Michael Hagan ’15
Somebody must have felt pretty smug about Saturday’s announcement of the decision to cancel Dr. John Corvino’s guest lecture scheduled for Thursday night. An email was sent exclusively to faculty and staff at a time when professors were away from the office and students were presumably too busy eating, drinking, and being merry to care. It led with an assurance of respect for academic freedom and quoted bishops. “By God,” administrators must have thought, “this is golden!”
Was it hubris or crass indifference that blinded senior Providence College administrators to the offensiveness and inappropriateness of both the decision itself and the subsequent announcement? Saturday evening: school’s out, professors are home, beer’s cold, and the school newspaper doesn’t come out until Thursday. Harkins Hall crossed its fingers and hoped the story would simply fade away. But Roman Catholic institutions above all others should know that a public relations strategy of brushing news under the rug ultimately exacerbates the situation.
The highest ranking academic official at Providence College publicly expressed distrust in his own faculty member and colleague’s ability to hold her own in academic discourse. Professor Dana Dillon is an esteemed and gifted theologian. She writes and speaks accessibly and insightfully. Her participation would have enriched Thursday’s event, but instead she has patronizingly been made part of an excuse for cancellation. No amount of applause “for her willingness to present on such a complex and controversial topic” neutralizes the message of the decision just as no amount of written assurance of respect for academic freedom can rectify its violation. Dr. Lena writes one thing and does another.
But unless you honestly believe that this was a one-man decision made over coffee and Saturday morning’s Projo, Dr. Lena is not the problem. However circumstantial, there is much evidence indicating Lena did not act unilaterally; this was a bigger and more calculated decision than his words suggest. Even if it was solely his decision, it is symptomatic of a mindset that seems to permeate so much of Harkins Hall. Saying and writing terms like “academic freedom,” “human flourishing,” and “Veritas” over and over again will not bring them to fruition. Quoting the bishops’ conference out of context to suppress a doctrinally non-Catholic viewpoint neither advances the intellectual tradition of nor defends the Faith.
The negative PR from this incident is regrettable. I have heard people say how it hurts our reputation as a school. Some will condemn campus media outlets for generating even more buzz over a story that the New York Times just made national news. But is it right for a school to have a reputation its conduct does not match? We cannot build a reputation around respect for academic freedom if we do not exercise that respect. Any step forward will simply fold into several steps back so long as the administration’s deeds are misaligned from its words. Providence College can fix this, but such will require the institution to act in accordance with it’s own mission:
“Providence College honors academic freedom, promotes critical thinking and engaged learning, and encourages a pedagogy of disputed questions.”