It doesn’t take much to get cancelled these days. Last month, my turn came around. The experience was unpleasant, but also completely ludicrous. And I learned a lot. I learned how easily an institution will cave to a mob. I learned how quickly the authorities will run for cover, notwithstanding the lip service they may pay to principles of free speech.
After all, they’re terrified. They’re afraid that if they don’t beg forgiveness and promise to do better, they’ll be next at the guillotine.
I was cancelled by one of Canada’s quainter institutions, a University of Toronto graduate residential school called Massey College. Few people outside Canadian academia have heard of it. But the cultural revolution has entered its mass-spectacle Reign of Terror phase, and so my story made news across Canada. I was depicted as a racist, anti-feminist heretic whose mere presence inside Massey’s halls would have presented a threat to students.
But Massey College hasn’t fared too well, either: In this climate, every fusty institution is just one trivial scandal away from public-relations crisis and knives-out infighting, as all concerned flail about in a bid to prove their moral purity. I’ll survive. I’m not sure Massey will.
* * *
Massey College was created in the early 1960s by Torontonians eager to evoke the genteel old Oxbridge days. And it remains a charming place, though a bit precious. It is made up of Senior Fellows (distinguished professors from the university, as well as luminaries from the city’s intellectual elite) and Junior Fellows (graduate students), who don their gowns to dine together, and perhaps mingle over a glass of port. The Senior Fellows are overwhelmingly white; the Junior Fellows increasingly multicultural. Until recently, the head of the college held the anachronistic title of Master, after the British style. Yet despite these antiquated trappings, Massey College prides itself on being a vibrant forum for high-minded debate and liberal ideals.
The college has an appendage called the Quadrangle Society, which is basically a jumped-up book club. Its members, of whom there are hundreds, are drawn from the non-academic world. Although membership is by invitation only, it is not terribly exclusive, and nobody is quite sure of its purpose. It is a WASPish take on what once might have been called a “salon”—back in the days when words like that could be used unironically without provoking eye rolls.