Task Force on Off-Campus Travel submits report
I want to thank the Task Force on Off-Campus Travel for submitting its report to me Wednesday regarding a policy on off-campus travel for faculty and staff. I know that this was a challenging task, and I appreciate the many hours that task force members devoted to it.
My request to the task force was to assist the university “in reviewing, clarifying and, where necessary, developing policies to convey a clear and consistent message about the responsibility of faculty and staff traveling with students for off-campus curricular and co-curricular activities.” I also said any policy should honor “the Catholic values of this university community while respecting the consciences of its members.”
A primary concern in the task force's deliberations was to review issues related to cohabitation of unmarried partners on off-campus trips. St. Thomas does not have a written policy on this matter, but I and other senior administrators believe the university has long had an expectation that a faculty or staff member leading students on a university-sponsored trip would respect Catholic teachings and values on marriage and sexuality and would not share living quarters with his or her unmarried partner on that trip.
The task force appropriately viewed its role as one of defining a policy or guidelines that would address that one issue. The task force met on nine occasions and also held three listening sessions with faculty and staff directors of off-campus trips.
In its report, the task force identified four alternatives that address the cohabitation issue. A preamble to each alternative states:
“When faculty and staff accompany students on off-campus travel, they are in a unique position. The normal and usually clear distinction between private life and professional life changes in at least two ways. First, employees in these roles represent a ‘public’ face of the university to the external world, including students, and thus they must be open to and sensitive of these demands. Second, employees in this position are often ‘on call’ much of the time. While there certainly are ‘private’ times and ‘private’ space, these leaders must be available to assist students when the need arises. Because of these responsibilities, the employee’s leadership must decidedly reflect the values of the university as articulated in its self-description and in its ‘Mission, Vision and Convictions’ statements. This leadership must be directed by the university’s personnel policies and by the specific policies relating to the nature of the off-campus event or travel. Housing and travel arrangements should respect a basic level of privacy for students and for faculty and staff leaders. Faculty and staff leaders must be responsible stewards of the university’s resources.”
The unranked alternatives, all of which deal specifically with faculty or staff members leading students on a university-sponsored trip, are:
- St. Thomas will pay expenses for living quarters for faculty and staff members leading students on university-sponsored programs and activities, but spouses, children or other companions will not travel with the group nor share those living quarters.
- St. Thomas employees who lead off-campus, university-sponsored student programs or activities are expected to respect and model behavior reflective of Catholic teachings and values on marriage and sexuality. In this context, an unmarried employee will not share a room with an individual of either gender with whom he or she professes to have a romantic relationship. St. Thomas will pay expenses for living quarters for faculty and staff members. Only spouses and children may share those living quarters with the employee, and they are responsible for their own expenses. Other travel companions must occupy and pay for their own accommodations.
- St. Thomas employees who lead off-campus, university-sponsored student programs or activities are expected to respect and model behavior reflective of Catholic teachings and values on marriage and sexuality. In this context, an unmarried employee is asked not to share a room with an individual of either gender with whom he or she professes to have a romantic relationship. This differs from Alternative No. 2 (above) in that it is a request, not a mandatory policy. St. Thomas will pay expenses for living quarters for faculty and staff members. Spouses and children may share those living quarters with the employee, and they are responsible for their own expenses. Other travel companions must occupy and pay for their own accommodations.
- St. Thomas will not unilaterally prohibit travel companions from sharing living quarters with faculty or staff directors leading students on university-sponsored programs or activities. Before making any decision, an employee must fully consider the professional expectations of a program or activity, and carefully distinguish the roles of travel companions from the employees’ responsibilities to fulfill the objectives of the program. All travel companions are responsible for their own expenses.
I plan to meet with the task force for further discussion after spring break, most likely the week of March 27.
I look forward to that discussion as well as the opportunity to hear from the broader university community. As announced in my March 14 Bulletin Today column, I will hold two open listening sessions for faculty and staff the week of March 27 to hear directly what is on their minds and how they feel we might resolve the issues at hand.
The first forum will be from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, in O'Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on the St. Paul campus. The second forum will be from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 30, in Thornton Auditorium on the Minneapolis campus.
I hope to make my decision on the travel policy issues early during the week of April 10.
My thanks, again, to the task force. Its co-chairs are Dr. Angeline Barretta-Herman, Edna Comedy and Dr. Gene Scapanski. Members are Dr. Bernard Brady, Jane Canney, Doug Hennes, Dr. Lawrence Potter Jr., Dr. Margaret Reif, Dr. Rich Rexeisen, Dr. Susan Smith-Cunnien and Dr. Sarah Stevenson.