When academic or religious freedom is at stake, principled pro-free speech professors can expect no cover or support from their spineless university administrations
We have already seen how the leaders and administrators at one American Catholic university – DePaul University in Chicago – have demonstrated that they would sooner purge their own faith from campus than do anything which might risk upsetting the SJW cultists and their new secular gods of social justice and identity politics.
And now Rod Dreher brings us news of another persecution taking place, this time at Providence College in Rhode Island, where literature professor Tony Esolen finds himself besieged by vengeful students and hung out to dry by his superiors for having written a thoughtful essay for Crisis Magazine, questioning the current cult of Diversity At All Costs.
Was the essay rather provocative? Well yes – it was titled “My college succumbed to the totalitarian diversity cult”. But at one time university professors were expected to do and say provocative things. It was part of creating a climate of no-holds-barred intellectual debate, the kind which seems to have become so unfashionable of late.
But Esolen made a compelling argument in his essay – writing, remember, from the perspective of an orthodox Catholic teaching at a supposedly Catholic educational institution:
I understand what it is to have a Greek festival or an Italian festival, or a parish festival where fellow Catholics come out to enjoy good high-calorie food, play some innocent games of chance, and try to get the priest to sit in the dunking machine. For man is always united from above, not from below, and that includes even the make-believe transcendence of the local baseball team, which is harmless enough if not taken too seriously. When Catholics come to Mass to pray, they do so as members of one Church, not ten, not fifty, praying the same prayers all over the world, because they give thanks to the one Lord and Savior who died for them on one cross, on the one hill of the Skull, on that one Friday long ago. This was the same Lord who prayed that we would be not ten, not fifty, but one, even as he and the Father are one.
But the watchword at Providence College right now is not unity, but “diversity,” as is made evident by the four-page Diversity Program featured prominently on our website. When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:
What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?
Immediately one can see how this would offend the SJW ideological enforcers, who preach that we are not one, but many, and that we must continually emphasise and acknowledge our differences – often to the extent of resegregation – rather than highlight our common bonds.
Esolen concludes his essay:
But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it. So let us suppose that a professor should affirm some aspect of the Church’s teaching as regards the neuralgia of our time, sex. Will his right to do so be confirmed by those who say they are committed to diversity? Put it this way. Suppose someone were to ask, “Is it permitted for a secular liberal, at a secular and liberal college, to affirm in the classroom a secular view of sex and the family?” The question would strike everyone as absurd. It would be like asking whether we were permitted to walk on two feet or to look up at the sky. Then why should it not also be absurd to ask, “Is it permitted for a Catholic, at a college that advertises itself as Catholic, to affirm a Catholic view of sex and the family?” And I am not talking merely about professors whose specific job it is to teach moral philosophy or moral theology. I am talking about all professors.
In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.
So naturally, outraged SJW students at Providence College went running to the college president in tears, claiming that they had been “harmed” by these thoughtful and completely non-malicious essays.
Equally predictably, the university authorities rolled over in the face of this tyrannical power play by the band of wobbly-lipped permanent victim students, and effectively censured Esolen. As Esolen recounted to Rod Dreher:
My friends of course were outraged, and I was stunned — basically, I had been singled out and exposed before the whole faculty, very few of whom were probably even aware that there was such a thing as Crisis Magazine; and of course they and the students are not my audience when I write for Crisis or whatever. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the President met with faculty on Wednesday afternoon, and all they did for a solid hour was to revile the evil Professor Esolen, with a few old-fashioned liberals defending my right to express my opinions, and several of my stalwart friends from philosophy and theology defending me personally and criticizing the president for his decision and for his handling of related matters. When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.
And it is still not over. The faculty have circulated a “petition,” or a resolution, or something neither flesh nor fowl, to the effect that though we all have academic freedom, it has to be exercised responsibly, and reviling “some part of the PC faculty” that is “unabashed” in publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic. The petition has been signed by various faculty members and students. And STILL I hear that they are not satisfied, but are trying to figure out if they can use my articles to nail me for “bias” and hate, basically asserting that I am not capable of teaching certain categories of students — gay, female, and so forth.
Though he remains able to appreciate the bitter humour in the situation:
As I’ve said to people, authors don’t choose the titles for articles for Crisis Magazine; the editor does that, for the sake of “traffic” on the page. His title was a bit provocative. But everything that has happened since then has shown me, alas, that the editor saw more than I did, or more than I have been willing to admit. The irony would seem to be obvious: “How DARE you suggest that there is a totalitarian impulse in our behavior? You should be FIRED!” And then of course there is the brazen cheering of the faculty when it is proposed that we should not be Catholic after all.
The strange irony of it all is that I’m the one who believes that a wide diversity of cultures and of institutions is a good thing, and they really do not. I do not WANT all colleges and universities to be basically the same; they do.
The list of demands presented to Providence College by the student protesters is full of all the demands for compulsory re-education (of students and faculty), gutting the core undergraduate curriculum to de-emphasise the Western Canon and make it more SJW-friendly, pumping more money into ethnic and gender studies, aggressive hire of minorities on an affirmative action basis, trained counsellors to minister to the delicate emotions of the student snowflakes, the building of a “multicultural center” and – naturally – the hire of new dedicated Diversity Professionals to oversee the new regime.
We are becoming accustomed to reading these laughably impertinent demands, but this document really does take one’s breath away with its sheer scope. And given the fact that the president (Fr. Brian Shanley) folded faster than Superman on laundry day when students first protested professor Esolen – sending them a grovellingly conciliatory letter which basically threw Esolen under the bus – I would not bet against the list of demands being implemented in full, unquestioningly, within the space of a decade.
When spineless university administrators are forced to choose between academic freedom or facing down the minority of SJW agitators who are determined to turn academic life into a pointless, totalitarian dystopia of identity politics totalitarianism, academic freedom loses every time. And when Catholic university administrators are forced to choose between defending the right of orthodox Catholics to express their faith or bowing to endless demands from the most privileged generation of college students in history, again there is no question. The demands are implemented and Catholicism goes out the window before you can say “that’s oppressive”.
Hopefully the new attention focused on this case – plus the fact that Professor Esolen has tenure – will mean that his job remains safe. But the long term outlook is bleak. Academia having nearly completely fallen to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, Catholic universities across America may soon become safe spaces for everyone and everything, save Catholicism itself.
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