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The bad guys vs. Prof. Esolen

Rod Dreher reports on dramatic recent events at Providence College where Professor Tony Esolen teaches literature.

Esolen wrote three articles (here, here and here) for Crisis Magazine, which have been the cause of all the stir.

The first piece this fall, published in late September, is an eloquent plea for the humane learning of a Catholic liberal arts education. Esolen's chief theme in this piece is the homosexual agenda and the attacks from the left upon any organization that continues to maintain its distinctively Catholic identity in the realm of sexuality. He is particularly concerned about the abuse of the word "diversity" in this way at his own college. The editor at Crisis gave the article the very slightly provocative title, "My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult."

The second piece this fall, published almost a month later in October, is more militant and less contentful, but the types it describes are certainly recognizable. It is about persecution of conservatives within Catholic contexts, and it describes four types: The Persecutor, the Quisling, the Avenger, and the Soldier. (Hint: Esolen is encouraging us to be the last of these.) My only demurral about this piece is that at one point Esolen pauses in describing the Persecutor and pointedly corrects himself for using the generic "he," switching emphatically to "she." This could easily give an impression that all or virtually all totalitarian leftist persecutors are female. In fact, as I'm sure many of those who have been hounded by Persecutors in their own institutions and jobs can attest, there are plenty of male Persecutors and plenty of blame to go around between the sexes when it comes to totalitarian leftism. But in any event, that isn't what the fuss is about. (In fact, it's the leftist Persecutors who are going right ahead and persecuting Esolen for Blasphemy Against Diversity. Presumably they have no standing for being offended by being characterized as mostly female or otherwise! They are proudly taking on the role, whoever they are.)

Oh, and this article, published way back in February, appears to be a major locus of fury. In it Esolen had the temerity to argue that the "diversity" activists are really demanding less cultural diversity by rejecting the study of Western civilization. The article is learned, urbane, and articulate, and the idea that it is offensive is patently absurd, despite the fact that (horror!) Esolen kicks it off with an allusion to recent events on his own campus in which the office of the President was occupied by student protesters. Again, much of the outrage seems focused on the title, which dares to use the term "narcissism" for leftist agitators who think they are promoting diversity of viewpoint. Here is the terribly "offensive" paragraph in the article itself:

Everything is about ourselves. We don’t want to study other cultures. We want to make other people study about us, and from our preferred point of view. 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.

Oh, noes! The literature professor used a literary allusion! Run for the hills!

Dreher gives a good run-down of the history of the attacks on Esolen, which blew up in the last couple of weeks when protests were organized on campus implying that Esolen is some kind of racist, of all things, for opposing "diversity." Of course, anyone who has read his articles will see the absurdity of this implication. Indeed, a great oddity of the attacks is that his article with the title about "the diversity cult," which title apparently provoked such anger, was about homosexuality and other sexual perversions, not about race at all! Apparently racial activists are not averse to being used by sexual activists for the latter's own ends.

The President of Providence College has behaved, frankly, as a typical quisling. His letter in response to the protests (given in full in Dreher's article) is rather reminiscent (to my mind) of a certain philosopher's recent panderings to similarly ginned-up outrage. Of course, what they both represent is a perfect type of the spineless, bureaucratic administrator who sees only one side as in need of cossetting.

Fr. Shanley, the President of Providence, implies that Prof. Esolen was mean and uncharitable to, specifically, students with whom he disagreed. (There's nothing like pretending that someone has been mean to students to make him out to be the Baddie.) Here are a few choice paragraphs, with a few of my comments interspersed:

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. [LM: Quick, get that out of the way so you can start criticizing Esolen and making every possible concession to those attacking him. Hmm, gotta think of some way to make this not really apply to what he said...]

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. [LM: The grudging tone would be amusing if it weren't so sad. Anyone would think Esolen had cussed people out.] 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. [LM: Yeah, we're gathering that. Oh, wait, Esolen's article by that name was about homosexuality. Do you support homosexual sex, Fr. Shanley? Oh, never mind.]

