How does one bestow credibility and legitimacy on an area or a perspective when in the public eye, it has almost none? How does one turn antipsychiatry into a respected area of study and practice in the face of psychiatric hegemony? How does one attract more and more students to this and related fields of study? How might one at the same time begin healing the rifts between Antipsychiatry and Mad Studies? And how does one ensure that what advances are made at one university spread to others?
There are a number of different ways, many of which I have personally pursued over the years. One way is to endow at different respected universities Antipsychiatry and Mad Studies scholarships. This is the story of three such scholarships—and the struggles and strategies involved.
An important context for this article are battles in which I partook from 2006 until a couple of years ago which led to the creation of the world’s first antipsychiatry scholarship, this at University of Toronto. What is likewise context is a previous article of mine, also published in Mad in America, called “Conferring Legitimacy on the Counterhegemonic” that theorizes in considerable detail what transpired during that period—the fight, the strategies, and the use of allies. A more immediate context is how the first awarding of this scholarship was actually accomplished and the groundwork laid to ensure that this scholarship does not go off course. The most recent context largely materialized in the last few months—arriving at agreements with two other universities, York and Ryerson: upon my death, and in accordance with agreed-on provisions in my new will, money from my estate will be used to establish Antipsychiatry and Mad Studies scholarships in each of these universities.
I will begin this discussion with the 2006 work and the formal creation of the Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry at University of Toronto, but this will not be the primary focus and so people who want further details on it are advised to read the article mentioned above. I will proceed to zero in on the various developments that have happened since then. I will end with an identification of lessons learned and with an invitation to others.
In 2006, I began what proved to be nine months of negotiations with OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) and U. of T. (University of Toronto) to establish an agreement for a clause in a will which I was drafting whereby my residual estate would go to creating a perpetual scholarship for OISE students doing theses in the areas of antipsychiatry and/or homelessness. To be clear, while homelessness is a pressing concern and research area of mine, my overriding intent was to fund students working in antipsychiatry. Nonetheless, I was keenly aware that the academics in question would welcome something in homelessness but not antipsychiatry. Hence, linking the two together was good strategy.
Indeed, while a scholarship in homelessness was objected to by no one, antipsychiatry proved to be a formidable stumbling block. There appeared to be no end of objections to it. For nine months I met with who was then the current dean of OISE, carefully addressing every objection she had. Examples of obstacles, together with responses that materialized were: She told me they could not mount a scholarship that gave priority to psychiatric survivors because psychiatric survivors themselves would never want such a thing, whereupon, I turned to the Mad Students Society, who went on record saying they very much wanted it. I was told that the endowment as described was a human rights violation—when it demonstrably was not. Correspondingly, I was told that OISE could not create such a scholarship because no program or department at OISE would feel qualified to oversee the giving of such an award, whereupon, I immediately mobilized and at my urging, two different departments at OISE passed resolutions stating definitively that they would be happy to oversee it.
And so the negotiations went. Nine months passed with me responding fastidiously to each and every objection raised. Finally, when it started to look as if this process would never end, I told U. of T. that unless they accepted the offer within the next seven days (and it had not yet cleared the Dean’s office, and there were two other levels that would have to approve), I would withdraw it and make a comparable offer to Carleton University. Three days later, with the dean’s help, the proposed endowment had been approved by all U. of T., with no further changes required.
Fast forward a few years—Shaindl Diamond, the executor of my will, got in touch with me, worried. She knew that when I died, the residual estate provisions in my will would have to go through the university again, and she feared that she would not be as good at negotiating as I was. Correspondingly, she asked if I could try to establish a small antipsychiatry scholarship at OISE/UT now, with the hope that this would pave the way for the larger scholarship articulated in my will. I quickly agreed.
Years of negotiations followed as I tried to bring into being the Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry at OISE/UT. Now this was to be a “matching scholarship,” that is, I was agreeing to personally match all amounts I could raise from the community. Additionally, I promised U. of T. that I would contribute whatever was needed so that at the bare minimum, the scholarship fund had $50,000 dollars in it. I got the approval of the new dean quickly. And with help from OISE, I immediately took to mobilizing the community to help fund-raise. In the process, stellar allies like Dr. Peter Breggin, Dr. Lauren Tenney, and Reverend Cheri DiNovo came aboard, publicly endorsing the scholarship. With these endorsements in hand, we reached out to potential donors; with students taking the primary role, in particular Efrat Gold, we created a video on the significance of the scholarship. Meanwhile I continued to negotiate with U. of T. around wording that we could both accept.
