Policy announced regarding off-campus travel with students

Policy announced regarding off-campus travel with students

In early February, I appointed the Task Force on Off-Campus Travel to develop a policy regarding travel with students. I asked the group to review, clarify and develop policy recommendations in order to convey a clear and consistent message as regards the responsibility of faculty and staff traveling with students for off-campus curricular and co-curricular activities. Further, I asked that these recommendations for our institutional practice remain consistent with the Catholic values imbedded in the university’s mission and at the same time uphold the respect due to the conscience of each member of the St. Thomas community.

I want to thank the task force for the substantial effort it put into diligently carrying out its charge. It met nine times, hosted three listening sessions with faculty and staff directors of off-campus programs or activities, and thoughtfully sorted through and carefully reflected upon a wide range of inputs and issues. On March 15, it submitted to me its report, which was published in Bulletin Today on March 17. That report contained four distinct, unranked recommendations. On March 27, I met with the task force to hear its further thoughts and reflections.

On March 28 and 30, in listening sessions on our St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, I had an opportunity to hear directly from community members. On April 6, I had a lengthy conversation with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and on April 7 I heard from officers of the All College Council.

I want to thank all of the members of the community who took time to share their perspectives. In the past two months I have had the opportunity to hear from many voices both within and outside the university, and I have found the vast majority of these interventions by faculty, staff, students and the broader Catholic community to be thoughtful and helpful. I have taken all of these expressions seriously. In particular, I am grateful to those who in the weeks of animated discussion consistently exemplified the civility and mutual respect that have long been the hallmarks of St. Thomas culture. For the most part, arguments were put forth sincerely, in good faith and by people of good will.

The discussions of the past weeks have not been easy. Feelings run deep because the various values under consideration are extraordinarily important, touching as they do on people’s commitments, loyalties and ways of interpreting life’s deepest meaning. I realize that none of us asked for this challenge. It was brought to us by circumstances that compelled first students and parents, then faculty and staff, to ask that we clarify the “conscience of the institution.”

I have never been willing to concede that “a Catholic university,” to quote George Bernard Shaw, is a “contradiction in terms.” Instead, the mission of a Catholic university involves striking a “delicate balance.”

The task force dealt with what seemed to be a conflict of values and rights between the Catholic conscience of the institution and the individual consciences of some of its members. Its four options strike different balances between those principles.

After careful consideration, I have concluded that Option No. 2 most clearly articulates the long-held expectation of the university and best maintains its institutional integrity. Our policy will be that a faculty or staff member who accompanies students on university-sponsored off-campus programs and activities will not share a room with an unmarried individual of either gender with whom he or she has a romantic relationship, and to whom he or she is not married. (For further articulation, see the policy statement below.)

I realize that although this policy is restricted to travel with students, it will nevertheless be infused in the minds of some with a larger, unwarranted meaning. This policy is not about the private lives or consciences of faculty and staff. Rather, it is about the University of St. Thomas, in its institutional acts, being what it purports to be: a Catholic university that as such “has a relationship to the Church that is essential to its institutional identity.” 1

While the institution is committed to respect the right of its individual members to hold values not in harmony with Catholic teaching, it also expects that those individuals will respect its right as a Catholic university to refrain from endorsing such values.

A number of people have expressed concerns that such a policy would discriminate against those who are not married. Our legal counsel advises us that the policy would not be illegally discriminatory. I should point out that the university, as a faith-based institution, already legally discriminates in a number of ways, including not allowing men to live in women’s-only residence halls, and vice versa, and not allowing women or married men to enroll in the St. Paul Seminary to study for the priesthood.

For me, this discussion has been a significant learning experience. I believe that I have come away from it with a clearer sense of the mission of the university, and I hope this can be said of others as well.

I agree with the task force’s general recommendation that the St. Thomas community needs to engage in further “discussion on how we, as a Catholic university community, reflect our Catholic identity in our professional work life.” I also agree that additional reflection is necessary regarding the differing definitions of “diversity” that emerged in the discussion. Clearly some of those understandings cannot be endorsed by a Catholic institution.

It has been my impression that the discussion revolved not as much around opposition to one set of values as it did around support for another. Those who stressed individual rights of conscience did not seem to intend thereby to minimize the significance of our Catholic educational mission. Those who stressed the expectations embedded in our Catholic mission did not mean to diminish in doing so the respect accorded to the dignity of all members of the St. Thomas community.

My concern throughout has been to try to maintain the integrity of the university’s Catholic nature and faithfulness to its Catholic mission, and at the same time to articulate and reaffirm the respect and gratitude the university community owes all its members. It is my sincere hope that the decision I have made will not dishearten nor discourage any of these valued colleagues. I also want to reaffirm here what I have asserted repeatedly in the years I have served as St. Thomas ’ president – namely, that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff are esteemed, appreciated and cherished members of our community.

Policy Regarding Off-Campus Travel With Students
Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, challenges the University of St. Thomas, as well as every Catholic university, to be an academic institution in which “Catholicism is vitally present and operative.” 2 The document further states: “In a Catholic university, therefore, Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities in accordance with the proper nature and autonomy of these activities.” 3

By its very nature as a place of teaching and learning, St. Thomas should remain open to all human experience and be ready to dialogue with and learn from any culture. Like other universities, St. Thomas also embraces the academic freedom of faculty and students to engage in the search for truth. Moreover, one of the most important ideals flowing from our Catholic identity is that we respect both the inherent dignity and the rich diversity of the individuals who make up our community. With respect to faculty and staff, this means that St. Thomas accords deference to the different choices our faculty and staff live out in their personal lives.

When, however, faculty or staff members engage in university activities that represent the institutional face of the University of St. Thomas, the university’s expectations for its members may be more circumscribed. When, for example, faculty and staff accompany students on university-sponsored off-campus student programs and activities, the university may rightly expect that faculty and staff behavior be congruent with Catholic values. Among these behaviors, St. Thomas faculty and staff are expected to model behavior consistent with Catholic values on marriage and sexuality. During such off-campus programs and activities, a faculty or staff member will not share a room with an individual of either gender with whom he or she has a romantic relationship, and to whom the faculty or staff member is not married. St. Thomas will pay for expenses associated with living quarters for a faculty or staff member leading or teaching in an off-campus program. Only spouses or children may share these living quarters with faculty or staff members, and spouses and children are responsible for their own related travel and living expenses.

1 John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae # 27.

2L’Université Catholique dans le monde moderne. Document final du 2éme Congrés des Délégués des Universités Catholiques, Rome, 20-29 November 1972, cg 1. As quoted in Ex Corde Ecclesiae # 14.