Universities are places where ideas are supposed to be brought into conflict and questioned, so let us robustly debate the meaning of “diversity.” [LM: Baloney. The activists to whom you are fully catering don't actually want any such debate at all.] 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. [LM: Oh, burrother.] I have heard from many students about the pain that this causes. [LM: Double oh, burrrother. Tell the little snowflakes to learn to interact with people who disagree with them.] When student activists are described as “narcissists,” they understandably feel demeaned and dismissed. [LM: Seriously, one wonders if Shanley even read the articles or just read the titles and one or two carefully selected sentences. Or perhaps he's just so uneducated that he can't tell the difference between a literary allusion and a psychological diagnosis.] 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. [LM: There is nothing remotely disrespectful in Esolen's discussion of the curriculum. But the people marching around shouting for Esolen to be fired are certainly being disrespectful.]

This is all absolute rubbish. Esolen's articles about diversity and the curriculum are precisely the sort of intelligent, eloquent, contentful, learned, carefully worded debate that anyone would welcome who actually welcomed scholarly debate in a university context. The attack on Esolen is the purest crybullying, and Shanley is making it clear that, in fact, no such debate will be allowed. According to Esolen, there have been demands for his firing, though he is tenured.

My own prediction is that Providence will make no serious attempt to fire Dr. Esolen, and I hope that I'm right. But in the meanwhile, the complete lack of support for him and the continued agitation by the despicable crybullies can make things very unpleasant indeed for him and his family and may well make him wonder when and if formal proceedings to fire him might begin. Living under a sword of Damocles is more or less the essence of a "hostile work environment."

Here are the ominous words of a recent petition leveled against Esolen, without (of course) naming him:

Conferred by the institutions of which we are a part, professors possess the power and authority over students to determine the content of the syllabi, assign tasks, create supportive or destructive learning environments, and evaluate student performance, and we are able to do so largely free from direct oversight. Such a large degree of academic freedom — especially the power to grade — coupled with the right to free speech comes with professional standards and responsibilities. Some professors have openly, publicly, and unabashedly articulated a disdain for racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and religious inclusion. In contrast, we the undersigned, are committed to ensuring that marginalized groups are not further marginalized in the classroom, especially when many of our students already experience multiple forms of exclusion at Providence College.

Puh-lease. So, because Tony Esolen wrote articulately questioning the abandonment of a distinctive Catholic vision of liberal arts education and of sex, he's a suspected bully against students? Give me an ever-lovin' break.

The activists are using the incident (which is really not an incident, except of their own creation) to make sweeping demands. See here. Everybody is supposed to be forced to undergo diversity training, students and faculty alike. "Goals" for minority hiring are to be aggressively pursued, with minorities hired then being carefully shepherded through the tenure and promotion process. The Bias Response Team is to be expanded. And so on and so forth. Pure Orwellian totalitarianism. Of which, it sounds like, there's already plenty around at Providence, but apparently not enough for the activists.

Again, particularly bizarre is that the demands are said to be "in response to racism and anti-blackness at Providence College." Only someone seriously reading-challenged could possibly get "racism and anti-blackness" out of any of these pieces by Esolen, which (I repeat) haven't been about race at all! But again, this isn't about actually reading anything. It's about pure power.

The dust-up at the SCP, though extremely distasteful, had no chance of actually harming Dr. Swinburne. Nor (as many people pointed out) was Dr. Swinburne the actual target of the bullies in that case. Rather, the goal was to intimidate younger scholars. Unfortunately, President of the SCP Michael Rea was only too willing to be used as a tool to that end.

The stakes are higher here for Dr. Esolen. The attack is coming at his own institution, and a direct demand for his firing for wrongthink has been put out there. Fr. Shanley, the college President, is bending over backwards to make the activists feel that he agrees and sympathizes with them. Whether the attempt to fire Esolen succeeds or not, he has a rocky road ahead, and those of us who see the truth need to rally round. May God be with Prof. Esolen and his family.

Comments (29)

Providence College's campus climate survey is conducted by Rankin and Associates, with the authorization of the college president:


Behold, Rankin College's principal:

Dr. Rankin has collaborated with over 70 institutions/organizations in implementing assessments and developing strategic plans regarding social justice issues. In her advocacy work, Dr. Rankin is a founding member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, a network of professionals doing advocacy work for LGBT people on college campuses and the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition, a network of individuals and organizations across the Commonwealth committed to securing and defending full civil rights for LGBT individuals.


Check a few other bios, the orthodoxy monitors are part of an LGBT patronage system, subsidized by the Catholic College.

The college may not have a free hand here. Are they in a situation where they pay consultants, or face lawsuits?

The college may not have a free hand here. Are they in a situation where they pay consultants, or face lawsuits?

