by Jessica Carreras
A scheduled visit to speak at Aquinas College has turned into a campus uproar over philosopher and gay rights advocate John Corvino after his event was cancelled by Aquinas President C. Edward Balog on the day of the event.
Corvino had planned to go speak at the Catholic private school on April 3, but was called the day of the event by the school’s Tree Top Productions programming board President, senior Ashley Pettin. After speaking with Pettin and the student-run organization’s adviser, Student Activities Director Sara Frees, it was clear to Corvino that the administration was not happy with the board’s decision to bring him to campus. “This has brought massive amounts of controversy to the campus,” Pettin said of the event. “It’s bigger than we could ever have expected.”
While many students were excited about the upcoming dialogue, Aquinas administration was not. According to Pettin, they felt it was necessary to “present Catholic views before or after Corvino’s speech” to expel any idea that what he said was in agreement with their teachings.
According to The Saint, Aquinas college’s student-run newspaper, Tree Top Productions was approached by Mary Clark Kaiser of Campus Ministry, who suggested that a Catholic perspective be presented at the presentation. Though an Aquinas theology professor and Rev. Jim Chlich of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish were contacted and asked to present, neither was available for Thursday evening’s event.
Moreover, it is suspected that the administration received pressure to present an opposing viewpoint from local Bishop Walter Hurley, who was not in support of the event.
For Corvino, this controversy is nothing new. The public speaker, whose speech “What’s Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?” has been given at colleges, centers and churches around the nation, is known for challenging the Bible at his events, as well as engaging in friendly debate.
On March 27, Corvino divulged, he encountered a similar situation at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. There, a professor in moral theology was asked to speak about Catholic teaching before the presentation. What followed, Corvino said, was a small blurb about acceptance and the Catholic view on homosexuality. “I’m curious to see what Aquinas comes up with,” he said.
That is, if Aquinas allows him to come at all. Currently, the event is tentatively rescheduled for April 22, though that date was not confirmed as of press time.
Corvino is confident that if the school is trying to stop him from coming, the student outcries will be enough to force them to back down, as has been shown by the campus’s backlash at the cancellation. “The college subscribes to academic freedom – you should have the freedom to explore an issue from many sides,” President Balog told The Saint. “The fallout from something like this could be fairly serious if we deviate from the notion of freedom of expression.”
The fallout, however, has already started. On Thursday night, instead of seeing Corvino, over 50 students gathered for an open discussion. They made clear that they were unhappy with the administration for allowing alumni and community members to influence their decision about Corvino. As for Balog, he admitted to receiving over 30 voicemail messages in three days regarding the decision.
Negative comments about Corvino from students, however, were nonexistent.
“I have no interest in distorting the Catholic teaching. It is what it is,” Corvino said in his defense. “They knew in inviting me that I’d be disagreeing with official church teaching.”
Moreover, he added, controversial events like these are what he looks forward to. “It gives me more to work with in terms of providing a contrast in terms of where it (Catholic teaching) goes wrong,” he explained. “I think this will heighten interest in the event and create a bigger turnout.”
That occurrence is likely, agreed Pettin, who said that the programming board is planning on reserving a larger room for the rescheduled event. “The programming board wants this to happen,” Corvino said, “and the students want this to happen.”
Balog claims that accusations that he was trying to “stifle certain ideas” are unfounded, and instead blamed the cancellation on a “policy gap in student programming.”
The gap will be discussed this week in a committee meeting, as will recommendations for how to handle this and other similar events.