Villainy at Villanova

Last week the Wall Street Journal published the mind-boggling column “A Mole Hunt for Diversity ‘Bias’ at Villanova” (behind the Journal’s paywall), by Villanova Professors Colleen Sheehan and James Matthew Wilson. Sheehan is a professor of political science and a co-director of its Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Wilson a professor of religion and literature. They write from inside the belly of the beast.

Professors Sheehan and Wilson decry a new set of “diversity and inclusion” questions to the course and teaching evaluations that students fill out each semester. “In addition to the standard questions about the intellectual worth of the course and the quality of instruction,” they write, “students are now being asked heavily politicized questions such as whether the instructor has demonstrated ‘cultural awareness’ or created an “environment free of bias based on individual differences or social identities.” They note the implications and ill effects of these questions on the quality of teaching and discussion. They warn against “an atmosphere of fear-imposed silence.”

The questions carry a distinct whiff of cultural revolution. How long before professors are called to account for their alleged sins against “diversity and inclusion” in struggle sessions? Professor Sheehan may subtly want to incorporate the study of former Red Guard Fang Shen’s brilliant memoir Gang of One into her classroom work.

The president and provost of Villanova have now responded at length. The statement is dated April 1, so we may be in the hands of a wily satirist on the Villanova public relations team conveying a message of derision toward the signers between the lines. It’s possible, if unlikely.

On its face the statement conforms to another genre, this one of concealment by administrators of the institutions of higher learning. The statement is one of the many such soul-killing statements written in doublespeak and issued for public consumption by the leaders of such institutions. Rod Dreher capably provides a reader’s guide to this particular statement in “Villanova mentholates the cultural revolution.”

Villanova is a nominally Catholic institution. To the usual academic platitudes defending the indefensible, Villanova’s president and provost add a religious overlay in the name of truth, unity, and love. As an outsider to the faith, I recoil from the insufferable religious pomposity of the statement. Here we have Mao by way of Molière (i.e., Tartuffe).

In his own way Dreher sees this clearly and issues a warning of his own: “Don’t be taken in by the soothing language! The [Villanova President Peter] Donohue and [Villanova Provost Patrick] Maggitti response, sent out to the Villanova community and alumni, vindicates the WSJ op-ed.”

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.