Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How many angels?

Here’s a question, boys and girls:
Can a Catholic university simultaneously dedicate itself to diversity and to church doctrine?

That’s the question posed by Beth Hawkins at City Pages in an excellent article about sexual politics at St. Thomas University. Spot’s answer is not bloody likely. St. Thomas is Exhibit A in the argument. The events described by Hawkins are a classic tragedy. We can all watch the protagonist – the university – on its path to ruination, the dénouement apparent to everyone but the protagonist itself.

Spot has written about Katherine Kersten’s full-throated, exultant cry over the new anti-shack up rules at St. Thomas in Shacking up Catholic. It started out as a routine morality police action. A lesbian choir director wanted to take her partner on a choir trip to France. Apparently, some of the choir members, perhaps including the little moral exemplar Amanda Kastelic, complained to the administration. The director was asked to leave her partner home; she refused, declined to go on the trip, and is no longer at St. Thomas.

Fast forward a few months. Now, an unmarried straight couple is planning to lead a student trip abroad. In fact, one of the partners was asked to join the other in a leadership role. Then, holy mackerel – or maybe Holy Mackeral in this case – the HR people figure out that if St. Thomas lets these two share a room, St. Thomas’ discrimination against the lesbians will be even more patently obvious!

What to do? What to do? Let’s be in prayer about it.

There has never been a policy about this before, and unmarried straight couples have shared room before, but we’d better quash it now, or we’ll be revealed for the medievalists we are. Okay, unmarried, romantically-involved couples cannot share a room. We can say that with a straight face, can’t we? And we’ll tell the straight couple, just on the down low, that although they’ll have to get separate rooms, we won’t have any bed checks. Wink, wink!

Well, the couple didn't buy the subterfuge. Quoting again from the City Pages article:
In the end, Lawton and Kennedy [the couple involved] withdrew from leading the trip. "Some of the faculty have said to us, 'Why make a big deal out of this, it's just a trip?' But it's not just a trip," says Kennedy. "The university is very public about avowing its commitment to diversity and clearly this was not in keeping with that public face.

"If the administration would create a policy that would affect unmarried people, what was next? The broader human rights issue is very important to us," she continues. "For us to go on our trip knowing that Ann Shrooten [the lesbian choir director] had not gone on hers, we couldn't countenance going on ours. There was no question. She and her partner were never given the option."

Lawton concurs. "If you don't want people like that, then say so in the hiring process. Don't put 'equal opportunity' on your statement," he says. "There are a couple of areas in which religious doctrine comes into conflict with the idea of diversity, and it's critical that the university come to grips with how it's going to be resolved."

Now of course, the morality sharks smell blood in the water. They went after a promising visiting professor in psychology. Why? She once worked as a counselor at Planned Parenthood. What looked like an appointment to a tenure-track professorship last fall turned into hunting for a new job this spring. So sorry it didn’t work out. We’re behind you 100%. Let us know if there is anything we can do.

The big losers here are St. Thomas students and the university itself. Good faculty – gay or straight – will be leery of St. Thomas when word gets around that the HR manual was written by Moses.

Tags: commits intellectual

A thump of the tail to reader Julie for pointing out the City Pages article.

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