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Canada Massey College professor resigns over racially offensive remark, cites lack of ‘due process’

Michael Marrus, seen here in July 2001, has resigned as a Senior Fellow after a public controversy over racially offensive remarks.

Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

Michael Marrus, the history professor whose racially offensive remarks have led to a public controversy at the University of Toronto's Massey College, has submitted his resignation as a Senior Fellow from the college, but says he is "disheartened" by the lack of dialogue between him and those who asked for his resignation.

"Where was the due process, where was the effort to hear me out, where was the effort to relate to 30 years of scholarship that have a lot to do with human rights? There is something cruel and reckless about this campaign," he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

He had been trying to apologize for the comment he made, e-mailing the person he hurt and offended and trying to talk to them, but his apology was not accepted, he said.

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Read also: Massey College suspends 'master' title, apologizes for 'completely inappropriate' incident

"I was so sorry for having wounded someone," Dr. Marrus said. "But nothing availed," he said.

The resignation comes after an incident during a lunch last week that gave rise to a petition that was signed by almost 200 students and faculty at U of T.

Dr. Marrus was seated with three Junior Fellows, graduate or professional students who live in residence at Massey. Hugh Segal, the head of the college, who has – until recently – carried the formal title "Master," came to join them. As Mr. Segal sat down, Dr. Marrus said to a black student:

"You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?"

The students have filed a written complaint with the college. They have not spoken about the incident to The Globe and Mail. Mr. Segal could also not be reached.

The petition, which was made public on Thursday, demanded extensive changes and asked Massey to sever its ties with Dr. Marrus.

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"In our eyes, the very legitimacy of Massey College hinges on the effectiveness of your response to this incident," the petition stated. "We encourage you to approach this moment with the seriousness it demands, and with the courage and vision to make this an occasion for fulsome transformation."

On Friday, Massey College agreed to almost all the demands made in the petition, temporarily suspending the title of "Master," beginning anti-racism training and offering a "sincere and unreserved apology" for the incident.

On Sunday, Dr. Marrus sent a resignation letter to Mr. Segal, in which he conveyed his "deepest regrets to all whom I may have harmed."

"I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humour," Dr. Marrus wrote in his letter. " I want to assure those who heard me … that while I had no ill-intent whatsoever I can appreciate how those at the table and those who have learned about it could take offence at what I said," he wrote, adding that he will leave his office of 20 years as soon as possible.

In a statement Monday morning, Mr. Segal accepted Dr. Marrus's resignation:

"To say that I regret the event that created the need for your letter would be a serious understatement," the statement said. "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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An emeritus professor and internationally respected Holocaust scholar, Dr. Marrus is retired from U of T. But he has maintained an office and senior fellowship at Massey College, an affiliated independent college at U of T which opened its doors in 1963. The fellowship carries no financial stipend.

"The decision [to resign] is the best one for me, the best one for my family, the best one for Massey College, for which I have a lot of affection and respect, the best one for the students who are so angry," he said. "If so many people have announced that they don't want me at Massey College, why should I persist?"

People may not believe him, Dr. Marrus added, but he is on the same side as those who launched the complaint against him. "I understand the anti-racist commitment of the people who have mobilized," he said.

In addition to his scholarship, he has fundraised for Massey College's Scholar-at-Risk program, which offers a haven for refugee researchers and has worked and written on international humanitarian law, he said.

"I feel uncomfortable citing all the work that I've done, but I have, and no one seems interested in it or interested in me," Dr. Marrus said. "To be treated as a non-person is so wounding and so cruel. If you want to know what racism is it's to treat someone as a non-person."

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect reference to when Massey College opened. This version has been corrected.
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