Villanova President, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue's decision to cancel Tim Miller’s workshop concerns many of us who have worked with Tim. Tim was not presenting a performance, but a workshop designed to help students create solo performance from their own life experience, whatever that might have been. Period. Because we’ve seen the extraordinary work he has helped students across the ideological spectrum create in workshops like this, it’s difficult to see Villanova’s decision as based on anything other than Tim’s identity.
We’re aware that the university has issued a statement that claims:
Villanova University embraces intellectual freedom and academic discourse. Indeed, it is at the very heart of our University and our Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition. With regard to the forthcoming residency and performance workshops by Tim Miller, we had concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission.
Therefore, Villanova has decided not to host Mr. Miller on our campus. Villanova University is an open and inclusive community and in no way does this singular decision change that.
But to any of us who have followed Tim’s work, have spent time with him in workshops, or have read the hateful and false statements about him in the Right-Wing blogs that fomented this crisis, the university’s statement is patently absurd. One blog described ACT UP, which Tim has worked with, as “anti-Catholic.” (http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/02/cns-villanova-to-host-radical-militant-gay-rights-performer-and-member-of-an-anti-catholic-group/). This is a profoundly reductive characterization of an organization that has worked for a quarter century now to intercede in the stigmatization and suffering of people living with HIV/AIDS—people those of us who profess a Christian faith recognize as “the least of these,” whom Jesus defended and called upon us to assist.
To be sure, ACT UP resisted the Church’s position about AIDS, particularly in the beginning of the epidemic, but its mission never included actions against the Catholic Church or Catholic persons merely by virtue of their faith per se. ACT UP came to the defense of those whom some conservative people, emboldened by some of the Church’s actions and the statements of some of its leaders, were only too willing to throw away. Allowing Villanova to be swayed by the characterization of ACT UP as "anti-Catholic" is an astonishing example of the lack of self-scrutiny any conscious faith demands.
As such, the President's decision to cancel Tim’s workshop bows to falsehood. It bows to bullying. If Tim’s performances are anathema to Villanova's mission, it seems odd that his books of scripts are in its library. Indeed, rather than demonstrating the “openness” and “inclusion” the university's statement trumpets, this decision sends a very clear signal about Villanova’s intolerance to every academic and/or artist who has ever worked with or supported research and creative work about GLBTQ issues in the broadest possible sense. It says that we are not welcome on Villanova's campus—or at least not if a few hateful people decide to mount a campaign that defames our work and misrepresents our histories.
The President's decision says that Villanova rewards poor thinking, false witness, and impressionistic panic over reasoned argument and research to understand the actual facts about an artist or a thinker before making an exclusionary judgment. These are hardly the values of a university.
To any of us who know Tim and the work that he does to encourage students to recognize the power in religious experience and shared work for social justice despite and across ideological differences, Villanova's decision also seems grossly ironic. It risks giving the impression that the university is an ideological monolith uninterested in productive dialogue with its neighbors. To us, it pushes Tim, one of the most stalwart defenders of the divine, out into the cold. Make no mistake: it shocks us.
To that end, we ask that Villanova either reinstate Mr. Miller’s workshop or issue a statement that clarifies why the university feels free to cancel invitations on the basis of falsehood. Until such time, no potential speakers at the university can feel confident that they will be welcome if a handful of bloggers, determined to force their reactionary agenda, choose to misrepresent their work and lives with the ugliest of personal attacks.
Those who wish to call the President's office directly may do so at 610-519-4511. Letters to the Editor can be sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer at email@example.com.