Rector interview and analysis: Professor Jordan Peterson

Published

Caroline C. Evans Abbott
Writer
Interview

What do you understand of the role, and what qualifies you to undertake it?

The Rector’s role at the University of Glasgow is primarily to serve as a liaison between the students and members of the senior administration, as well as to serve as statutory chair of the University Court. At the Rectors’ installation ceremony, he or she is also required to give the Rector’s Address. In recent years and historically, to some degree, the Rector’s role has also been symbolic, in so far as students have both nominated and elected individuals to the position, who have stood for principles or whose accomplishments have been viewed as significant or important.

Your public refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns lies within a vein of dissimilarity to a largely progressive academic majority. Has your experience of working with students whose views refute majority opinions enlightened your career in a way which would benefit representation of minority students at Glasgow University?
The individuals whose interests I have served within my time in practice have been exceedingly diverse in nature, ranging from people whose intellectual, physical and psychological impairments were sufficiently severe to threaten both their lives and their integration in society, to those whose accomplishments put them at the highest reaches of their professions and their social networks. With my colleagues, I have developed and deployed a set of online writing exercises that have decreased the dropout rate of thousands of university students by 25 percent and increased their academic performance by the same amount. These exercises have had their most profound effect on underperforming visible minorities, eradicating the academic gap between them and their majority peers.

As of this interview, the student body has not received your manifesto [it has since been released as of 14 March]. Can you assure them that your academic career has prepared you to interface with university officials in an administrative role, and if elected, which critical issues facing Glasgow University students would you address first?
There appear to be two reasons why I was chosen by University of Glasgow students as a nominee for the Rector position. The first of these, and the one of primary importance, is my well-publicized stance on the paramount moral priority of free speech. The second, lesser but related, is the work I have done making psychological education freely available. With regard to the first reason, once again: speech, freely exchanged, is the mechanism whereby sovereign individuals subject their inevitably ignorant and biased thoughts about Being to the corrective of the equally freely expressed opinions of others. As such, it constitutes the very mechanism by which the vitally important but still insufficiently developed traditions of society are brought forward in living form to be further refined and corrected. There is clear and present danger to free expression on campuses and, increasingly, within the broader confines of society at large throughout the western world. It is because of my publicly stated and personally somewhat perilous commitment to this principle, which I regard as of ultimate importance, that at least some members of the student body at your august institution regard me as a worthy inhabitant of the Rectors chair. I can promise the student body as a whole that, if they so desire it, I will act in my role as Rector in a manner consonant with that belief.

For the past three years we have been represented by an absentee rector, who was unable to stand up for our interests. As a tenured professor as the University of Toronto, do you think you are capable of representing the students of Glasgow as an absentee rector?
With the advent of group enabled communication technologies such as Skype, it is perfectly possible to engage in productive consultations with people who are widely dispersed geographically. I have extensive experience managing such communication, as I have clinical/consulting clients and business partners [worldwide] with whom I communicate on a weekly basis. I envision setting up video meetings with individuals or groups at the University of Glasgow as necessary and, as well, travelling to the University (something I would be honored to do) for occasions where in person attendance would be desirable, appropriate and necessary.

Students at Glasgow University are global citizens who face a myriad of pressing issues relating to the current politico-social climate. As Brexit looms large, how will you advocate for rights of E.U. students and defend the University’s international presence?
This is a very specific question and there are obviously devilish details pertaining to it with which I would have to familiarize myself. If there is a constituency of students for whom this specific issue is of pressing and immediate concern, I would make myself available to them or their representatives for consultation as necessary. Assuming that such communication can be established, I would listen carefully to their concerns (so that the problem space can be properly delineated), establish a series of concrete goals that would, in principle, constitute a solution to the defined problems, and develop an implementation strategy.


Appendix E of the University of Glasgow’s Equality and Diversity Policy clearly states that, “The trans person should be referred to by their preferred name and pronoun. If there is uncertainty regarding the correct pronoun use, the person should be asked in advance how they would prefer to be addressed…”. Given your past insinuation that rather than asking a trans person to divulge their pronoun of choice, they should be asking you to use it, do you feel your position on pronoun use conflicts with this policy? If a Glasgow University student, staff, or faculty member were to identify as gender non-conforming, would you unquestioningly refer to them by their preferred pronoun?
First, I have made no such insinuation. Generally, I don’t insinuate. I state my views directly. What I said was that I would not under any circumstances imaginable use words that I consider the propagandistic utterances of post-modernists/radical neo-Marxists – and particularly not when the threat of force is involved. There is no doubt, however, that the stance I have taken on so-called “preferred pronouns” conflicts with that policy subsection as you have stated it. It is in fact for of this reason, among the others listed previously, that my name has been put forward as a nominee. I would not “unquestioningly” refer to anyone in any manner whatsoever, because I try not to do anything “unquestioningly” and would certain recommend that others do the same. I do not recognize the validity or the practicality of “preferred” pronouns, and believe there is absolutely no evidence that their use is (1) desired or demanded by the “community” in question (as the activists pushing for such things have no standing as legitimate representatives of that community except my self-nomination) (2) likely to produce anything but increased trouble and friction between the minority of gender-nonconforming individuals and the surrounding majority and (3) anything more that an attempt by the aforementioned post-modern neo-Marxist radicals to continue their appalling, nihilistic and ideologically-possessed onslaught against the values of Western culture that shape, guide, protect and privilege us all.

