Blog by John Miller

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Shame on Maclean's

Was it racist for Maclean's magazine to kick off its annual university rankings with an article headlined "Too Asian?" implying Canadian schools have trouble attracting the best students if they have that reputation?

If it wasn't racist, did the story repeat crude and hurtful stereotypes without having any basis for doing so?

If it didn't, was it a fine piece of journalism?Maclean's says it was a fine piece of journalism and stands behind it. After being condemned by the city councils of Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria and several hundred letter writers, the mag produced an editorial on Nov. 25 in which it said, "Although the phrase 'Too Asian?' was a question and, again, a quotation from an authoritative source, it upset many people. We expected that it would be provocative, but we did not intend to cause offence."

So it didn't apologize. Its only concession was to change the title to 'The enrollment controversy' in the
online version.

Want to know what I think? It most certainly was not good journalism, and do they really think by changing the headline and keeping the article as is, they're going to appease anyone? This publication just doesn't seem to get it.

The article, written by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler, contains two horrendous journalistic no-nos. First, the only evidence that the thrust of the story is true comes from two students who are quoted anonymously. "Alexandra" and "Rachel" are described as graduates of Toronto's exclusive Havergal College. No last names. After quoting them as saying that they didn't want to go to U of T because only Asian students go there, the story generalizes that they "belong to a growing cohort of student that's eschewing some big-time schools over perceptions that they're too Asian."

Fine, but where is the evidence that this cohort is growing, in Canada or elsewhere? Who says it's any bigger than "Alexandra" and "Rachel," or perhaps the fertile imagination of the writers of Maclean's? The article offers no evidence at all.

Instead, it claims that this trend isn't racism, it's a reaction to having to compete with too many driven, hard-working, humourless Asian students who don't seem to ever have fun. There is no evidence for this statement in the story, only a lame generality: "That Asian students work harder is a fact born (sic) out by hard data. They tend to be strivers, high achievers and single-minded."

Maclean's has the gall to claim that its article was supportive of simply allowing the best students into university, with no regard for race. But that argument had the mickey taken out of it with much glee by my pal Tony Wong, who wrote in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being Too Asian" in Rabble that "the last thing we want in our universities is a meritocracy."

"Otherwise," he quips, "we might have too many Asians."

So much for Asians being humourless. And so much for Maclean's having any pretense of speaking for Canadians.