Associate VP of Providence College responds to CWR article about Dr. Esolen (UPDATED)

"At no time," writes Steven J. Maurano, "did anyone on the faculty call for Dr. Esolen to be fired."

I received the e-mail below yesterday; it was written in response to Dr. Michael J. Rubin’s CWR piece “Providence College and Dr. Anthony Esolen: An Alumnus Speaks Out”. Since CWR doesn’t have a “letters to the editor” section, I am posing it here.

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Dear Mr. Olson:
 
I am writing with regard to Dr. Michael J. Rubin’s commentary on Providence College and Dr. Anthony Esolen which appeared in The Catholic World Report on November 29, 2016.  Dr. Rubin is a distinguished alumnus of our College and, of course, he has every right to his opinion on this or any other matter.  However, I would like to correct several inaccuracies in his piece, as they are germane to the issue at hand.
 
In at least two places in his article, Dr. Rubin contends that Dr. Esolen has been “vilified” or accused by the Providence College administration for “racism, sexism and every other kind of prejudice…”  This is completely false.  At no time has the College administration used such language.  The only communication issued by the College in this matter is an email from the President of the College to the College community.  A copy of the text of that email is attached for reference.
 
In providing what Dr. Rubin called context, he claimed that Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. gave in to a list of student demands after they marched on his office in February of this year.  That also is completely inaccurate.  What Fr. Shanley did was produce a detailed, thoughtful response to each of the demands, which he issued to the entire campus.  His response did not agree to the demands, but laid out a path for some action steps and for further discussion.  Where he disagreed with a demand, he clearly and plainly said so.
 
Dr. Rubin then asserts that the result of all this was a “Strategic Plan for Diversity.”  In fact, the College had a Strategic Plan for Diversity as far back as 2010.  The plan was formalized in 2012 and updated in 2013.
 
In that same paragraph, Dr. Rubin then says that the College’s hallmark Development of Western Civilization (DWC) program “is currently being investigated for racial and cultural prejudice while a new Bias Response Protocol has been set up to investigate students’ allegations of such prejudice in individual professors.”  Again, all of this is inaccurate.  The student demands called for a revision of the DWC curriculum which better integrated the contributions of Native American as well as non-western cultures. Fr. Shanley’s response suggested instead an outside evaluation of the program, something every department and/or program at the College participates in on a cyclical basis.  As for the Bias Response Protocol, it was established in 2014, not in response to any recent writings of Dr. Esolen, and its focus is not investigating allegations against individual professors.
 
Dr. Rubin later writes that “students and faculty then denounce (Dr. Esolen) for every form of bigotry, and demand his termination…”  This is also not accurate.  While it is true that some faculty produced and about 50 out of more than 300 full-time faculty signed a petition which mentioned “recent publications on the part of PC faculty,” Dr. Esolen is never mentioned by name or otherwise identified in the petition.  At no time did anyone on the faculty call for Dr. Esolen to be fired.  In fact, to quell the rumors that were swirling around, Fr. Shanley informed Dr. Esolen, both in person and in writing, that he need not be worried about any calls for his termination because Fr. Shanley had no intention of firing him.
 
All of this may sound like nit-picking, but I believe these facts are important to the overall context of the situation.  Dr. Esolen is a fine professor and has taught many students like Dr. Rubin who enjoyed his classes and admired his knowledge and his teaching.  While he may have said or written some things that are controversial with some audiences, and which have been the subject of talk here on campus, there is no need to exaggerate the circumstances that have contributed to this discussion to further other interests.
 
Steven J. Maurano ‘78
Associate Vice President
Public Affairs & Community Relations
Providence College

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UPDATE: Here is Fr. Shanley’s October 21st letter:

October 21, 2016
Dear Members of the Providence College Community:

Yesterday I met with about 60 of our students who marched through campus and eventually came to Harkins Hall. Their primary source of complaint was the content of a pair of articles recently published by a member of our faculty, how it made them feel, and their frustration that there had been no response from the College or me. After dialoging with the students, I believe it is imperative for me to respond to their concerns.

Academic freedom is a bedrock principle of higher education. It allows professors the freedom to teach, write, and lecture without any restraint except the truth as they see it. It also gives them the freedom to express their opinions as citizens so long as it is clear that they do not represent the views of the institution with which they are affiliated. This freedom obviously extends to espousing views critical of their own college or university.

So 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.” Amen.

Fr. Brian Shanley 


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About Carl E. Olson 1119 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.