Maclean’s Re-Writes History

Maclean's infamous campus issue.


Maclean’s has finally issued an editorial comment on their “‘Too Asian?’” article. Before taking issue with what is problematic in their editorial, I do want to praise this paragraph:

Through hard work, talent and ambition, Asian students have been highly successful in earning places in Canada’s institutions of higher learning. They, like all of our high achievers, deserve respect and admiration. Every one of them is a source of pride to their fellow Canadians.

It’s good to see Asian-Canadian students addressed, as they should be, as Canadians.


But the editorial really doesn’t answer the substantive critique of the article made by many writers, myself included.

In particular, I’m troubled by how the magazine is trying to re-write history.

Here is what they now write:

We find the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools deplorable, as do many of our readers. Our article notes that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed. That, in our view, is the best and only acceptable approach: merit should be the sole criteria for entrance to higher education in Canada, and universities should always give preference to our best and brightest regardless of cultural background. This position was stated clearly in the article: “Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so,” reporters Findlay and Köhler wrote.


Let’s take a look at the larger paragraph from the original article (which Maclean’s has now selectively quoted):

The dilemma is this: Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so. Privately, however, many in the education community worry that universities risk becoming too skewed one way, changing campus life—a debate that’s been more or less out in the open in the U.S. for years but remains muted here. And that puts Canadian universities in a quandary. If they openly address the issue of race they expose themselves to criticisms that they are profiling and committing an injustice. If they don’t, Canada’s universities, far from the cultural mosaics they’re supposed to be—oases of dialogue, mutual understanding and diversity—risk becoming places of many solitudes, deserts of non-communication. It’s a tough question to have to think about.

In the new editorial, what is happening in American schools is “deplorable” and meritocracy is an unequivocally good thing (“best and only acceptable approach”). In the original article, Canadians were encouraged to look to the United States for a more open debate on how on the issue of the racial composition of universities. More importantly, the original article does not celebrate meritocracy as an unequivocal good. Rather, it states that meritocracy is causing a “dilemma”, that with the increasing enrolment of Asian-Canadian kids in “universities risk becoming too skewed one way.”

As I noted in a blog post in The Walrus:

Maclean’s raised the issue of anti-Asian quotas in the United States and offered this slippery statement: “Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties, don’t quiz applicants the same way, and rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.”

I don’t know how this passage can be read as anything except a claim that meritocracy is a provisional (or “likely”) good thing, which might need to be abandoned since it leads to a putatively bad result — i.e., “a concentration of Asian students.” Maclean’s did not advocate quotas, but it has opened the door to the possibility that they might be needed, a likelihood that feels all the more urgent in an article full of scary stories about universities being overstuffed with “Asian” kids.

Maclean’s is trying to whitewash its own history. That’s not a good way to resolve this debate. They need to honestly own up to what they themselves wrote, edited, and published.

Why is Maclean’s rewriting the past? Simple: they know they can’t defend the original article from the critiques made against it but they don’t want to apologize for the article either. So the best solution is to fudge and dissemble, with the hope that no one will remember what they wrote only a few weeks ago.

As a post-script I’ll simply add that I really hate writing about this issue. It’s toxic and depressing on many different levels. But it’s hard to move on unless Maclean’s comes clean.

6 thoughts on “Maclean’s Re-Writes History

  1. Thank you so much for this piece, and the link to the Maclean’s “response”.

    You’re right, this topic is depressing as hell. But as long as bullshit racism goes on, and lack of accountability for bullshit racism goes on, we have to fight back.

  2. Well said Jeet! Macleans is just behaving like kid, refusing to assume its responsibilities. It tried so hard to mislead and convince people to buy in to its racist craps days ago, and now suddenly it says it didn’t mean what it just said! It’s just beyond being appalling! Such a shame for Macleans.

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