UPDATE: June 4 — Following the publication of this article, Ricardo Duchesne took early retirement amid an ongoing University of New Brunswick investigation into his conduct and over 100 of his colleagues condemning his views as “racist and without academic merit” in an open letter.
Ricardo Duchesne is a professor at the University of New Brunswick, a publicly funded institution and Canada’s oldest English-language university. He teaches undergraduate sociology classes, holds tenure and has been quoted in The New York Times on immigration. He is also a white supremacist.
Duchesne’s writings are filled with racist conspiracy theories, and he is a frequent contributor to white nationalist propaganda sites that feature articles defending slavery and eugenics. He has appeared on white nationalist podcasts where he claimed there was a “systematic rape of white women” by immigrants, and his talks are celebrated by neo-Nazis. Duchesne’s most recent book was released by an obscure publishing house whose small group of authors includes several other fringe racists, as well as Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust.
And yet Duchesne continues to teach at the University of New Brunswick, despite his extremist views and what other academics describe as shoddy scholarship and unsound methods. As he hides behind the protection of academic freedom, professors and extremism researchers say Duchesne is peddling white supremacist views while the university’s leadership is unable or unwilling to intervene. It’s a case that shows how, when white supremacists are left to fester, they can co-opt legitimate institutions and public discourse. Like the news outlets that quote Duchesne, the university offers him a badge of legitimacy so he can spread extremist beliefs online and influence students on campus.
“He’s an embarrassment to the University of New Brunswick,” said Kerry Jang, a psychiatry professor at the University of British Columbia and former Vancouver city councilor.
Jang issued a formal complaint to UNB in 2015 calling into question Duchesne’s academic credentials and his fitness to teach after reading his racist blog posts attacking Vancouver’s Asian community over a plan to study the city’s history of discrimination. Other professors followed suit, including 10 members of the university’s own sociology department who months later issued an open letter rejecting Duchesne’s views and calling them “devoid of academic merit.”
One professor who signed the letter said the faculty felt it was important to highlight that Duchesne was also a failure as an academic, with his recent work not published through respected academic journals but instead on pseudoscience propaganda sites.
But in 2015, the University of New Brunswick decided to back Duchesne, saying Jang’s concerns had been reviewed and addressed, as well as citing its commitment to uphold academic freedom. The administration never contacted Jang to discuss his complaint, he said.
In the years since, Duchesne has begun more openly promoting his extremist views as he publishes anti-Muslim, anti-black and anti-immigrant conspiracy theories. In one of his blog posts for a white supremacist site, he lamented the “relentless occupation of the West by hordes of Muslims and Africans” and concluded that “only out of the coming chaos and violence will strong White men rise to resurrect the West.” And as white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups gained increasing prominence in recent years, the largely ostracized and discredited professor found a new audience.
Far-Right Extremist Connections
Duchesne is the most frequent contributor to the white supremacist site Council of European Canadians, where he has published 140 posts since 2014. Many of Duchesne’s blog posts are ahistorical opinion pieces with headlines including “Greatest Philosophers Are ALL European men” and “Europeans The Greatest In Everything Since The Beginning.” His other posts feature more unvarnished white supremacist views, including claiming that “Whites must simply reclaim the West as uniquely theirs” and that “Europeans were the first, and still the only race, to become conscious of their consciousness.”
The avowedly white nationalist propaganda outlet Counter-Currents republishes Duchesne’s blog posts in full on its site.
Then there is Duchesne’s most recent book, which he writes is an effort “to encourage Euro-Canadians to affirm their sovereign ethnic right to govern this nation as uniquely theirs.” He admits in the next paragraph that the book sometimes uses “Euro-Canadians” and “White Canadians” interchangeably.
“He’s making white nationalist arguments, that’s what the book is,” said Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that monitors extremism.
“It’s not even subtext. It’s pretty clearly white nationalist,” he added.
Duchesne denied to HuffPost that he is a white nationalist and that the Council of European Canadians is a white nationalist website. He dodged a question on whether he considers himself part of the far-right, anti-immigrant identitarian movement, although he has referred to “we identitarians” in a blog post. Duchesne added that he is a “serious intellectual.”
“We consider Duchesne to be part of the alt-right neo-Nazi movement,” Balgord said in a statement from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, explaining that he was unsurprised Duchesne tried to downplay his white supremacist views and that there is extensive evidence that shows his involvement in the movement.
Duchesne actively engages with and supports far-right extremists, Balgord said. Duchesne gave a three-part interview in January to The Occidental Observer, a website the Anti-Defamation League refers to as one of the internet’s hubs for explicit anti-Semitism. He also appeared as a guest in a YouTube video by white nationalist Faith Goldy, who was banned from Facebook, Instagram, PayPal and other platforms for her extremist beliefs and promotion of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Over the course of his hourlong appearance on her show, Duchesne falsely claimed that immigrants were systematically raping white women and nodded along as Goldy complained that Canada put civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond on its $10 bill.
“He’s making white nationalist arguments, that’s what the book is. ... It’s not even subtext. It’s pretty clearly white nationalist.”
When HuffPost asked why Duchesne appears on so many white nationalist podcasts, he responded that he has done interviews with “individuals from different ideological backgrounds” and criticized “journalists working for establishment globalists, banks, and police organizations” for labeling people white nationalists.
Duchesne also gave a talk that drew members of the local far-right and neo-Nazi movement in June of 2017 in Montreal, according to leaked messages from a private neo-Nazi online chat group. Gabriel Sohier Chaput, a Montreal resident who was one of the internet’s most prominent neo-Nazi propagandists until a warrant for his arrest forced him to go on the run, uploaded a video of the event to YouTube.
