- History vs. Historical Memory Rosie Douglas, Black Power on Campus, and the Canadian Color Conceit1
Allegations of Racism in the Classroom, Visited and Revisited
The congress of black writers was a genuine boon to the emerging Black Power scene in Montreal. Among other things, it strengthened the resolve of a group of Caribbean students at Sir George to fight racial discrimination on campus. In time, the students' ire came to focus on one particular individual: a biology instructor named Perry Anderson. Professor Anderson, the students alleged, had a history of discriminating against them and giving them lower marks than their work warranted. Yet for many of his accusers, there was no avoiding Professor Anderson. He taught a mandatory course in biology, a popular major among aspiring medical doctors, a category in which many Caribbean students fell.2
After long commiserating among themselves, the students finally worked up the will to formally bring a complaint of racial discrimination against Professor Anderson with the university administration. Two Asian students had also accused Anderson of racial discrimination, but declined to join the formal complaint brought by their Caribbean counterparts. The complaint added up to a syllabus of wrongs, not just about racial discrimination but also about Anderson's competence and his attention to duty. The professor's lectures, the students charged, were poorly prepared and disorganized. Anderson, the complaint went on, was often absent from class, substituting movies for lectures, and took an inordinately long time to return exams. The labs were improperly organized, the students further alleged, while the professor's answers to questions were "so poor as to be embarrassing." The complaint [End Page 178] asserted, too, that Anderson had no scheduled office hours, and failed to keep the appointments he made. At the heart of the students' case against Professor Anderson, however, was the charge of racial discrimination. As exhibit A, the complaint stated that no black student had ever received a grade higher than "C" in Anderson's classes.3 In sum, Anderson's accusers portrayed him as a maladroit instructor who was prejudiced against black students as a group and who, accordingly, consistently marked them down.
The dean of science, Samuel Madras, was assigned to look into the students' complaint. The investigation, Dean Madras explained, "consisted of talks" with Anderson and his supervisor, the chair of the biology department. The talks did not include Anderson's student accusers, who were on summer holiday. In the end, Dean Madras absolved Anderson, stating that he was "convinced that there is no substance" to the charge of racial discrimination lodged by the students.4 Madras was silent on the allegation of laxness; that is, the claim that Anderson—a married man with small children who taught both day and night classes at Sir George, even as he pursued a PhD at McGill University—was frequently absent from class and failed to keep appointments with students. The dean did, however, seem to offer some indirect credit to the students' doubts about Anderson's lesson plans, conceding unspecified "academic weaknesses" in the professor's classes, and promising that "every effort will be made to improve the teaching."5 Even so, Professor Anderson was promoted, going from the rank of instructor to that of assistant professor, in addition to being exonerated. As the students who laid the complaint had not been included in his inquiry, it followed that Dean Madras did not bother to apprise them of its outcome. It remained for a jubilant Anderson, at the beginning of the new academic year, 1968–1969, to inform the students of his exoneration.6
The university had failed its first test of the crisis, Dean Madras's undertaking being a parody of an investigation. It was, from all outward appearances, no more than a Sunday afternoon social gathering involving the dean and his two guests, Professor Anderson and the chair of the biology department. Even severe critics of the black students would call Madras's inquiry "clumsy and inadequate."7 Actually, it was a slap in the face, the dean haughtily dismissing the complaint against Anderson without even so much as communicating his decision...