Andrew Potter resigns from McGill post after Maclean's essay on Quebec

Andrew Potter, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, was facing widespread criticism in Quebec after writing an essay for Maclean's about Quebec society earlier this week.

Resignation from Institute for the Study of Canada prompts questions about academic freedom

Andrew Potter took over as director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in August 2016. (McGill University)

Andrew Potter, the director of McGill's Institute for the Study of Canada, has resigned from his post after penning an essay in Maclean's that argued "Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society."

Potter faced widespread criticism for the article, including from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who said it painted a "negative portrait" of the province "based on prejudices."

The essay described last week's traffic jam on Montreal's Highway 13, which left hundreds of people stranded in their cars overnight during a snow storm, as a "mass breakdown in the social order."

In a statement shared on Twitter, Potter said he "deeply regrets many aspects of the column" and how it came across as critical of the entire province.

"That wasn't my intention, it doesn't reflect my views of Quebec, and I am heartbroken that the situation has evolved the way it has," he wrote.

Potter said "negative reaction from within the university community and the broader public" left him no choice but to resign.

Potter took over as director of the institute last August for what was supposed to be a three-year term. He had served as the editor of the Ottawa Citizen before his appointment.

He plans to continue to teach at McGill. Potter's announcement followed a Facebook post on Tuesday in which Potter apologized for the "rhetorical flourishes" in the piece. 

Infringement on academic freedom?

In a statement, McGill University said it accepts Potter's resignation as director.
The article about Quebec by Andrew Potter generated widespread criticism. (CBC)
The role of the institute, the university said, is to "develop a clearer understanding of Canada's social, political and economic future; to identify and explore the benefits that a pluralistic society offers and to support the study of Canada across the country and internationally."

McGill, which refused a request for an interview, has faced criticism of its own for its handling of the controversy.

As Potter's column circulated earlier this week, the university said on Twitter that the views expressed in the column "do not represent those of McGill."

That prompted another essay in Maclean's, by academic Emmett Macfarlane, arguing the university had "lost sight of the core principles by which it ought to [be] governed.

"This may seem, on the surface, a relatively innocuous statement. But it is in fact a reprehensible attack on the core of the academic mission, and specifically on academic freedom," he wrote.