I'm not quite sure what you have in mind here. I gather that a lot of employers do hire consultants to undertake "training" in order to prove that they are trying not to create a "hostile work environment" for the usual list of mascots.

But presumably Providence is already doing any of that that their legal team tells them to do. The activists are demanding more. And of course they have a "free hand" when it comes to whether or not to throw Esolen under the bus. Nobody can force them either to fire him or to harass him for anything he has done.

Admonishing sinners is a spiritual work of mercy. Clearly, Prof. Esolen is not the sinner in this case. His is an act of mercy in describing the effects of so-called inclusion (namely, the increase in social entropy). Look, until we attack the idea of sexual diversity at least as strongly as the other side supports it, we will always be fighting a retreating battle. What is so appalling is that the Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas, pretty much invented the Natural Law arguments that admonish the sin of sexual diversity as the term is used, today. Apparently, Fr. Shanley doesn't realize that homosexuality comes from a disordered sexual appetite. What did they teach him in the seminary?

The Chicken

Chicken, there is a whole generation of priests, now (thankfully) aging, who were educated in colleges and seminaries that had already drunk the kool-aid, and disseminated it to their seminarians in lethal doses. Those priests make up the vast majority of priests over age 60, now, and (not surprisingly) largely constitute the cadre from which bishops and college presidents are drawn also. Teach? Why, they teach modern liberalism in all its dreadful dreariness. Well, I suppose you could say that they teach a "faithful Catholic liberalism", as long as you understand that they teach a so-called Catholicism that is faithful to liberalism, and not the other way around. What is amazing is that these Catholic priests simply don't realize they don't hold Catholicism. And they are so bent, now, that there is no reforming their minds by teaching the truth. They are unreachable (except by Divine intervention).

I blame the Vatican for not shutting these seminaries down when they could have, in the 80's. And 90's. And 00's. Now, of course, it is too late: did you notice that the Pope just got rid of all the tradition-minded cardinals in the Congregation for Liturgy and replaced them with liberals?

What's truly bizarre about all of this is the pretense that it has something to do with race. Now, naturally, Prof. Esolen is disagreeing with the idea of studying "race, class, and gender" instead of studying the vast cultures of the past included in Western civilization. But he mentions in the interview with Dreher that he's even offered to lead a film series on injustice and oppression. The connection with race, or any idea that Dr. Esolen has said anything even remotely offensive concerning racial issues, is literally entirely manufactured. Yet it seems to me that the President is taking refuge behind that (very slightly older) meaning of "diversity" to refer to _race_ in order to deflect attention from the topic of homosexuality (thus avoiding having to say anything about his own position on homosexuality), and the student activists are working with him to this end. It's one of the more bizarre examples of subject-changing I've seen, really, because in some ways it has nothing to do with Esolen except insofar as he questioned the demands for dismantling the actual study of Western history. I guess now to be racially sensitive means to agree to all the postmodern *academic* and "sexual diversity" demands that have been arbitrarily associated with "blackness." Including homosexuality. Or something.

Frankly, if I were black I'd be particularly incensed at this abuse of the racial category as a ratchet for a whole zoo of other ideologies.

If I understand this correctly, the bad guys here are not just suggesting Esolen's views are the moral equivalent of racism but instead that he is a bona fide racist. If so, what is stopping them from going a step further and saying he is a terrorist or at least terrorist sympathizer? It is not at all uncommon for those who side with the lgbt activists to say outright that views such as Esolen holds directly spread hate and cause violence. Which sounds a lot like terrorism to me.

They won't do that because it's easier and more profitable to insinuate stuff that's somewhat less extreme. Something like this little free-association:

Prof. E. questions the value of diversity. People who question the value of diversity must not like diverse types of people. Therefore Prof. E. must not like diverse kinds of people. Therefore Prof. E. is a functional racist.

Or this one:

Prof. E. said that student diversity activists are narcissistic. Saying that someone is narcissistic is mean and hurtful. Therefore, Prof. E. says hurtful things about students.

Now for the clincher:

When student diversity activists have been hurt and when diversity-representing students have been made to feel like someone doesn't like them, the only way to make them feel better is by acceding to their demands.

Here's a list of demands.

Sign here.

I agree, there is no reason to be more extreme than what can get away with. I was just thinking if they can get away with racist today, maybe they can get away with something worse tomorrow. Eventually, if things keep going this way, racist won't be a mere insinuation for those that question "diversity", it will just be accepted as a fact.

