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Rights + Justice

UBC Board Chair ‘Liked’ Tweet Linking Black Lives Matter and Hitler’s Paramilitary

Michael Korenberg’s social media activity shows support for right-wing causes and conspiracy theories.

Katie Hyslop 19 Jun 2020 |

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach her here.

UPDATE: Michael Korenberg resigned as chair of the University of British Columbia Board of Governors on Saturday, June 20, saying “Some of my interactions with social media have thoughtlessly supported regressive voices that are attempting to discredit broad-based, legal and necessary protest. As a result, my interactions have been interpreted in a manner that creates questions about who I am and what I believe in. I wholeheartedly apologize for them, particularly to the students, faculty and staff of UBC.”

In a public statement, Board of Governors vice-chair Sandra Crawley stated, “The Board of Governors and Mr. Korenberg would like to recognize that this has been deeply hurtful to members of our community and that UBC has zero tolerance for racism and recognizes that real harm is created from both overt and structural racism.” Crawley will be interim chair of the board until a new one is selected.

A University of British Columbia student group has uncovered disturbing social media activity by Michael Korenberg, chair of the university’s board of governors.

UBC Students Against Bigotry posted screenshots of Korenberg’s Twitter and Facebook activities.

The board chair had “liked” a tweet by American far-right commentator and conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza that said Black Lives Matter was equivalent to Hitler’s paramilitary forces, the group found.

They also found Korenberg liked tweets and Facebook pages by other far-right individuals and groups posting racist content, including right-wing sites promoting conspiracy theories about Justin Trudeau, media personality Ann Coulter and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, which maintains a “watchlist” of American professors considered radical. He liked a tweet by Coulter which said “Antifa and BLM ideology” were behind “the destruction of businesses we’re witnessing across the US.”

“We’ve seen a lot of very troubling activity at UBC over the last few years,” said a member of Students Against Bigotry, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from white supremacist groups. “And it’s possible that this helps to explain that.”

Students Against Bigotry has been compiling its own list of alleged hate incidents on the Vancouver campus on its website.

They include decisions made by the board of governors since Korenberg was elected chair in 2018, including hosting speakers considered racist, Islamophobic or transphobic on the Vancouver campus. Black students have accused campus security of racial profiling. And two student free speech clubs have faced accusations of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny.

The Tyee contacted Korenberg, a lawyer and former businessperson chosen as chair in 2018 but has yet to receive a response.

UBC declined to comment on the story.

But in an interview with Press Progress, a non-profit publication owned by the NDP-aligned Broadbent Institute, Korenberg said he believed in the Black Lives Matter movement and that it was a “mistake” to have liked that tweet.

“Would it have been better if I didn’t tick it? Sure, and I wish I probably hadn’t,” he told Press Progress. “I probably did it late at night.”

“I regret it if anyone would interpret it as me supporting anything that is contrary to trying to move forward in support of a different approach where clearly unacceptable actions have been taken.”

UBC education professor Annette Henry said the ideas Korenberg “liked” on social media reflect what Black educator bell hooks calls the “white supremacist capitalist [hetero]patriarchy” world view.

“It’s unfortunate that we have people in such positions of authority at UBC,” she said, adding she feels “disheartened” that Korenberg’s job as chair includes duties like “foster good relations between the university and the community.”

Korenberg is an example of what Black, Indigenous and racialized members of the UBC community already know about the university, added Henry, who is Black.

“We know that this is the struggle that we’re fighting against the status quo,” she said. “We’re fighting for change; we’re trying to make a dent somewhere.”

“Not to get too academic, but the word ‘institution’ comes from the Latin word to ‘set in place’ or ‘establish.’ That’s exactly what has happened: certain ways of thinking, doing and behaving have been set in place. So even though we talk about diversity, we still keep hiring white people where we have the opportunity not to.”

Henry added that there are “pockets” of good things happening on campus.

She is working with more than a dozen education faculty members who are pushing UBC administration to include more racialized people in the candidate pool and on the selection committee being established to hire the next dean of education.*

Ali Abdi, another UBC education professor, is familiar with the work of Dinesh D’Souza, whose tweet about Black Lives Matter Korenberg liked.

“It is, in my opinion, unacceptable,” Abdi said. “Especially when they are comparing the actions of rightful demonstrations and demands on the rights of marginalized communities to the Nazis. For the chair of the UBC board of governors to like that is unacceptable.”

Abdi said he is not calling Korenberg a racist but would like him to offer a fuller public apology, adding it is important to the diverse community of over 80,000 people who work and study at UBC.

“Issues like this can be attached to the systemic racism now being discussed in Canada, especially when these are supported by people in positions of power," said Abdi.

Henry says Korenberg needs to be called out for his actions. But she isn’t confident that change will come from the university administration.

“There are too many people who think things are fine the way they are,” she said. “I think if there’s going to be any response, I think it will come from the students.”

UBC Students Against Bigotry, which was established over a year ago to fight hate on campus, agrees that university leadership cannot be depended on to address the issue.

“I don’t know if we can count on UBC to do anything about this. The leadership that’s in place now has not shown any serious interest in tackling these issues,” the member said.

“They’re more concerned with the rights of white nationalists and far-right extremists than they are about students, faculty and staff who are at risk of violence and face threats every day.”

*This article previously misstated the committee that Annette Henry spoke about in an interview. It was the UBC committee being established to hire the next dean of education, not the university’s presidential reappointment committee.  [Tyee]

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