From the late 1920s until the Second World War, McGill University enforced discriminatory measures against Jewish students. For many Ashkenazi immigrants who arrived from Eastern Europe at the start of the century, education represented the best prospect for social mobility. This was reflected in a significant increase in Jewish enrollment at Montreal universities, including McGill. Thus, for instance, in 1913, 6.8% of McGill students were Jewish; by 1924, this number had risen to 25%.
McGill Principal Sir Arthur Currie worried that a large and ever-increasing Jewish presence would prevent Anglo-Saxon Protestant students from receiving an adequate education. Ira Allan Mackay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, shared his concern. As a result, the Faculty increased the admissions average to 75% for Jews, as compared to 60% for non-Jews. Meanwhile, a strict quota was implemented by the Faculties of Medicine and Law, limiting Jewish enrollment to 10% of all students. Harvard and Columbia were among several American universities that had previously implemented similar measures.
Most of these discriminatory policies were not lifted until after the Second World War, despite pressure from influential individuals, including businessman Samuel Bronfman. McGill’s discriminatory policies in regard to Jews reveal an anti-Semitic bias prevalent among English-speaking Quebecers at the time. More insidious and less overt than that expressed by a number of French-speaking intellectual, religious and political leaders, it was equally harmful in that it limited the economic and social opportunities of Jews. McGill’s exclusionary policies can be considered comparable to the antisemitic incidents that occurred at Université de Montréal and to restrictions on the admission of Jewish medical interns to the city’s Catholic hospitals during the same period.
Compiled by Valérie Beauchemin, translated by Helge Dascher.
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