Duchesne also said in his appearance on Goldy’s show that he’s met members of ID Canada, a far-right, anti-Muslim group that was banned from Facebook for its white nationalist views, and that the group’s members “do a lot of great things.” He denied that he had any connections to the group in a statement to HuffPost.
Protected By Academic Freedom
Although Duchesne’s racist views and extremist connections would get him fired from most other jobs, his position at the university gives him the protection of academic freedom. Under that principle, academics are free to teach, research and criticize their institutions without fear of retribution. They can also engage in extramural speech, which generally gives professors such as Duchesne the right to publicly share their views as long as they are within the law.
Maintaining a broad and liberal definition of academic freedom is fundamental to the health of institutions and prevents universities from censoring research or stifling criticism, said David Robinson, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Even if a professor holds abhorrent views outside of the classroom, Robinson argued, they should generally still be protected from retribution.
“These are difficult issues, because no one wants to defend a white supremacist,” Robinson said.
But there are limits to academic freedom and a professor who engages in discrimination or violates academic ethics is still liable to face punitive action. A biologist cannot teach creationism as fact, for instance, nor can a nutritionist instruct students to eat poison.
“Academic freedom is not unbound ― there are disciplinary standards, there is the law and there is professional ethics,” Robinson said. But, he added, there has to be verifiable, documented proof that someone’s views are affecting their conduct in the classroom or have resulted in unprofessional behavior.
Current and former UNB faculty members have expressed concern that Duchesne’s beliefs and actions may cross that line into a form of discrimination. They argue he wields great power over students while at the same time holding views that negatively target large sections of the student body, one of the reasons behind their open letter in 2015. The professors felt Duchesne’s conduct and his myopic worldview were causing damage to students, said professor Paul Peters, one of the signatories of the letter who has since left UNB for Carleton University.
There is additional evidence that Duchesne’s white supremacist views are shaping his teaching and influencing students. A UNB student’s Ph.D. dissertation that Duchesne supervised is rife with far-right conspiracy theories, including a section titled “European Demographic and Political Decline: Is It Genocide?” The student who wrote the thesis is also a contributor to the white supremacist Council of European Canadians website. In one post, she supportively cites the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that is popular among far-right extremists ― the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 51 people in a mass shooting at two mosques, made it the title of his manifesto.
The examining board for the thesis included Janice Fiamengo ― a men’s rights activist who promoted a conspiracy theory that the Notre Dame cathedral fire was started by Muslims and has tweeted support for white nationalists. Fiamengo, too, is a contributor to the Council of European Canadians website.
University President Eddy Campbell, Chancellor Allison McCain and Dean of Arts Heidi MacDonald all declined HuffPost’s requests for an interview for this article. In a statement from UNB spokeswoman Heather Campbell, the university attempted to distance itself from Duchesne’s views but did not condemn them.
“At UNB, we endeavour to promote respectful discourse and dialogue. We support academic freedom, and at the same time, we expect our university members to engage in the debate of topics in a respectful manner,” Campbell said. “Dr. Duchesne’s views are his and his alone and do not reflect those of the University as a whole.”
After HuffPost published this article, Eddy Campbell issued a statement saying, “UNB is reviewing allegations with respect to one of our faculty members. We take these allegations very seriously.”
Duchesne is scheduled to teach two courses in the coming winter term.
Students Raise Concerns
Students have complained to the university’s student union about Duchesne, with allegations of “white supremacy, hate speech, racism, sexism, trans-phobia, and homophobia,” according to a statement from the UNB Students’ Representative Council, which noted the complaints were informal and it could not independently verify the claims. The students raised concerns on “many and multiple occasions” about Duchesne’s conduct both on and off campus, said Patrick Hickey, the president of UNB’s Students’ Representative Council.
“Imagine what it’s like to be a student who is a member of those groups this person is specifically targeting.”
The students’ council also took issue with Duchesne using his role of UNB professor as he appeared with white nationalists like Goldy, condemning his views and association with the university. Duchesne’s academic title, gained during his more legitimate research in the 1990s, also appeared to fool media outlets including Yahoo Canada News and The New York Times, which have both quoted him in articles on immigration without noting his extremist views and connections. (Yahoo is part of Verizon Media, HuffPost’s parent company.)
A spokesperson for The New York Times declined to provide a comment as to why the paper uncritically quoted a white supremacist as an expert on immigration and whether it planned any update to the article, saying, “we have nothing to share here.” Yahoo Canada told HuffPost that it was unaware of Duchesne’s white nationalist connections when it included him in an article on immigration and had viewed his standing at UNB as a sign that he was credible. The site said it is planning to hold an internal review to assess how to address the article in question and what its standards and practices will be on such issues in the future.
PayPal told HuffPost that it would be banning the Council of European Canadians from using its services, while a Facebook spokesperson said the site had removed content from the white nationalist group’s Facebook page in the past but the page had not yet accumulated enough strikes against it to be removed completely. Facebook did not respond to further questions about the white nationalist content still on the page.
Although professors critical of Duchesne recognize that the principles of academic freedom are extremely important to uphold, even if they are sometimes taken advantage of, they also noted that the university has an obligation to guard its students from discrimination and disinformation.
“Imagine what it’s like to be a student who is a member of those groups this person is specifically targeting,” said Matthew Sears, a professor at the University of New Brunswick. “At what point does the university have a greater responsibility to ensure that [the] learning environment is welcoming and supportive of those students?”
This article has been updated with comment from Eddy Campbell.