Anyway, I am not meaning to predict anything on this one. I just figured since the racist is charge is so frivolous that there is no reason they could not make up something else too.

Dear Lydia -- Thank you very kindly for your support. I should say that I shifted the pronoun in THAT one paragraph, going back to the generic masculine for the others, because in that one respect the women will be the more aggressive persecutors, at least as far as I can gather from my experience in the Roman Catholic Church. So I was just turning towards the likelihood, and aiming at a particularly harmful category of women in the Church. I hope that helps explain things, because otherwise I would never have made that glaring shift.

I will let you know of future developments. The atmosphere is poisonous.

We're behind you, Tony. God bless and protect you. Very sorry you're going through this. I should say that I find it particularly offensive that the President, who is supposed to promote scholarship, so egregiously and blatantly misinterpreting your articles.

The oddest thing about this whole "outrage incident" is its air of complete artificiality. The entire thing has been manufactured out of whole cloth, literally. If your articles are all that they can find in the nature of "offenses," they must be unable to find any real offenses anywhere on the whole campus.

Thank God for Tony E, and for Ed Feser, and for others like them. Anyone who is as smart as Tony and who has been around in the business like he has would know just how likely it was that he would be attacked for writing that article. But good people need to be speaking out, at the right times and in the right way, even if others consider it "out of season", because it is God's work to instruct the ignorant and to comfort the oppressed. And boy, can I say how much of a comfort it is to have people like Tony saying these same sorts of things we have been thinking, and trying to say to (though saying them ever so much more aptly than I have, at least)?

Tony, if Providence manages to kick you out (or makes it impossible for you to stay), I know of places you can land that still teach reality.

When is a "victim" not a victim? Well, when they are swinging about weapons and viciously on attack. Hence, Lydia, I love your term "crybully", and do not recall ever seeing it before. It speaks.

Thank you for this excellent summary of the insane situation at Providence College. I do want to nuance your point that Tony has a 'complete lack of support'. Actually, there is a small but well-connected group of us, many of whom teach in the Western Civilization Program, who are actively defending Tony, as well as refusing to cooperate with the the agenda of this small group of faculty and students. It isn't easy, and I have spent an inordinate amount of my time in meetings plugging the dike. We thank you for your support and will stand behind, and in front of Tony, to prevent this hostile take over.

Sandra, it is good to hear from you. Prayers for you and your colleagues who are standing with Tony. God bless you.

Thank you, Sandra, and I appreciate the correction.

Being involved in a "takeover" situation is extremely painful, whether it is a college, a department, a magazine, etc. Usually one discovers that there were weak spots one didn't even know about. I'm thinking here of groups and people whose own work is okay but who are surprisingly sympathetic to insanity--to heavy politicization and postmodernism.

John, I've picked up the word "crybully" here and there on the Internet. I definitely didn't coin it. I believe I was most recently seeing it used in connection with the Christakises. They were the couple who were run out of Yale (by sheer unpleasantness and mobs) because Mrs. Christakis wrote an e-mail in which she said that the concern about "racist" Halloween costumes was overblown, that students should be mature enough not to get offended so easily, and other such extremely moderate sentiments. I believe the Christakises are even political liberals, but they were run out anyway.

The reasoning behind the charge of racism against Esolen might run something like this: If curricular choices are made in a zero sum game, then choosing Milton entails less time, or no time, for Hughes, which then contributes to and sustains various socio-cultural structures of oppression in society. Thus advocating for Milton is necessarily to advocate against Hughes, and thereby against minority contributions to the canon, and against participation by people from underprivileged groups. If so, then the fact that Esolen's article regarded sexual politics, saying nothing at all about race, is irrelevant to whether what he said is racist.

I'm not advocating this line of reasoning, but am rather trying to offer something to make the charge of racism coherent. It seems to me that the underlying assumptions or reasons for making this sort of charge must come from a Frankfurt style social and political foundation. Or, I could just be way off base. That happens a lot anyway!

Yes, well, if that's the reasoning, then to paraphrase Patrick Henry: If this be racism, make the most of it.

Lydia, THANK YOU for speaking up on behalf of Prof. Esolen!

Prof. Esolen: please read this book: 'SJWs Always Lie.' It will give you pointers on how to proceed, and insights into what tactics your enemies will employ against you.

