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University retracts invite, ignites backlash

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 02:02

Miller

COURTESY OF TIM MILLER

Miller was scheduled to lead a workshop April 16-20 but the offer was rescinded on Monday, Feb. 20 due to differences between University ideals and his work.

Miller

ELIZABETH EA/ THE VILLANOVAN

Miller was scheduled to lead a workshop April 16-20 but the offer was rescinded on Monday, Feb. 20 due to differences between University ideals and his work.


 

 

The University chose to rescind a previously extended invitation to prominent gay performance artist Tim Miller on Monday. Miller, known for his often confrontational and thought-provoking shows, was originally scheduled to visit campus April 16-20.

Miller has performed globally at many prestigious universities and seminars, including religiously affiliated institutions such as the Claremont School of Theology, Southern Methodist University and DePaul University, the largest Catholic institution in the country. 

Despite this, the University, in a public statement on Monday afternoon, said it "had concerns that his performances were not in keeping with our Catholic and Augustinian values and mission." 

The statement also reaffirms the openness and inclusivity of student life on-campus.

This press release came days after numerous Catholic organization blogs, such as one by the Cardinal Newman Society, denounced the event, condemning the University's plan to host what they referred to as a "radical militant gay rights performer."

Beyond the six-sentence statement, however, University administrators were widely unavailable for comment, and faculty, including event organizer and communication professor Heidi Rose, were told to refer all inquiries to the University Office of Communication, as they were not authorized to speak to media. 

"I was really troubled by the weird, mealy-mouthed, unsigned Villanova statement, especially when they say I am not consistent with Augustinian values," Miller said, noting that his most recent book, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, "1001 BEDS: Performances, Essays and Travels," contains an epigraph from St. Augustine. 

The passage, from "The Confessions," reads, "In the immense court of my memory…I come to meet myself," a line that Miller regards highly. 

"That could have been the tagline for all my work and definitely my performance workshop at Villanova," he said. "Remembering, telling the truth and being aware of ourselves is exactly what we would have done in the workshop."

In her original invitation e-mailed to all communication students and faculty, Rose emphasized the togetherness and cohesive learning that would take place throughout Miller's workshop. The event was open to participants, both students and faculty, and required an application.

"The performance workshop will thus take you through an intimate process of self-discovery and exploration, focusing on identity and culture, questions of diversity and difference, knowledge of self and others, etc.," she wrote.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miller learned of the cancellation through Rose Sunday night. The University, as of Tuesday evening, had not formally contacted Miller or offered an explanation beyond the press release, leading many, including Miller himself, to believe that the decision was result of anti-gay sentiment.

"I can only see it as garden variety anti-gay bigotry," he said. "Some extremist bloggers started telling lies, and the Villanova administration capitulated and collaborated with those lies. [This shows] such cowardice from Villanova's leadership. I feel so bad for the students at Villanova and some great faculty who are being bullied by their superiors." 

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