By Shelby Clark
Professor, lecturer, and frequent BTL contributor Dr. John Corvino recently experienced a “dis-invitation” from Rhode Island’s Providence College.
Corvino, who teaches philosophy at Wayne State University, was to host a lecture, “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage,” Sept. 26 at the school. Nine different departments and Dr. Christopher Arroyo, professor of philosophy, planned the event for over six months to a startling result: the event was canceled with an impersonal, college-wide e-mail from the school’s provost, Dr. Hugh Lena.
Corvino was only informed of the cancellation by Arroyo’s forwarding of said e-mail.
Provost Lena stated that the situation was less of a cancellation and more of a “rescheduling.” He said the school was, “Concerned that the event had strayed from what had originally been proposed – a presentation of philosophical and legal arguments in support of same-sex marriage by Dr. Corvino opposite a presentation of opposing arguments by a similar person of national repute.”
Lena did not elaborate on how or why that concern was raised, particularly when Dr. Dana Dillon, professor of theology at the school, had been asked to give opposing viewpoints to satisfy alleged “school policy.”
The supposed college policy “dictates that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a forum.”
Provost Lena went on to say, “The event was not developed along the lines dictated by policy.”
No specific policy is cited in the press release.
Instead of providing clarity on how the event raised concerns and failed to follow school policy, Lena’s statement instead claimed that it wasn’t “fair,” that Dillon hadn’t had enough time to prepare for the program.
The only mention of Corvino simply states, “The event had nothing to do with Dr. Corvino.”
According to members of the Providence College faculty, no such policy exists at the university to have warranted the cancellation.
President of the faculty senate, Dr. Fred Drogula, noted that the only justification the university used to cancel the event involved “A document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled. Catholics in Political Life.’ After discussion with some members of our theology department, however, I am informed that this document is – as the name implies – specifically intended to direct Catholic behavior in political life.”
In other words, no actual policy at Providence College exists to ban Corvino’s lecture.
The school’s faculty senate released a statement Oct. 2, reprimanding the administration for “canceling an event with a non-existent college policy as justification,” resulting in the school’s portrayal as “intolerant to LGBTQQIAA students.” The statement demanded that the school’s administration publicly apologize to Corvino, restore the speaking engagement, and abide by the faculty handbook.
The urge to “restore the academic talk” as passed in the resolution is interesting to note in light of Lena’s original claim that, “The event is being rescheduled with Dr. Corvino and Sherif Girgis, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Princeton University and a J.D. candidate at Yale Law School. Both individuals have agreed to the event and the likely date will be sometime in the spring semester. We will keep you apprised as soon as we have the details finalized.”
Corvino said, “Provost Lena’s statement was premature. I have indicated many times to Professor Arroyo, both prior to and since the cancellation, that I would be interested in doing a debate with Sherif Girgis at Providence College. That’s the closest I’ve come to ‘agreeing to the event.’ I certainly haven’t had any communication from the administration or set any dates.”
Regardless of Lena’s supposed event planning, Corvino claims he won’t return to the school until things are handled differently. “I will go when, and only when, the president of the faculty senate and Professor Arroyo are comfortable with my attendance. I don’t want to be complicit in the administration’s mistreatment of its faculty.”
The original press release is no longer on the official Providence College 2013-2014 press release list, and is only accessible through a Google search.
Unfortunately, Corvino has had an experience with “sudden cancellations.”
“In 21 years of campus speaking, at over 200 colleges and universities, I have only once before had an event canceled [at Grand Rapids’ Aquinas College in 2008].”
“The president [of Aquinas College] personally called me to apologize. He admitted that the problem was the university’s lack of policy, not a violation. The administration immediately sent me a check for the full amount of my speaker’s fee, acknowledging that the cancellation was in no way my fault.”
Conversely, Providence College has been remarkably silent.
“The administration at Providence College has barely acknowledged me in all of this, and has certainly not apologized,” Corvino said.
Has Corvino heard from the administrator most responsible for the situation at Providence College?
“Provost Lena hasn’t contacted me at all.”
In the meantime, Providence College has amended its non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation and gender identity. as of Oct. 4.