Did I run into problems? Yes, huge problems and legions of them. For example, throughout this process, every person assigned by OISE to help me steward the request though U. of T. or reach out to the press kept being “let go” unexpectedly, and when they disappeared, their correspondence with respect to the scholarship disappeared with them. My solution was to keep each and every email that transpired on the topic (and there were literally hundreds of them) and to forward relevant emails to new people as they surfaced. What was also distressing but in the end proved more amusing than serious, additionally, was that some Canadian psychiatrists spoke openly at international conferences telling those assembled they were hell-bent on stopping the “misguided” scholarship. This I basically ignored. What was far more serious was that one stall after another materialized. My institutional allies at OISE and I settled on a strategy that proved to be a winner. We argued that disallowing the scholarship was at odds with academic freedom.
As we got closer and closer to the goal, a historic meeting took place between several OISE administrators and me, during which we hammered out provisional details on how the yearly award would work. Alas, less than a month later, the OISE official in charge of the scholarship was let go, with the entire email exchange between the two of us likewise gone. And again, I began negotiating with new people. Frustrating? You betchya! But we soldiered on.
Eventually, a wording was accepted and the scholarship was approved by the University Board of Governors. Alas, however, once the press got wind of the scholarship, I was trashed in media around the world. Threats were made on my life. And one mainstream professional claimed to be one of many in the process of initiating lawsuits against me. Mostly I simply ignored the unfair treatment and threats—and my students and I concentrated on creating ever new consciousness-raising and fundraising events. Essentially, we counted on the old adage that all press was good press. And so it was to prove.
What was the primary consequence of being trashed in the media around the world? Once in a while, I was able to convince the media to let me respond (e.g., after having been trashed in a student newspaper, The Varsity, I convinced those in charge to let me write an op-ed piece where instead of focusing of the unjust attacks on me, I availed myself of the opportunity to educate the public about psychiatry and antipsychiatry). In a totally unexpected and likewise thrilling turn of events, a billionaire in the US who otherwise would never have gotten wind of this Canadian development heard of the scholarship and made a very sizeable contribution to it, which I then proceeded to match. We now had a scholarship with a healthy amount of money behind it—something that may well never have happened otherwise. In other words the bad publicity helped us prevail beyond our wildest dreams!
Recent Developments Around the Scholarship
We now had a scholarship to which the university community was committed, and everyone acted accordingly. We met and accomplished what we needed to do to ensure that this was more than a “paper victory.” It was decided at OISE that we would pick the first recipient of the scholarship in early April of 2018; also, so as to ensure that the process would not go awry, I would be in charge of coordinating. At the urging of the administration, I handpicked the rest of the evaluation committee. I invited one person from each OISE department, and with the aid of helpful officials, I put processes in place to ensure that students knew how to apply. We mounted all relevant information on the OISE website. Applications began coming in, complete with thesis proposals and recommendations from supervisors. In April, the committee met to select who will soon be the very first recipient of the award. And what a glorious meeting it was!
Contrary to the worries of many that the scholarship would be a “non-starter” due to lack of interest among students, we received four exceptionally impressive applications. As all of us agreed, every single one of the applications was strong enough to be awarded the scholarship. I was granted the opportunity to clarify antipsychiatry to the selection committee and my colleagues were delighted to find out more. As we began discussing the applications, it was evident that everyone was committed to making the choice carefully, taking all relevant factors into consideration. Correspondingly, one hour later, with smiles flashing around the room, we had unanimously chosen a winner. Truly an inspiring beginning. And nothing could be clearer that that we had turned a corner.
Subsequent Scholarship Developments
With stories like this, the point reached at this juncture would generally be the end of the saga, for I had ostensibly accomplished what I set out to do. It is not the end! The point is I kept focused on the larger mission—both at University of Toronto and beyond. Correspondingly, I continued to use the scholarship to raise consciousness.