Your peers at the University of Glasgow Psychology Society have publicly admonished your nomination due to your past refusal to accept and use gender-neutral pronouns. What is your current opinion on gender-neutral pronoun use, and if elected, how would you fight for the rights of the transgender community at Glasgow University?
First, let me register my objection to the phrasing of this “question”: the first part is not a question at all, but a statement, and a loaded one, at that. Let me make it clear: My “peers” are not the students studying psychology at the University of Glasgow, much less that fraction of those students who are members of the University of Glasgow Psychology Society and who have “publicly admonished” my nomination. My “peers” are tenured faculty members in the academy, as well as mental health professionals and entrepreneurs. There is little excuse for the insinuation (shall we say) that I have been brought before my peers and judged guilty. This is not to say that the opinions or the Psych Society students are without merit. It is to say instead that precise, careful and accurate terminology when discussing such things matters (and that university is precisely the place to learn exactly that).
With regard, now, to the genuine question: I have received many letters from transgendered individuals, which are now running 25:1 in favor of the very public stance I have taken on their supposed collective interests. Those who have written to me object, among other things, to (1) to the claims by often self-interested and self-aggrandizing activists with no recognized legitimacy to even represent them; (2) to the claims that the transgender community is first, a community, second, a homogeneous community, and third, a homogeneous community united on this issue; (3) to the use of that hypothetical community by its hypothetical representatives as a tool in the battle of postmodernists for cultural supremacy; (4) to the uncritical assumption that use of “preferred pronouns” is in some manner desirable either for gender non-conforming individuals or for broader society.

So these are the people to whom I am actually providing voice, hope and clarity – real people, not the hypothetical “community” members being used for political reasons orthogonal to their real interests. I plan to continue doing just that if I am elected to the position of Rector of the University of Glasgow, which I would consider an honor.

Analysis

Professor Jordan B. Peterson, who served as a Professor at Harvard for five years and is a current tenured faculty member in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto, has an impressive CV, is well-known in his field, and will be the first to detail his admittedly-impressive life experiences. But Peterson is best known to the majority of Glasgow University students at this time for his presence on a recent petition calling for the revocation of his and Milo Yiannopolous’ names from consideration for the position of Rector which has garnered more than 3,500 signatures at the time of publication. Peterson’s past, public refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns has fueled debate within his discipline and recently, has sparked outraged cries of transphobia from many corners of campus.

Professor Peterson has yet to publicly produce a manifesto [this has recently been made available on the SRC’s website, and by Peterson’s campaign team on 14 March and was not available at the time of publishing] and will not be attending the traditional Rector Hustings to be hosted on 16 March at Bute Hall, but clarified his aims and stances thoroughly within the body of the Glasgow Guardian’s recent interview.

If elected, he acknowledges that there are several UK-specific issues with which he would need to familiarise himself (specifically, the impact of Brexit on the University’s international presence and how to defend rights for EU and international students), and advocates for an open-door policy: explaining that students could feel free to come to him with their concerns.

However, Peterson does not intend to adjust – or make apologies for – his position on gender-neutral pronoun use and acknowledges its opposition with Glasgow’s Equality policy. When asked to clarify whether he would unquestioningly refer to a gender nonconforming student, faculty, or staff member by their preferred pronoun, his responses mirrored his past assertions exactly. Further, he does not believe a community of transgender individuals exists in the way the media presents it: asserting instead that the use of these pronouns is not necessarily desired by or beneficial to the transgender community, would further heighten tensions between minority and majority interactions, and is a propagandist weapon by which “post-modern, neo-Marxist radicals” can “continue their appalling, nihilistic and ideologically-possessed onslaught against the values of Western culture that shape, guide, and protect, and privilege us all”.

His written interview responses, while eloquent and demonstrative of indisputable verbal skill and a strong affinity for subordinate clauses, are demonstrative of an unwillingness to bend on – or even heed – established student concerns. When asked whether the position at Glasgow would be feasible in conjunction with his responsibilities in abroad, Peterson explained that, through Skype, he could operate as an absentee rector, making in-person appearances on an as-needed basis. Whether this would be feasible given the 4 hour time difference, which Peterson seemingly fails to take into account, remains to be seen.

[This has been edited to reflect Professor Peterson’s time at Harvard was five years, not two decades as we originally published.]