<performance and censorship>

The V Effect
Tim Miller

I have been loathe to dive again into this mess at Villanova University and give even one more ounce of energy or writing to this shameful incident. I now know what they mean by the old joke about the suppressive character of VU: “Free The Villanova 10,000.” Many Villanova alums shared that expression with me as they commiserated during the peak of the crisis. They weren’t kidding! When I was banned at Villanova University, where I was coming to teach a five day performance workshop in April, 2012, at first I simply could not believe it; I have performed and taught at hundreds of universities over the years without such an incident. I was especially incredulous because I was not even going to perform on campus. Villanova banned me as a teacher not as a performer, which I find REALLY troubling.

After the Cardinal Newman Society, an extremist Catholic academic watchdog most famous for trying to ban President Obama from being able to speak at Notre Dame, reported a host of lies about my work — RADICAL GAY MILITANT COMES TO VILLANOVA — the President of Villanova, Rev. Donohue, promptly caved in and cancelled my residency.

What followed was a host of homophobic lies from Villanova University and the complete absence of any public support from the Communication Studies program at VU that had initiated my residency. It is a sad legacy that Villanova showed such cowardice and “performed” – irony intended - how easily they can be bossed around by a few extremist bloggers with misinformation. This is not a Profiles in Courage moment for Villlanova. I feel so bad for the LGBT students at Villanova and for the faculty who were being bullied by their superiors.

I made a statement to the press:
I am shocked by Pres Donohue's grotesque mischaracterization of my performance work — especially considering he is someone who has I believe has never seen me perform. What shameful disrespect he displays for the faculty who were bringing me to Villlanova and to the hundreds of other universities, arts centers and theaters who present my work.

Amid such dishonesty from the Villanova "leadership", I also find myself in awe of the courage and resilience of the Villanova students who are outraged by Donohue's actions. I am also grateful, especially, for the readiness of Bryn Mawr College to step forward so that Villanova students will still be able to take this performance workshop that they are forbidden from taking part in at Villanova.
Byrn Mawr and Haverford Colleges stepped up and collaborated to have the performance workshop still happen that week April 16-20 and a few of the Villanova students and faculty had the freedom to work with me, the freedom they were forbidden at their own university.

Meanwhile the Cardinal Newman Society, emboldened by Villanova banning me and my workshop, has moved on to ban pro-gay, pro-choice and Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu from speaking at Gonzaga Univ. Happily, Gonzaga didn’t follow the Villanova playbook and showed some spine as they told the CNS where to go.

After a horrible several weeks of dealing with the shameful capitulation of Villanova University in banning my workshop residency, what a joyous relief it was to be teaching at USC. It reconnected me to the love I feel for an open-minded university where academic freedom still exists. I have never been so happy to see the Tommy Trojan statue!

In fact the most troubling part of all of this for me — and for the larger field — is that the Communication Studies Department at VU remained silent this entire time and in fact through this silence helped amplify and support the lies of Donohue and the CNS. Perhaps this issue of Liminalties will be the thing that compels the Villanova Communications Dept to FINALLY make a statement, though it will not have any meaning this late in the game. That the head of a large University behaved so unethically under pressure is, sadly, not surprising to any of us. That tenured faculty in the Villanova Communications Department allowed themselves to be gagged is really something we need to look at. How was this even possible? At all the Universities I have been to since all this happened, that is the main question everyone asks me — in disbelief. (I do have to admit there are a few Department Chairs who would like to know the Villanova trick of how to effectively muzzle tenured faculty, but I won't go there!)

I really am grateful for the human support I received from my fellow Liminalities war correspondents there in the trenches — though in completely different ways — Craig Gingrich-Philbrook and Heidi Rose. Craig was really there every step of the way to help me keep my head above water in this homophobic stew I had found myself in. His courage, calm and counsel really was an invaluable touchstone for me. Heidi was in a truly terrible “rock and a hard place” situation that will go on for the foreseeable future, but as she crafted in our workshop the really moving and agency-claiming performance she describes here in Liminalities, I saw that she was planting the seeds for not only her voice to be raised but also to begin the long work of undoing the damage Villanova has done to itself. These are both friendships that were deepened by this crisis and it is the one thing I take away from all this as something to treasure.


For a great “One Stop Shopping” take on the Villanova mess, this piece a couple of months into it in the Philadelphia Inquirer is quite good.

For a more blow by blow, here are relevant links:

On cover of Philadelphia Inquirer Feb 21, 2012.

Philadelphia Weekly coverage

Bryn Mawr College steps up

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on this silence from VU amid international attention.

Worried about Villanova being linked (correctly linked) to homophobia, Donohue resorted to attacking me personally as an artist in his public statement as his last resort, even though I was not performing at Villanova and only teaching a workshop.

The student newspaper The Villanovan has reported and editorialized very well on the controversy, where they included this collection of student responses:

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