Providence College Eats Its Own

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A Christian public official in Indonesia was sentenced to two years in prison this week for allegedly speaking against the majority’s religion.

This was considered harsh, even for Indonesia, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

In fact, according to reports, prosecutors wanted Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the outgoing governor of Jakarta, to receive a suspended one-year sentence on the charge of hate speech.

Hate speech?

Where have we heard that term before?

Maybe at your local college campus?

In Purnama’s case, he reportedly spoke about a political opponent deceptively using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims. An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments created an uproar and Purnama was arrested.

In the United States, Anthony Esolen was not arrested. The esteemed professor was shunned at Providence College for espousing Catholic beliefs. Funny thing, Providence is a Catholic school.

At other campuses, unpopular speakers are either uninvited (see University of California at Berkeley and Ann Coulter) or, when they do show up, are treated with hostility and violence (Middlebury College and Charles Murray).

At the University of Southern Maine last month, Governor Paul LePage conducted a town hall meeting, but was continually interrupted by 25 protesters who, one by one, stood up and began calling the governor names. As each one left, or was escorted out, the others chanted “Black Lives Matter.”

USM senior Iris Sangiovanni told the Portland Press Herald the group “accomplished their goal, which she said was to disrupt the governor and to demonstrate to university officials that their right to free speech would not be deterred by the threat of arrest.”

Their right to free speech? What about the governor’s? Or perhaps when you claim the moral authority to silence the opposition you’re allowed to deny someone’s rights.

It worked at Cal and Middlebury.

How about Providence College?

Anthony Esolen taught Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence. He recently announced his impending move to Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire. According to Esolen, the move is his choice.

Writing in Crisis Magazine, Esolen emphasized the virtues of Thomas More College. He thanked friends and colleagues at Providence, adding:

“I am too old to want to spend the evening of my career trying to shore up a crumbling wall, when those who are in authority at the college are unwilling to listen to our pleas, or even to meet with us so that we can make the pleas in person, but instead pass out lemonade to the professors with the sledge hammers.”

It was two previous articles in Crisis last year that engulfed Esolen in controversy. In one, “The Narcissism of Campus Diversity Activists,” Esolen lamented the push for a diversity-above-all-else agenda, especially in the humanities. He wrote that students don’t want to study classics or “the most culturally diverse program at Providence College, our program in the Development of Western Civilization.”

“They want instead a variety of views regarding current events, or rather an institutional sanction for their own views regarding current events … I say to students, ‘here let me teach you about Milton,’ the author of the greatest poem in the English language. The students reply, ‘No let us teach you about us.’ Dear Narcissus, there is a great and beautiful world beyond that pool.”

Esolen said Providence should welcome students of different backgrounds, “to encounter a real community that fosters their personal and intellectual growth.” He ended that essay with a plea for unity as a Catholic school, quoting St. Paul: “For there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male or female: but ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In the second essay, headlined by an editor (not him) “My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult,” Esolen again emphasized unity over diversity.

“Why should a Catholic institution not then be itself, precisely to offer that increasingly homogeneous and nothing-adoring world a different word, the word of Christ and his Church? Have not the secular preachers of diversity instead worked their hardest to efface that difference, to muffle all those who speak with the voice of the Church against the vision that those preachers have to offer – a vision that pretends to be ‘multicultural,’ but it actually anti-cultural, and is characterized by all the totalitarian impulses to use the massive power of the government to bring to heel those who decline to go along.”

Esolen noted on the school’s “Diversity page” … that “we are supposed to commit ourselves to welcoming the alphabet soup of cheered-on sexual proclivities … But 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.”

The response to Esolen’s essays – and you should read the essays yourself – included a protest by 60 students and faculty, accusations of racism, and petitions calling for more action against him. The president, Father Brian Shanley, sent out a campus-wide email. He wrote that Esolen is protected by “academic freedom,” and then he threw his professor under the bus.

“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 … 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 … 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.”

Esolen questioned blind acceptance to a diversity creed, while calling for the same unity that his Catholic teaching calls for. Good thing he wasn’t arrested.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.