By Steve Weatherbe
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, November 3, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A powerful minority of left-wing students at small, still somewhat more than nominally Catholic Providence College are calling for the sacking of prominent Catholic author and literature professor Anthony Esolen for criticizing what his editor at Crisis Magazine called “the Totalitarian Diversity Cult.”
Dr. Esolen, who has published articles at LifeSiteNews, is the author of 16 books and has another due next year titled Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. But he has provoked an irate response from campus radicals after criticizing a certain strain of diversity politics as detrimental to the true purpose of a university, in two articles for Crisis Magazine.
The backlash has yielded him a public scolding from the university president and led him to obtain a lawyer.
After an angry public protest of 60 students led by an activist with a bullhorn, the students met the university president.
The president, Fr. Brian Shanley, then released a letter to all faculty, staff, and students in which he spoke of “academic freedom,” but largely focused on lambasting Esolen for alleged opposition to “diversity” and lack of charity.
The letter, as first reported by author and commentator Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, stated in part:
… when one of our professors writes an article accusing Providence College of having “Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult,” he is protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech. But it must be understood that he speaks only for himself. He certainly does not speak for me, my administration, and for many others at Providence College who understand and value diversity in a very different sense from him.
Universities are places where ideas are supposed to be brought into conflict and questioned, so let us robustly debate the meaning of “diversity.” But we must also remember that words have an impact on those who hear or read them. When a professor questions the value of diversity, the impact on many students, faculty, and staff of color is to feel that their presence is not valued and that they are not welcome at Providence College. I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes. When student activists are described as “narcissists,” they understandably feel demeaned and dismissed. We need to be able to disagree with each other’s ideas without attaching labels to them or imputing motives that we cannot know.
At the same time that we value freedom in the pursuit of truth, let us value even more our fundamental imperative on a Catholic campus: to be charitable to one another. We may deeply disagree on any number of topics, but we should do so in such a way that respects those with whom we disagree.
Our Catholic mission at Providence College calls us to embrace people from diverse backgrounds and cultures as a mirror of the universal Church and to seek the unity of that Body in the universal love of Christ. Pope Francis has likened this communion to the weaving of a blanket, “woven with patience and perseverance, one which gradually draws together stitches to make a more extensive and rich cover.” He reminds us as well that what we seek is not “unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.” Finally, Francis reminds us that “plurality of thought and individuality reflect the manifold wisdom of God when we draw nearer to truth with intellectual honesty and rigor, when we draw near to goodness, when we draw near to beauty, in such a way that everyone can be a gift for the benefit of others.”
Then a petition followed from the university’s Black Studies department, spread among the faculty, charging Esolen with “racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements.”
Esolen teaches in Providence’s Western Civilization program, which has come under sharp attack from campus ideologues who say it lacks “diversity.”
But, Esolen told LifeSiteNews, “How can young people study other civilizations when they don’t even know their own? Most of my freshmen now, for example, have almost no knowledge of any English literature before 1900. What the students describe as a program of comparative civilizations would quickly degenerate into current politics.”
Esolen says that various professors in the social sciences and elsewhere have been “after the Western civilization courses” for 20 years. “But they are all about politics. It doesn’t matter whether it is the politics of the Left or the Right.” Esolen argues that politics has taken the place of God for these faculty, whether they are aware of it or not. “When that happens, any behavior can be justified as long as it is done in the name of your particular ideology.”
Esolen’s articles were provoked by attacks on several Catholic faculty colleagues from students or professors inspired by the “diversity” spirit. Esolen says this is part of an overall campaign to remove Providence’s Catholic content and spirit. Several Catholic professors were the target of “bias reports” from students, but Esolen believes that “anti-Catholic” professors encouraged the attacks.
He hopes to defend his views in a public talk titled “Christ and the Meaning of Cultural Diversity.” He told LifeSiteNews that “Catholics especially, but all Christians, have been practicing diversity by sending missionaries around the world” for 2,000 years.
“The diversity being promoted at Providence is ironic, and self-refuting. I mean, how can you defend diversity by calling for the firing of someone who disagrees with you about what diversity means?”
Commented Adam Cassandra of the Cardinal Newman Society: “Providence College is really fortunate to count Anthony Esolen among its staff. It’s sad to see the administration and faculty throwing him under the bus and trying to run him off for defending the Catholic faith and excellent scholarly study.”