In addition to this, new stages of a more extensive endowment journey soon commenced. The initial impetus for these stages was that my will was eleven years old. So it was time to look at revisions more particularly, and more generally, to take stock of what I was leaving to posterity.
The first thing I noticed is that my residual estate (which I had scrimped and saved for and had ensured was sizeable as well as constituting the vast majority of my estate) was still going to a “compromise scholarship” in which the scholarship was divided between research into homelessness and antipsychiatry research. What that meant in essence is a huge amount of my money (moreover an amount about 15 times the size of the scholarship that I had just endowed) would be going into a scholarship where antipsychiatry research was only part of the focus. It soon dawned on me how easy it would be for the scholarship to almost always get awarded to theses in the other area, with antipsychiatry thereby pushed to the side. For a few seconds, this realization floored me. Then I remembered Wittgenstein’s ladder. For people who do not know what I mean, in his major tome Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, the brilliant philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein articulated a theory of language that could successfully serve as a tool to arrive at a type of awareness. At the same time, he knew that the theory was incorrect. Toward the end of this impressive work, accordingly, he acknowledged as much. Correspondingly, he urged readers to think of the original formulation as a ladder that gets you to the roof top. It did its job in letting you get where you needed to go—now you needed to throw away the ladder.
Yes, I told myself, this is exactly what I need to do with the original scholarship that I negotiated back in 2006. It has gotten us where we needed to go; now it is important to throw it away. Why use a hypothetical scholarship that was barely okay, when I now have a fully existing scholarship that does the job brilliantly? Whereupon I revised my will, replacing the former residual clause provision with the following: “For the residue of my estate, I instruct my executor as follows: To pay the Governing Council at University of Toronto one hundred per cent (100%) of the residue of my estate to be used to augment the Dr. Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry at the University of Toronto at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.” And with that change, with that fortuitous use of the Wittgenstein ladder formula, a fuller revolution has just happened. And was this strategic about-turn the end of the process? As it happened, no.
As I quickly realized as I continued reviewing my will, I could further adjust my will so that the revolution in process could be bigger still. Why limit myself to a scholarship at one university only when we could accomplish more?, I asked myself. Now to be clear, I had only enough savings for one huge scholarship—and huge it certainly will become upon my passing. However, why not try to endow smaller scholarships in a similar vein at other universities—would this not create synergy and bestow exponentially more legitimacy on the area? I immediately thought of the other universities in the Toronto area. Could I not to some extent cover all three universities in Toronto so that wherever any student went in the city, they could access a scholarship of this ilk? And might not this in the fullness of time even culminate in like-minded counterhegemonic scholars at different universities working together?
So asking myself and so reasoning, I reached out to a few of my allies at Ryerson University and York University who also teach in the general area. Thrilled, they immediately committed themselves to helping both now and after my demise. Noticing myself that both of these universities had strengths in Mad Studies, which itself could act as a bridge, and conjecturing that here additionally was an opportunity to bring Mad Studies and Antipsychiatry closer together, I decided to work at creating scholarships in both universities for students doing theses in either of these areas.
Knowing from experience that the first objections that would be raised would likely be that there were few courses and little or no faculty in the area, with help, I first created a list of faculty in these areas at each university as well as lists of the relevant courses that were taught. And with this information in hand, I got in touch with the relevant university administrators, prepared to make the case, beginning with Ryerson. With Ryerson, the issue of faculty and relevant course was checked out with record speed, and the only real complication that I came across is what is called the “variance clause.”
A variance clause is a standard clause which is always included in endowment agreements. It gives the institution in question the right to use the money for something somewhat different than what is spelled out. If you are trying to endow anything, you can never get around having to negotiate a variance clause. And if the scholarship intended is highly counter-hegemonic, here is a key place where you are likely to be faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. Indeed, it is one of the principle factors that held up the University of Toronto scholarship for years. What in essence you have to do is rein in the degree of discretionary power that officials want granted to the university even while negotiating a variance clause that takes into consideration the organization’s needs (and changing needs), all while ensuring that your intention will actually be honoured not only now but long after your demise. And it is with this last part that a benefactor has to be especially careful.
