As received by Paul Young, QUFA President, 12 December 2012:
December 5, 2012
Dr. Paul Young, President
Queen’s University Faculty Association
9 St. Lawrence Avenue
Queen’s University K7L 3N6
Dear Dr. Young,
As a Queen’s University alumna who once worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Michael Mason, I was dismayed to learn of the Administration’s unjust treatment of him following allegations of misconduct. I am writing this letter in support of Professor Mason, to testify to his sound judgment and effective teaching style. Please feel free to forward, post, or publish this letter at your discretion to facilitate the clearing of Professor Mason’s name or to promote his just treatment.
While working with Professor Mason during his HIST 282 course in the fall of 2007, I found him to be both personable and culturally aware. We had many pleasant discussions, some of which were about culture and ethnicity. It may be worth noting that I, myself, am a member of a visible minority group. At no point did Professor Mason make inappropriate or insensitive comments reflecting racist or sexist attitudes, either to me or to the students. In fact, he treated me as a junior academic – with both courtesy and respect. Like most excellent teachers, Professor Mason used quotations, irony, and other rhetorical devices in his Socratic-style lectures. When quoting text or describing historical realities, it was perfectly clear that he was referring to the prevalent attitudes of a given historical context rather than expressing an opinion. In fact, he often clarified the context-specific meanings and associations of terms at the start of a topic. No student expressed concerns about Professor Mason or his teaching style to me, nor did I ever hear of any such concerns from other TAs.
Having now been a teacher myself, I have occasionally experienced students’ confusion over what constitutes racism, racist terms, or even matter-of-fact references to ethnocultural groups. Some students, usually due to weak inferencing ability or a lack of contextual knowledge, have trouble distinguishing between critical uses of language and actual prejudice. Such misunderstandings are especially troubling as they persist into the post-secondary environment. It is imperative that professors can continue teaching the full range and depth of their subjects – even introducing students to controversial topics – without fear of potential censure due to hypersensitivity. Otherwise, students will neither benefit from the full academic rigour of their disciplines nor develop much-needed critical thinking ability. Professor Michael Mason is an outstanding instructor who did not shy away from an honest and accurate exploration of colonial history. For this he merits praise, not outrage.
Yours most sincerely,
Helen Mo, OCT
BAH ’06, ConEd ’07, MA ‘08