What I am providing here are small glimpses into what my existence at Concordia was like. My first, grueling year of graduate school was not marked by a solitary dramatic event. It was a sequence, a pattern, what I eventually realized was an epidemic. In almost every class, I found myself brushing up against what I had come to think of as the moral gatekeepers of the academy. By acting, or failing to act, by sustaining an arena where students—young, unformed, knowing not what they do—were encouraged to run wild and roughshod over all standards of fairness, openness, and intellectual inquiry, the professors had allowed the institution to transform into something of a madhouse. Select identities, authors, voices, words, and thoughts were permitted at the table; the rest were cast out or barred, without question, as though everything had already been decided. Any pursuit of truth, or dialectic of ideas, was cut off at the knees before it even got started, as the participants expended their energies policing language and asserting their moral virtue. It didn’t even matter if the students making the complaints were in the minority—all it took was one. Instead of a widening of horizons at university, I experienced there a strange sort of thinning, a constriction of the known world and all of reality into a single, narrow, idiosyncratic and firmly imposed set of perceptions and thoughts, an orthodoxy, a faith.
The academy, it seems to me now, has reverted in some ways to its old role as a religious institute, as in the days before Newton, a place of enforced consensus and theological purity. Percy Shelley was famously expelled from Oxford for atheism, for daring to question the orthodoxy of the University, and I see no evidence that he would fare much better today.
For readers, Alice’s journey in Wonderland is amusing. But to be Alice is something altogether different. The experience is hard to pin down with words. With few exceptions, no one on campus is officially censored. But the culture itself exerts power. One feels constantly judged. One is always on-edge. To perceive nuance, to be skeptical, to ask questions, gets one quickly accused of moral deficiency. The students are zealous, the professors often unprepared, fearful, or complicit.