One from last September, that I missed – a Catholic college disinvited a scheduled speaker because it suddenly felt sick. Or something.
Providence College, a Roman Catholic school in Rhode Island, has canceled a lecture in support of same-sex marriage on Thursday by a gay philosophy professor, citing a church document that says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Do their fundamental moral principles have any connection at all with things like civility to invited guests? Like not wantonly and gratuitously insulting and dehumanizing people for no good (in fact contemptible) reason? Do they even think about such things? Are they capable of it?
The lecturer, John Corvino, chairman of the philosophy department at Wayne State University, in Detroit, has spoken previously at more than 10 Catholic colleges and often appears in friendly debates with religious opponents of gay marriage. His appearance at Providence College had been co-sponsored by nine departments and programs, and some of the organizers said the cancellation surprised them.
It’s rude, it’s unprofessional, it’s mean, it’s anti-intellectual, it’s an act in defiance of fundamental academic principles.
There has often been tension between the ideal of academic freedom and the mandate to uphold church teaching at Catholic colleges. When the University of Notre Dame invited President Obama to give the commencement speech there in 2009, it set off widespread protests because of his support for abortion rights. Notre Dame stood firm. But Anna Maria College, a small Catholic school in Massachusetts, rescinded its commencement speech invitation to Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and a supporter of gay marriage, after the local bishop objected.
It might as well be 1950s Ireland.
The event at Providence College was initially planned as a solo lecture, though Mr. Corvino said he suggested that it be a debate and provided the names of several potential sparring partners. Last week, the organizers added Dana L. Dillon, a theologian at Providence College, to present a response.
But Dr. Lena, the provost, said in an interview late Monday night that the event was canceled because it was largely a platform for only one side, and that it could be rescheduled if it included a philosophy professor with experience arguing against gay marriage.
Fred K. Drogula, president of the faculty senate at Providence College and an associate professor of history, said he could not find a college policy dictating that every lecture must have an equal opposing viewpoint. And he said it was “inappropriate” to invoke the bishops’ document, “Catholics in Political Life,” because it applied primarily to politicians.
So there was an outcry, and, fortunately, the College re-invited its disinvited guest. Brian Leiter shares the letter Fred K. Drogula wrote to colleagues. Drogula, in turn, quotes from the college’s statement explaining its grotesque action:
Providence College’s respect for and commitment to academic freedom is articulated in its mission statement. Academic freedom means that our faculty may pursue the truth in accord with the canons of their disciplines and share their findings in research and teaching without interference. The nature of marriage is a matter about which our faculty has academic freedom.
The incident in question is thus not really about academic freedom, but rather goes to the meaning of being a Catholic college. Should a Catholic college invite an outside speaker to campus, pay that person an honorarium, and give that person an unchallenged platform from which to present arguments designed to undermine a central tenet of the Catholic faith? Our reading of Ex corde Ecclesiae is that to do so would be to undermine the very nature of a Catholic college. Our interpretation is in accord with that of the United States Bishops Conference, which has asked Catholic institutions not to provide honors or platforms for speakers who advocate for positions inconsistent with Church teaching.
No platforms for speakers who advocate for positions inconsistent with Church teaching – so no feminists, for a start. No secularists, no atheists, no advocates for human rights as commonly understood.
One of Drogula’s objections:
That both documents invoke language in the publication Catholics in Political Life to cancel an academic presentation seems very dangerous to academic freedom, because the Administration seems to be declaring certain academic discussion to be ‘political’. Subjecting academic discussion to regulations reserved by the USCCB for politicians and political advocates seems not only wrong, but perhaps even insulting. We academics are bound by standards of intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth and knowledge. We support our statements with evidence that we have scrutinized, we do our best to remove bias from our thinking, we invite the criticism of our peers, and we challenge each other when our logic and reasoning is weak. There is no need to subject our academic discussions to the restraints and limitations reserved for political advocates.
Especially when those restraints and limitations issue from the USCCB.