Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom?

If “diversity” is your goal, then I suppose you would spread seeds of various sorts everywhere and then see what blossoms. You would, as they say, “Let a hundred flowers bloom.”  In an academic world where “marketability” and “student involvement” are supposed to be defining factors, you would expect programs that draw students to be lauded, not impeded by administrators who are supposed to be interested in the success of the programs at their institution.  You might even have thought that “diversity” meant allowing a number of different programs with diverse viewpoints to thrive, not merely several programs all sharing essentially the same viewpoint.

But this, sadly, is not what we find.  Usually, the more successful a program with a conservative or orthodox Catholic viewpoint becomes, the more likely it will be targeted by administrators for closure.  The academic forces proclaiming themselves agents of “diversity” have not always been kind to programs with a “diverse” viewpoint.

Why, if the goal is to let a hundred flowers bloom – why, if the standard is academic excellence and student engagement – have successful programs of a more conservative bent consistently been shut down on college campuses?

Why was the successful Integrated Program in Humanities shut down at the University of Kansas in the 1970s? Answer: it was too successful.

What made it necessary to stifle the successful Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco and turn it into a mere shadow of its former self?  Answer: it was also too successful.

Why, too, is the highly successful Catholic Studies Program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul always under pressure from their administration?

And why, to cite the most recent example, has the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family been “re-founded” precisely so that orthodox tenured professors could be peremptorily removed from their teaching posts and the entire curriculum reconceived, including the hiring of academics known to be opposed to the teaching of Humanae vitae and Veritatis splendor?

The answer is not that these programs did not draw enough students or produce sufficiently rigorous scholarship.  Quite the contrary.

Students at the Rome John Paul II Institute challenged their new overlords precisely on this issue of “diversity.”  “Why continue to study at the John Paul II Institute,” they wrote, “if it does not seem to propose anything different from what we can find among the curricula of secular universities, usually in more attractive and effective ways?”  Why indeed.

What has happened is not “adding to” an existing institution.  The effect is the destruction of one institution to replace it with another. The adherents of the new dogma at the “reformed” John Paul II Institute could have founded their own institute.  But they didn’t.


It seems imperative that they crush the old one.  In fact, given the history of these things, it would not be surprising if in several years the John Paul II Institute in Rome ceases to exist altogether for lack of interest.

Those of us in the academy have seen the same pattern over and over.  Only the most ham-fisted administrators just out-and-out kill a program. Instead, they change the leadership claiming that this is just a change of focus and then close it in a few years after interest has waned.

Authentically Catholic institutions are always under pressure to “conform.” Why?  There are hundreds of places in the country where one can get the usual secular education. There are very few places where one can get an education dedicated to the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Why not leave such programs alone?  If they can’t get students, let them fail.  But if they do, let them flourish.  Why the constant drumbeat to make them conform to the status quo?  Why the insistence on crushing them if they are successful?

When conservative bishops and administrators get into positions of authority, they feel they must respect the jobs of those who are already present. When liberals take over, they clean house and sack people freely.  The result is a ratchet that moves only in one direction.

It takes years to build something like the John Paul II Institute from scratch.  But an ideologue can destroy it in a day. They cannot let a hundred flowers bloom. They insist, “No, not that flower.  Kill it even if it means destroying growth in the whole field.”

The “progressives” and modernists have been beating the same drum for the last fifty years.  The results have been disastrous.  Why not try something new?  No, we must double down on what has been shown to fail.  No other direction, especially if it is successful, can be permitted.  Its success would de-legitimate the narrative of those in power.

The history of the post-Vatican II period is now clear for all to see.  The hope of the Council fathers that a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit would blow through the open windows of the Church quickly devolved into an era of petty clericalism, sexual abuse, and administrative incompetence and corruption of the sort not seen since the years prior to the Protestant Reformation.

Bishops styling themselves “reformers” engaged in lewd acts of sexual exploitation, self-enrichment, and personal self-aggrandizement, spending hundreds of millions on modernist cathedrals, monuments to their inflated egos.

These men were members of the worst generation, the generation least open to diversity and change, the generation most likely to continue to insist: “We were the change; we were the end of history.  The counter-revolutionaries must be resisted. Others after us cannot be allowed to undo what we have done.”

And to the bitter end, these self-stylized revolutionaries who envisioned themselves as tearing down the walls of the old order to make way for the new “spirit of the Council” repeatedly made clear to the younger generations that came after, whose goal was to institute the actual reforms of the Council, that they would not yield until the levers of power were torn from their cold, dead hands.


*Image: Iconoclasm in Wittenberg, 1522 by an unknown artist, c. 1858 [British Library, London]

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. His latest book is From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body.