A while back I wrote a poem about anti-racism getting surgico-sexually altered and sodomized by the latest iteration of diversity crybullying:


This is one reason I use a nom d'Internet. When I write Catholic or general theological articles, I do so under my real name, since a person should be accounted for what they believe, but my bosses are not likely to read those publications, so it has far less of an impact on my job than if I wrote hundreds, if not thousands, of blog comments under my real name that are easy to find on the Internet. I have had a very small amount of grief at work over my pro-life beliefs, such that when someone put a flyer against partial-birth abortions in all of the faculty's mailboxes, the department chair went looking for me and one other person, since the chair knows us to be Catholic (and the other persons protests at abortion clinics). I did not put the flyers in the mailboxes, but it was a blatant example of profiling.

As long as, "diversity," is seen as an outgrowth of civil rights, it will always have political support, given how badly we messed up the discussion of civil rights in the 1960's. We transferred the language and politics from the 1950's and 1960's into areas that it doesn't belong - indeed, how can a civil right be accorded to a moral wrong? This is, psychologically, improper transference and to justify it means accepting the delusion that the moral wrong is really a moral good.

The other reinforcement is Title IX and the lust for government funds that can be lost if one doesn't go along with the notion of diversity. I am sure that Providence accepts student loans and other subsidies from the government. These come at a heavy price. Ironically, Catholic education was, originally founded by Bishop Caroll expressly so that Catholics would not be beholden to government notions of morality. The Land O Lakes accord accepted among many Catholic colleges threw this notion under the bus in the 1980's, despite Papal directives to the contrary.

I see no way out of this without either converting the government or disenfranchising from it.

The Chicken

I just saw a post from Tony on Facebook that says he's looking for a job. That's all I know, but thought you would want to know and be continuing to pray for him and his family.

My *impression* (but I have no inside scoop) is that he's disgusted with Providence (understandably) not that anything decisive has happened (such as a firing). But I could be wrong there.

Yes, he may have just decided to resign. He's been fighting the battle there for a long time. I wouldn't blame him a bit for saying it's time to move on and use his energies differently.

I gather that a lot of employers do hire consultants to undertake "training" in order to prove that they are trying not to create a "hostile work environment" for the usual list of mascots.

They do, mostly as CYA for potential lawsuits. Once the inevitable lawsuit materilizes, they can then point to the documentation of "consultants" and "diversity training" materials as a defense.

I gather that a lot of employers do hire consultants to undertake "training" in order to prove that they are trying not to create a "hostile work environment" for the usual list of mascots.

Since my time in the cubicle farms during the 90's, at least. SOP for at least the last 25 -30 years, and probably much longer since it was well established by the time I started out as a white collar drone.

As I explained on this blog 9 years ago now, PC tyranny is good for (big) business.

I gather that a lot of employers do hire consultants to undertake "training" in order to prove that they are trying not to create a "hostile work environment" for the usual list of mascots.

I have been pushed to attend these brainwashing sessions. So here's a question: what is the best thing to do about them, as an employee? Is there an effective push-back? Is there a way to not only repudiate the "message" yourself, but get your fellow employees to do the same?

Well, you can troll, or you can refuse to cooperate if required to engage in some kind of breast-beating. Or you can just keep your head down and hope not to get in trouble. Or if you're really daring you can refuse to attend.

I posted a link several years ago to a fascinating article by Solzhenitsyn called "Live Not By Lies." Applied strictly and literally, "Live Not By Lies" would tell us to make it a point of honor to refuse to attend any political brain-washing session. I'm not sure I want to tell people they have to go that far, though. Maybe Solzhenitsyn might have been willing to accept trolling of various degrees of subtlety, coupled with selective resistance to particular activities.

Sure, there are these options, such as trolling. What I am looking for, though, is techniques for doing it effectively. For example, merely being a troll may be satisfying to yourself, but if the way you get landed on by the PC nazis makes you look like you are merely an ignorant bigot rather than standing on valid principles, you could cause other people (people not yet convinced) to turn away from reality and accept the PC nonsense. Or be more open to it, anyway. So, better to duck and cover, or never show up, than take on their arguments and appear to be defeated. But of course, the "appear to be defeated" is the critical point here: since they are not using argument but propaganda techniques, having a _better_argument_ than them is not likely to be enough.

If he had simply said "All Religions are Make-Believe" then he would have been over and done with it all.

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