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Historian Michael Marrus Resigns over ‘Master’ Comment to Black Student

October 8th 2017

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A history professor who made racially offensive remarks to a Black student at the University of Toronto’s Massey College has submitted his resignation as a senior fellow at the school.

After commenting about the “master” of Massey College to a Black student, Michael Marrus resigned his fellowship Sunday when nearly 200 students and faculty signed a petition demanding that he be removed.

“First, I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humour at lunch last Tuesday,” Marrus wrote in his resignation letter to college head Hugh Segal.

“What I said was both foolish and, I understood immediately, hurtful, and I want, first and foremost, to convey my deepest regrets to all whom I may have harmed.”

On Tuesday, Marrus was sitting with three junior fellows — graduate students who earned residence at Massey College through academic and extracurricular achievements — when Segal asked to join them. At the time, Segal’s title was “master” of the college.

Marrus allegedly said to a Black graduate student: “You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?”

An internationally respected Holocaust scholar, Marrus is retired from U of T. He maintained an office and senior fellowship at Massey College, an affiliated independent college at the university.

The comment, which was widely viewed as a reference to slavery, prompted an open letter to Segal on Wednesday demanding Marrus’s resignation and additional changes to deal with the school’s atmosphere.

Andrew Kaufman, a junior fellow at Massey College and one of the nine original signatories that reported the incident, said that this is not the first incident of racism at the college.

“This was not strictly an indictment of Michael Marrus,” he said on Monday. “It was an indictment of the atmosphere where this statement can be comfortably uttered.”

Months before the incident took place there were discussions regarding the issues with the term “master.” Fact sheets were posted by students on bulletin boards to raise awareness about the problems with the term.

Anthony Briggs, an alumnus of Massey College, said that he had been pushing for the change since 2015 but that his concerns were not taken seriously.

“It felt that this was an inappropriate title in any context and any time,” he said. “Some people do not recognize the influence and impact of the historical background of the term. That term carries a currency that people are not aware of.”

On Friday, Massey College agreed to almost all the demands made in the petition. The college temporarily suspended the title of “master,” promised anti-racism training and apologized for the incident.

Beverly Bain, one of 150 faculty members who signed a letter condemning the racially offensive remark, said that the senior fellow’s comments reflect the wider issues the college is facing with overt and covert racism.

“It’s not just about this individual — it doesn’t end with him and neither did it begin with him,” said Bain. “He is part of the culture that continues to replicate itself in these institutions, allowing him to articulate that sort of thing.”

Segal accepted Marrus’s resignation in a statement Monday morning.

“To say that I regret the event that created the need for your letter would be a serious understatement,” the statement said in response to the resignation. “The presence of distinguished senior scholars such as yourself and others at Massey is of huge value to the mix of generations, disciplines and life skills that enrich the very nature of the Massey experience at its best.”


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