When Providence College Professor of English, Anthony Esolen, wrote an article in September for Crisis Magazine detailing the poverty of spirit and intellect at work behind misguided calls for “diversity” on his campus, he—like many or, even, most writers for online publications—did not supply the headline. Yet, a headline that in September seemed provocative—”My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult”—now merely seems accurate, if not prophetic. Esolen himself has noted as much in a number of interviews since.
This is because his ostensibly Catholic college, upon discovering that piece and another one about what faithful Catholics should do when confronted with persecution for their beliefs, used the occasion of that discovery precisely for engaging in such a persecution. A group of several dozen students led a protest march to the office of the college president, Reverend Brian J. Shanley, where they demanded—and got—a statement of disavowal and condemnation. Worse, many of Esolen’s colleagues at the college ginned up an online petition and engaged in a series of secret meetings (from which Esolen was excluded) to denounce and vilify him as one who engaged in “racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements.”
It is perhaps not surprising that the statement from President Shanley is of that classic weasel-construction known as “administrator speak”—an example that perfectly encapsulates the elements of slippery non-committal speech that drives all readers with conviction (of any sort) to despise its author:
[W]hen 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.
In other words, Shanley is saying, “We agree that Professor Esolen is every awful thing you students and professors say he is. But we cannot be expected to do anything about it.” With friends like this, one may say that neither Esolen nor his misguided colleagues and students need enemies. Shanley plays both ends against the middle with no apparent victory offered to either side; though it is clear the trajectory of events and the betrayal of a professor who is said to be to Providence was C.S. Lewis once was to Oxford, favors a patient Left. Weakness from defenders of truth usually does favor those who spout the lies.
The sadness that underscores all of this absurdity is to be uncovered in the realization that most, if not all, of these administrators, colleagues, and students reacting so hysterically to Professor Esolen’s article appear to be incapable of grappling with its real meaning and determined, instead, to parade their incapacity to grasp irony. People supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of truth and to the life of the mind—to valuing wisdom above mere comfort—speak of their need for “safety” and protection from “hostile learning environments” where, you know, they might be questioned or asked to read a book written or confronting ideas that originated before the year of their birth.
Our own Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn recently had the opportunity of interviewing Professor Esolen on their radio program (see link below). As Professor Esolen notes, one of the worst parts of these calls for “diversity” is the emptiness and insincerity of them. They are not serious. They don’t actually seek to engage with the ideas and experiences of other times and places. Instead, what they seek is a kind of sad homogeneity of thought. A “thinking”—if we may with a straight face call it that—that replaces real piety and respect for truth seeking with the false piety of bovine agreement and sloganeering. It is no more that students are encouraged to have the correct answers to factual questions and to develop a real capacity to investigate and defend their opinions. Instead students must have the “correct” opinions; correct answers are now, of course, often optional.
Do take the time to listen to Professor Esolen’s interview below and, if you are left wanting more upon finishing that, have a look at his latest essay here. Those looking to enrich their own intellects (and, perhaps, for Christmas gifts for those inclined to do the same) should check out any number of Professor Esolen’s many books on subjects as diverse as Dante, music, marriage, culture, beauty, and laughter. But, trigger warning: only do so if you can handle real diversity.