Russell Moore: Don’t Burn Books, Providence College
Monday, September 30, 2013
It was a tough week to be a Friar.
Golocalprov.com reported on Tuesday that Providence College’s Provost cancelled a guest lecture by a philosophy professor named John Corvino, who teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit, on the subject of same sex marriage. Corvino, a gay man and a same sex marriage supporter, has given scores of lectures supporting same sex marriage at colleges and universities across the country—including several Catholic Colleges.
The school, at that point, argued that it would be contrary to the school’s mission and church doctrine to invite a speaker that would argue a point that was contrary to Catholic Church doctrine.
Then, on Wednesday, the school did what seemed like an about-face. Providence College released a statement saying that the Corvino appearance hadn’t actually been cancelled, but rescheduled for a later date, sometime next spring. Yet it’s hard to see the “rescheduling” as anything but an affront to academic freedom.
As if that wasn’t enough embarrassment for one week, the school also revealed that it conveniently misreported its student’s SAT grades. Fortunately, the mistake, (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here), didn’t change their ranking.
In any event, the notion that the college cannot stand to have some of its students (those who choose to attend, the vast majority of the school won’t) hear a lecture that supports gay marriage is—at best, wrongheaded and small minded. Does this mean that the school will no longer lecture on great philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche or Jean Paul Satre merely because they were atheists? Let’s hope not.
According to sources close to Providence College, the whole situation was sparked over the fact that the administration had been put under the impression, ever since Corvino was scheduled to speak back in the winter of last year, that the event would be a debate. When the Hugh Lena, the school’s Provost, got wind of the fact that the event was basically going to be a straightforward lecture, he completely overreacted. He stepped in and cancelled the event, citing church doctrine—talk about an over-reaction.
Unsurprisingly and justly, Lena and Providence College found themselves in a public relations nightmare. The blowback from students, alumni, and the media was overwhelming. To save face, the administration scrambled to set up an event in the spring semester that would be a debate, as opposed to a lecture.
The Friar Backpedal?
It’s complete hogwash. There’s no reason in the world why the administration couldn’t have let the lecture take place as scheduled, allowed the students to hear an opposing view, and then scheduled their own lecture with an accomplished, nationally respected lecturer if they wanted.
Then, instead of appearing afraid of what Corvino might say, or that he’d somehow convince the students to support same sex marriage—the school would appear secure in its own position.
Let’s call this maneuver what it is: an insult to Providence College’s student body. By silencing an opposing viewpoint under the guise of “not giving an unchecked platform” to those who oppose church teaching, Providence College is not treating its students like the perceptive, intelligent, discerning young adults that I’m certain the vast majority of them are. Instead, they’re treating them like impressionable children who are easily duped and incapable of forming their own opinions.
Corvino, on his own website, put it succinctly. “…it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask.”
In the same respect, the way the school treated a nationally recognized and well-respected philosophy professor completely lacked decorum. It was embarrassing. Cancelling a lecture just six days before this gentleman was scheduled to appear and then rescheduling while changing the format makes the school look inconsiderate, domineering and harsh.
One can only imagine how gay and lesbian students at Providence College feel after this sad turn of events. Perhaps the worst aspect of this controversy is the fact that the schools gay and lesbian members of the student body will feel less welcome than they did two weeks ago.
“Veritas”; or believe in your own motto
All of this could’ve been avoided if the administration would’ve just taken a deep breath, stepped back, and let the man speak. Let the students hear his arguments. Then the school could’ve presented its own and let the chips fall wherever they might. If one believes in truth, and Providence College’s own motto is “Veritas”, then implicit in that belief is the notion that the truth will manifest itself. Those who feel confident in their positions and stand on the safe ground that is the truth should actually want their opponents to speak.
It gives me no pleasure to criticize Providence College. I’m not someone who wakes up in the morning looking for reasons to go against Providence College—the opposite is true. On the contrary, I’ll always go to great lengths to defend my Alma Mata. But one of the main things Providence College teaches its students is to say and do the right thing regardless of the people or circumstances involved.
Hopefully, the school administration will meditate on this latest turn of events and use it as a much-needed learning experience. Here’s to hoping the school will begin to take Pope Francis’s advice to advice and learn to strike a better balance between adhering to church doctrine without getting all bogged down in bureaucracy. They’re certainly not off to a good start.
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