indeed adult conversations to be had about these issues, but they have to be honest about trying to offer new and better solutions—not more smug op-eds.”
Not all professors are happy to see Peterson go, however. Gad Saad, professor of marketing at Concordia University in Montreal, posted a facetious video, apologizing while hitting himself with “the whip of self-disgust” for “having had a friendship with Jordan.” That’s after he was criticized for wishing Peterson well on social media following Peterson’s retirement announcement.
Peterson has had personal troubles in recent years, eventually traveling to Russia and Serbia for treatment of his symptoms from withdrawing from benzodiazepines. Peterson, who turned his internet presence into a lucrative business, won’t stop teaching altogether upon his retirement, he says in his op-ed: “I can now teach many more people and with less interference online.”