sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2016

There are plenty of lessons here that pertain to all Catholic colleges, and hopefully their leaders will take note of them

Anthony Esolen’s Plight Has Relevance to Other Catholic Colleges

by Adam Cassandra

The persecution of Providence College’s Dr. Anthony Esolen by the college administration, fellow faculty and students has received plenty of attention in recent weeks. For daring to raise concerns about the “diversity” movement on campus, promoting the great value in learning about Western civilization and insisting on fidelity to Catholic teaching at his Catholic college, the good professor has been the subject of condemnations and protests.

To some degree, most colleges across the country are dealing with the issues currently bubbling up at Providence College, but there is a particular relevance to Catholic colleges. They are issues that must be wrestled with in examining what it means to be a Catholic college in modern America.

The diversity movement on college campuses today goes beyond the traditional focus on race and sex to preach acceptance of every sexual proclivity and preferred gender identity. And a special emphasis is placed on non-Western cultures, as the study of Western civilization is said to focus too much on “dead white males.”

Esolen, who teaches courses in Western civilization, sees things differently and argues that it is of great benefit to students to study the cultures of the Western world that are so unlike modern American culture. Further explaining his views and the current kerfuffle at Providence in the college’s campus newspaper, Esolen also touched on several important points that every Catholic college should consider in evaluating its mission and purpose.

Diversity and diversity courses

According to Esolen, what is greatly lacking in all the discussions about diversity is what exactly is meant by the term, and for what purpose are changes being made on college campuses

[P]eople haven’t defined what they mean by diversity. What does that mean? Let’s say that you have a school where you’ve got this wide ethnic and racial diversity, so people come from this place and that place, but they all think alike. Would that really be a place of diversity?

Diversity of thought and of values is hardly ever emphasized in campus diversity programs, even though left-leaning college professors outnumber their conservative colleagues by 5 to 1, and students who identify as conservative are also in the minority. With the media, Hollywood and the culture in general thoroughly embracing and promoting a more leftist view of the world, those who are orthodox in their beliefs are the ones who find themselves outside of the mainstream.

When it comes to specific courses of study, Esolen suspects “that most college faculty, when they hear the phrase ‘cultural diversity,’ are thinking of something in contemporary politics. Maybe some of them think that if you study something like ancient Hindu holy texts, okay, that would count, but not if you study ancient Greek holy texts. That’s not going to count.”

“So what I’m trying to do is figure out what their rationale is,” he said, “if they’re really thinking about an educational encounter with a different culture from ours, or if they’re conceiving this in contemporary political terms.”

College students in our nation largely derived from English rule and customs probably know as little about Anglo-Saxons as they do about tribes in Africa, yet anything that has to do with the Western world somehow lacks diversity.

Desire for national prestige

A recent essay in Crisis Magazine highlighted the “devil’s bargain” many Catholic colleges have made by trading in their Catholicity for greater wealth and prestige. Esolen took note of this serious issue in his interview with the Providence student newspaper, taking the position that the college should have a regional rather than national outlook.

He lamented that some of his fellow faculty members “think it really matters whether we are ranked 31st or 97th on some U.S. News and World Report list, and in order to get our rankings higher we have to be more than regional, we have to be national, we have to get students from everywhere.”

“I don’t care about any of that,” he said. “If we serve the poor in southeastern New England, we have our ethnic diversity and racial diversity right there, automatic. Because those people are right here.” But in order to do so, the college would need to lower tuition and be clear “that we simply don’t care about rankings.”

“So what you have going on is a conflict between the faculty’s desire always to have higher and higher salaries and to have the College be more known, a bigger name, and the obvious thing to do if you want racial and ethnic diversity for the College, and one that would plant us back in the tradition of Providence College, which is that we were a local, regional school for people who couldn’t afford to go to Brown, to give them a great education,” said Esolen.

Many Catholic colleges have tragically chosen to downplay or outright ignore their religious mission in order to appeal to a broader swath of potential new students. Once the commitment to Catholic identity is sidelined, faculty, programs, student groups, etc. that are openly in conflict with Church teaching and Catholic intellectual tradition are heartily embraced.

In their quest to be “mainstream” and national, these colleges end up conforming to be like every other non-Catholic college, and they lose their truly unique character.

Liberal arts education of the faculty

In his interview with Providence College’s student newspaper, Esolen brought up an interesting point that the faculty who are persecuting him “have not had a strong liberal arts education, if any at all,” and therefore “don’t really know its value.”

