Higher Racism The Case of the University of British Columbia— On the Wrong Side of History but Right Side of Optics

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Stephen Petrina
E. Wayne Ross


Higher education “elites often see themselves as moral leaders and will therefore generally dissociate themselves from anything that has to do with racism as they define it.” In this era of Black Lives Matter (BLM), this narrative is especially comforting for the managers as they invest in optics to sustain rankings and revenue. This article specifically draws on the case of the University of British Columbia (UBC) to address the racial demographics of hiring and appointing African ethnic and diasporic faculty and administrators. We provide various examples of how the institution functions through racial bias and prejudice but argue that leaving the explanation to structural or systemic racism makes it too easy to deny elite individual and everyday racism, especially racist attitudes and decisions of the managers and their means of employment discrimination. Insider knowledge of employees is crucial as managers respond to racism within their workplaces. In this case, as UBC managers try to get out in front of BLM and control the optics, it’s important to provide a critical analysis of reality and recent history of administrative inaction. Finally, we articulate concerns that managers are preferring to isolate and shield themselves from critical conversation and critique of mismanagement.

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