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Investigating the Academy

In a recent speech to University of Toronto scholars, a Quillette editor explained why many of his fellow journalists are reluctant to report on administrative scandals at Canadian universities.

· 14 min read
University of Toronto, King's College Circle, Toronto. University buildings with a Pride flag.
University of Toronto, King's College Circle, Toronto. Source: Unsplash

The essay that follows is adapted from remarks delivered by the author to the 19th Annual Senior College Symposium at the University of Toronto Faculty Club on April 17, 2024.

I’ve worn a lot of different hats during my years as a journalist. I never planned or expected to be a managing editor at a newspaper, or a magazine editor, or a podcaster. It all happened more or less by chance.

My main writing role at Quillette, as an investigative reporter focusing largely on scandals in higher education, is a case in point. I never set out to be an investigative reporter, let alone a specialist in stories about universities. It just happened by accident when sources started coming to me with stories that no one else was investigating.

Since joining Quillette in 2017, I’ve worked on dozens of investigative stories about ideological radicalization on campuses, both as a writer and as an editor. Since I don’t have time to discuss them all, I will focus on one particularly interesting case study involving McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

As many of you know, in 2020, McMaster became consumed with explosive accusations about an alleged sex-ring being run out of the school’s psychology department. According to these accusations, multiple professors were involved in a vast Jeffrey Epstein-like sex conspiracy involving gang rape and electronic mind-control devices.

McMaster’s Imaginary Sex Ring
In 2020, a Canadian university tore up its psychology department in search of a non-existent network of sexual predators. Documents obtained by Quillette reveal how administrators allowed it to happen.

At the height of the resulting social panic, which I documented last year in a 12,000-word investigative report for Quillette, no fewer than seven members of the school’s psychology department were under investigation. Several of them were banned from campus for months—including two women, who were falsely accused of being complicit in luring unsuspecting victims to home sex dungeons.

What’s more, posters were put up on campus to alert everyone about how dangerous these supposed sex predators were. Most scandalous of all, the president of the university himself—a man named David Farrar—sent out a campus-wide email blast suggesting these accusations might be well founded.

As most of you know, perhaps from reading about the details here in Quillette, it turned out that the entire sex-ring story was fabricated.

As my investigation showed, the lurid group-sex allegations originated with two women—one of whom would eventually have her claims completely discredited in open court, while the other later confessed that she’d hallucinated the whole thing while enduring a psychotic episode and binge-watching the Jeffrey Epstein documentary on Netflix.

McMaster officials—including not only Farrar, but also provost Susan Tighe and the vice-president for DEI, a self-described “radicalized queer woman” named Arig al Shaibah—all had reason to be aware of the ludicrous nature of these horror-movie allegations.

We know this because the details were later discovered by an external investigator, though they were mostly kept under wraps by the university until Quillette got access to the documents and interviews we needed to blow the story wide open.

And as shocking as all these details are, perhaps the most interesting part of the tale is the fact that Quillette got this scoop in the first place.

Several of the McMaster sources I spoke to—these being the scholars in the psychology department who trusted me with this story—candidly informed me that Quillette hadn’t been their first choice as the media outlet to get this scoop.

And why would it be? Quillette isn’t even a Canadian-based publication. We’re based in Australia, on the other side of the planet.

However, my sources couldn’t get Canadian outlets to return their phone calls and emails, because the scoop they were offering didn’t fit into the preferred ideological narrative of most Canadian publications.

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