“A liberal arts education is just very rare these days,” he said. But while faculty at Providence have ample opportunities to encounter such an education, Esolen said most simply refuse. “[T]hey have not had this type of education in their own history, and they have not shown any interest in acquiring anything like it since they’ve been here.”

The value of a liberal arts education for students is often discussed in reports and essays on higher education, but how the lack of a liberal arts education could impact the professors and the academic environment they create is a topic that deserves more attention.

Celebrating immorality

In one of the Crisis Magazine pieces that raised the ire of his detractors, Esolen noted that Providence calls on students and staff to “commit ourselves to welcoming the alphabet soup of cheered-on sexual proclivities” on a webpage highlighting its commitment to diversity. He goes on to assert “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.”

“Now, we either affirm, as an institution, that the Church has a real and powerful and urgent message she must bring to the world, a message of harsh truth and genuine healing, or we do not,” Esolen wrote. “If we do believe it, then we cannot believe that a disordered inclination towards any sin, sexual or otherwise, can be constitutive of any human being.”

When asked about these statements during his interview with the Providence College student newspaper, Esolen said, “[T]he question is how does a Catholic school reconcile what seems to be a celebration of certain activities that are opposed to Catholic teaching? How do those two things fit together? And I don’t know that they can fit together.”

“It would be like a Catholic school holding celebrations of divorce,” he continued. “Well, you can’t do that as a Catholic school. In order to celebrate divorce, you have to cease to be Catholic while you’re doing that and there’s a conflict there. And I don’t think that conflict can be resolved. You either have to be Catholic or not.”

Esolen went on in the interview to emphasize that all persons are owed love, but any immoral actions they are taking part in cannot be given a stamp of approval. “If we are going to approve of that sort of behavior, why don’t you approve of pornography and other sorts of behavior that the Church opposes?”

In their efforts to minister to students with disordered sexual attractions or gender identity confusion, most Catholic colleges have taken the approach of celebrating these attractions and lifestyles that can lead young people into sin. For example, a number of Catholic colleges across the country sponsor annual “Coming Out Day” events to celebrate students’ same-sex attraction. Events such as these further entrench the misguided cultural narrative that a person’s identity is defined by their sexual attractions.

And these celebrations of sexual attractions and identities almost universally omit any mention of what the Church teaches on these subjects or the importance of chastity. While the message of the Church on sexuality is rooted in love for the human person and a call to holiness, it seems that anything less than a full endorsement of these disordered attractions and lifestyles is deemed to be bigotry.

Academic freedom

Finally, the situation at Providence College raises questions about the principle of academic freedom and what truths should be protected at a Catholic college.

Ex corde Ecclesiae states that the Church recognizes the protection of academic freedom at Catholic universities “within the confines of the truth and the common good.” Yet appeals to academic freedom have been used by the leaders of Catholic higher education to justify numerous instances of scandal in the past few decades — none of which promoted any pursuit of truth or the common good.

“I want freedom for Catholic colleagues to be themselves, and not to have to fear that they are going to be charged with this or that form of bias or whatever just because they uphold what the Church teaches,” Esolen said during his interview. “And I want the classical liberal arts education that we have here at Providence College to be enhanced, not to be watered-down, and not to be abandoned.”

There are no breaks from Catholic moral teachings or the Catholic intellectual tradition in Esolen’s publications and statements that are currently under scrutiny, yet the leaders at Providence College appear to have turned their backs on him. Providence College President Father Brian Shanley, O.P., said Esolen’s views were protected by academic freedom in a letter sent out to the entire campus, but he chastised Esolen in the same letter. Fr. Shanley stated his support for “robust debate” on Esolen’s arguments about diversity, but it seems instead that the college is trying to silence and isolate Esolen.

The National Review reported, “A subsequent faculty statement referred implicitly to Esolen’s articles as involving ‘racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements.’ … In an open letter, the chairman of Providence’s Diversity Initiative Implementation Committee, Father Kenneth Sicard, described the articles as having an ‘offensive and implicitly racist’ tone.”

Fr. Shanley refused to send a letter to the campus community from Esolen responding to the situation.

These are hostile acts not representative of a free exchange of ideas.

Esolen’s situation is more than an internal debate at a small East Coast college. There are plenty of lessons here that pertain to all Catholic colleges, and hopefully their leaders will take note of them, look inward and question their own policies and priorities.

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