Rhode Island Catholic school nixes gay marriage prof’s talk


John Corvino   Photo:
John Corvino

Providence College, a Roman Catholic school, canceled a talk on gay marriage by a philosophy professor who has spoken and written extensively in favor of it, prompting concerns about academic freedom from some students and faculty members.

The talk scheduled for Thursday by John Corvino, chair of the philosophy department of Wayne State University in Detroit, was entitled “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage.”

Provost Hugh Lena sent an email Saturday to faculty and staff saying he had decided to cancel the event, citing a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document that says Catholic institutions should not honor those who defy the faith’s fundamental moral principles.

Lena also said the event violated a college policy that requires both sides of a controversial issue be presented fairly and equally when discussed in a public forum and that organizer Christopher Arroyo, a philosophy professor, did not get administration approval.

Corvino, who was invited by nine academic departments and programs, said he respects the right of any college to decide which speakers to invite.

“If what Provost Lena is interested in is thoughtful academic dialogue, that’s what I was there to provide. But it seems to me that what he wants is to shield his campus from opposing views,” said Corvino, who wrote a book last year, “Debating Same-Sex Marriage,” with Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage.

The college welcomes a “real debate” on the issue and approved a presentation earlier this year that would have paired Corvino with a nationally recognized philosopher to present a counterargument, college spokesman Steve Maurano said Tuesday.

Maurano said that did not happen, although Dana Dillon, a theology professor at Providence College, agreed last week to provide the Catholic view on gay marriage. Lena said Dillon had only been invited to speak on Friday, and it was not fair that she had less than a week to prepare to speak opposite Corvino, who has lectured on the topic for years.

Corvino said Lena’s contention that Dillon would not be prepared for the event was insulting to her and absurd, given that she specializes in moral theology. Dillon did not return an email seeking comment, and Arroyo would not comment citing the sensitivity of the issue.

Some students and faculty members said they worried that the cancellation meant they could not have an open academic discussion. They said that they did not know of the policy that Lena cited to bar the event.

Fred K. Drogula, an associate professor of history and president of the faculty senate, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document Lena cited addresses how Catholics are to engage in a political setting. He said the college is not a political institution and Corvino is not a politician.

“He is an academic. This was to be an academic setting and academic discussion,” he said. “Academic freedom is essential for the vibrancy and mission of any college.”

Omar Terrones, a sophomore from Los Angeles, organized an event for the same time as the canceled talk to provide what he said would be an open forum about academic freedom and gay marriage.

“They’re keeping us quiet from fighting for causes that we believe in,” he said.

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