Now by this time, I had become adept at finding solutions, and it also helped that I was dealing with a much more nimble university, as well as staff who were both surprised and delighted that someone who had been neither faculty nor student at their university actually wanted to give them money. Hence, while we were forced into some tricky back-and-forths with wording, within four days we had come to an agreement. Three weeks later, an agreement had likewise been reached with York University. After that, I revised my new will accordingly. And I sent the additions to my lawyer.
The upshot? About a week ago (April 26, 2018) my new will was officially signed and witnessed. If I might be allowed an exclamation here—halleluiah!
Lesson to be Gleaned from the Foregoing:
- Piece by piece a person can mount a revolutionary change even when it seems impossible.
- Be strategic, not reactive.
- Take every setback as a time to reflect, every obstacle as a learning opportunity.
- Gather your forces around you—psych survivors, students, colleagues, on-side administrators.
- Leverage the espoused values of the institution that you are trying to influence (e.g., note, in this story, the strategic use of the value of academic freedom).
- Do not worry about personal attacks and bad publicity—all publicity is good publicity.
- Know that you can seldom just accept the university’s standard variance clause. Figure out what is needed to safeguard what you are trying to achieve and act accordingly—even when doing so adds years to the process.
- Keep your eyes on the “big picture,” and when you have ostensibly won, just take this as a time to expand your horizons.
- Be at once 100% visionary, 100% principled, and 100% pragmatic.
- Use every conceivable moment as a cherished opportunity to educate and organize.
- As with Wittgenstein’s ladder, use as tools what helps you reach your goal, while being prepared to cast away formulations and achievements no longer helpful.
Closing Remarks and an Invitation
A quiet revolution has just happened—a formidable piece of counter-hegemony. We now have antipsychiatry scholarships ensconced at all three universities in a major international city. And with this, antipsychiatry has made sizeable inroads into academia. We have not only laid down infrastructure and built in safeguards—human and other—we have altered the discourse.
To be clear, this is just one aspect of the gargantuan job that has to be done to make universities work for us, and more generally and more importantly, to make society as a whole work for us. And it is absolutely critical that people concentrate on other and, in many respects, more important parts of the struggle. To keep with the focus of this particular article, however, in ending, let me ask: If we can have antipsychiatry and/or Mad Studies scholarships embedded in every Toronto university, why can’t we “decolonize” other cities similarly? How about New York? How about Tokyo?
Roughly speaking, I have provided, as it were, a road map to be followed, used for inspiration, varied, as the case may be. And in whatever way feels right to you, I invite others able and interested to take up the challenge. Please note, we already know that the fight to create such counter-hegemonic scholarships is not only a meaningful one but a fight that we can actually win. Correspondingly, it can but contribute to the winning of other battles. Who is to say what this might lead to down the road with respect to individual freedom? Valuing of difference? The way society understands and responds to “personal troubles”? Societal recognition of hidden racism, sexism, poverty, etc? The very existence of psychiatry?
That said, I cannot “sign off” without thanking all the people who contributed to this glorious breakthrough (students, psych survivors, radical practitioners, movement people, faculty, administrators, donors, etc.)—to name just a few: Sim Kapoor, Dr. Sona Kazemi, Efrat Gold (and family), Dr. Simon Adam, Sharry Taylor, Dr. Peter Breggin, Dr. Lauren Tenney, Dr. Shaindl Diamond, Julie Wood, Reverend Cheri DiNovo, Dr. Charles Pascal, Dr. Jennifer Poole, Dr. Chris Chapman, Inna Hupponen, Mark Riczu, Dr. Jane Gaskell, Dr. Jack Quarter, Vesna Bajic, Dr. Nina Bascia, Don Weitz, Dr. Glen Jones, Dr. Ian Macleod, Lise Watson, Dr. Tanya Titchkosky, Dr. Linda Muzzin, Oriel Vargas, Nichole Schott, Rebecca Ballen, Dr. Mark Federman, Margaret Brennan, Dr. Jeanne Watson, Lara Cartmale, Michael Hill, lawyer Christine Davidson—and to add two highly helpful staff from Ryerson and York, Mira Claxton and Marisa Barias.
Individually and collectively, you helped pave the way for the dawning of a new era. My heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.