In what can only be called a blow to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry, Providence College has rescinded an invitation to philosopher John Corvino of Wayne State University because his lecture would be in support of marriage equality and “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Corvino is a nationally known proponent of LGBTQ rights, and frequently engages in friendly debates with marriage equality opponents such as Maggie Gallagher, former head of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM.) In the interest of balance, Corvino had arranged for Dr. Dana Dillon, from Providence College’s theology department, to follow his presentation with a short talk on the Roman Catholic Church’s position on marriage. Provost Hugh Lena, in canceling the event, nixed this idea, saying, “it is simply not fair to [Dr. Dana] to give her less than one week of preparation opposite someone who has been lecturing on this issue across the United States for years.”
As Corvino points out in his response to Provost Lena,
As a fellow scholar I am offended on Dr. Dillon’s behalf. If she felt unprepared to respond, she could easily have declined. For her provost to declare her unprepared, however, is an affront to scholarly autonomy and academic freedom.
Also, Corvino maintains,
It also does not speak well of Provost Lena’s confidence in his philosophy and theology departments that he believes that no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice.
Corvino may have a point here. During the public testimony phase of this year’s marriage equality debate in both the State Senate and the House, doctors and professors of philosophy and theology spoke five times. Their testimony was often off-topic, rushed and confusing. Professor Matthew Cuddeback, Dr. Gary Culpepper and Dr. Giuseppe Butera presented theology, philosophy and sophistry as a muddled, incoherent mess of unconvincing and unpersuasive ideas.
What these videos demonstrate is that John Corvino’s hunch that Provost Lena lacks confidence in his philosophy and theology department’s ability to articulate cogent and on point arguments against marriage equality may be right on target. If the three representatives of Providence College who testified at the State House are among the best Providence College has to offer, Provost Lena may be right to to believe, as Corvino suggests, that “no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice.”
PC’s cancelation of John Corvino’s appearance highlights the difficulty if not impossibility of presenting both a “well rounded” and “religious” education. The two ideas work at cross purposes, forming an almost irresolvable paradox. As Corvino states it, towards the end of his response,
My impression, however, is that Providence College actively avoids the airing of views that challenge the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage. The provost seems to want to have it both ways: the appearance of a commitment to vigorous academic dialogue, combined with an isolationist approach to disfavored views; in other words, a Catholic identity defined primarily by what it excludes rather than what it includes.
I suspect the true reason John Corvino is not being allowed to speak at Providence College is because Provost Lena knows what most of us already suspect: Opponents of marriage equality don’t have any good arguments. Their theological concepts might sound good to their fellow Catholics (though polling data indicates otherwise) but what possible argument can be made, in a free society that values freedom of conscience and separation of church and state, for imposing one person’s theology on someone else? Rather than playing a losing hand, Lena decided to tip over the card table while complaining about the unfairness of the rules.
Truth Wins Out has condemned the dis-invitation of John Corvino, and are asking people to “Please give Dr. Hugh Lena a piece of your mind and tell him to invite John Corvino back to Providence College to speak about marriage equality.” You can email Provost Lena at firstname.lastname@example.org