Patrick Luciani: I thought Massey College would stand up for diversity and debate. I was wrong

Today, apologies aren’t the end of the matter; they’re just the beginning
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente reflects on Sept. 11 as she accept her National Newspaper Award for columns in Calgary on Friday, April, 26, 2002. The appointment of former Globe and Mail columnist Wente to a senior fellow position with Toronto's Massey College came under review amid fierce opposition from students and staff. Controversy emerged after the school, affiliated with the University of Toronto, announced that Wente was one of 46 people in various fields named a senior fellow and member of the Quadrangle Society. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press.

When the New York Times ran a feature encouraging its writers to admit things they got wrong, we were equally intrigued and annoyed. What a great idea — why didn’t we think of that?! That’s exactly the spirit we want to encourage at The Hub. We know we won’t be right about everything, but we want to admit it when we get something wrong and we want to figure out why we were off base. So, this week, we’ll be borrowing the Times’ idea and running essays from our writers and staff about the things we got wrong. Please, enjoy our blunders.

As post-secondary institutions succumb to the woke forces of intolerance and shaming of unpopular ideas, Massey College at the University of Toronto was a place I hoped would hold the line. Or at least try. I’ve enjoyed many conversations over lunch in the grand hall and even heard Jordan Peterson at an evening dinner where no one needed to be revived with smelling salts.1Jordan Peterson: Why I am no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto 

I was wrong. Very wrong.

The line broke on September 26, 2017, when the woke crowd brought Massey low. The incident happened when senior fellow and emeritus historian Michael Marrus made a silly comment misconstrued as a racial slur. Professor Marrus is one of the world’s leading scholars on the history of the Holocaust2“Member of the Order of Canada…Michael Marrus is internationally renowned for his contributions to the study of modern European history. Through his teachings and research, he has advanced scholarship on the history, causes and consequences of the Holocaust. The author of several award-winning books, he was appointed a member of the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission to examine the role of the Vatican during the Holocaust. Professor at the University of Toronto, he was the inaugural holder of the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Chair of Holocaust Studies.” and knows better than anyone the consequences of actual racism. 

On this occasion, a student took offence and set in motion the humiliation of a great scholar. An apology was made without reservation and with deep regret. Professor Marrus was mortified and submitted a sincere apology. He wrote, “I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humour at lunch last Tuesday. What I said was both foolish and, I understood immediately, hurtful, and I want, first and foremost, to convey my deepest regrets to all whom I may have harmed.”

But that wasn’t enough. Today, apologies aren’t the end of the matter; they’re just the beginning, and forgiveness is replaced with revenge. Two professors and a student resigned in a show of mock offence and moral outrage. At the same time, Massey’s administration stepped aside, leaving Professor Marrus to fend for himself. He resigned his senior fellowship, saddened and shamed. 

In early 2020, a selection committee at Massey extended an invitation to Margaret Wente, retired Globe and Mail columnist, to become a senior fellow. She is a woman of independent mind and opinion, the kind of person one would want at Massey. That was too much for sensitive minds, and protests by the indignant and intolerant ensued. This time the new director—formerly named Master, a title now considered offensive—retracted the invitation with the excuse that the pandemic had a role in not correctly vetting Ms. Wente, even though the whole country knew who she was and what she wrote. 

In the end, Ms. Wente washed her hands of the mess and declined the on-again, off-again invitation.3It Wasn’t My Cancelation That Bothered Me. It Was the Cowardice of Those Who Let It Happen Massey College was humiliated this time as the famed historian Margaret MacMillan resigned her senior fellowship over the mistreatment of a contrarian and brave journalist. 

By bending to the wishes of the false advocates of justice and progress, Massey has lost three remarkable senior fellows. Whatever ideals that started Massey, once headed by the great Robertson Davies,4“Robertson William Davies…A Companion of the Order of Canada, winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, and founding master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, Robertson Davies is widely acknowledged as one of Canada’s most brilliant and influential essayists and novelists.” are now gone. I’ll miss the subsidized lunches. 

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