I betcha you never thought that you would read that line coming from Stella Borealis. I've learned over the years that few things are black and white. And today after reporting on some discomforting news from the University of St Thomas over the past six months, I am happy, nay, thrilled, to be able to report to you that the Dean of St Thomas' Law School (guys who are hard nuts to crack) has declared that the University of St Thomas is a Catholic university, more specifically, is a pro-life university, and as such, students may not volunteer for academic credit at Planned Parenthood.
I further betcha that Dean Mengler was watching a lot of EWTN television last week.
I wonder if there is a vacancy for President of UST if he might be interested?
Here is an email that he sent to UST School of Law students yesterday:
From: Mengler, Thomas M., Dean, University of St Thomas School of Law
Sent: Tue 4/22/2008 4:10 PM
Subject: Recent Public Service Board Decision
I write to resolve a community dispute regarding a decision made yesterday by our Public Service Board (PSB). Yesterday, the PSB voted to authorize public service credit to a student who would like to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. Since then, Dean Organ and I have received a number of emails or visits from students and faculty questioning the PSB's decision, as well as questioning some of the language and processes under which the PSB functions.
For now, I would like to set aside for another day some of the broader questions that members of this community, including members of the PSB, have raised with respect to modifying the PSB guidelines. These Guidelines were adopted by the faculty and can be amended, therefore, only by a favorable vote of the faculty.
I do think it is important, however, for me to treat as a formal appeal to the Dean the specific concerns that many from this community have voiced regarding the PSB's decision to certify volunteer work at Planned Parenthood as "qualifying public service." Although the PSB Guidelines say nothing express about the Dean's role in appeals about a decision of the PSB to certify a placement as "qualifying public service," the Guidelines clearly contemplate a significant role for the Dean in helping the PSB implement this faculty policy.
Moreover, because public service is a graduation requirement, PSB decisions about qualifying public service necessarily contain an academic element. I view any appeal of the PSB's decisions in this area, therefore, to be within the purview of the Dean. For this reason, I have decided to accept as an appeal the many concerns that we have received.
As the PSB Guidelines make clear, they are designed to encourage an ethic of servant-leadership within this community. The Guidelines also clarify that qualifying public service is restricted to "any type of volunteer work that is consistent with the mission of the School of Law and the University of St. Thomas." Not surprisingly, this broad encouragement of public service activity places few restrictions on the types of volunteerism for which our law school community should be congratulated.
One restriction, however, flows directly from the University of St. Thomas as a Catholic University, and of the School of Law as an academic unit that seeks to live its Catholic identity. At this University, there is helpful precedent. Nine years ago in 1999, Father Dennis Dease as President of this University decided an issue very similar to the one that presents itself to our law school community. Father Dease denied externship credit to an undergraduate student who wished to volunteer at Planned Parenthood on grounds that St. Thomas cannot endorse -- with academic credit -- student service at an organization whose mission is fundamentally in conflict with a core value of a Catholic University. Because Planned Parenthood is a leader in the abortions rights movement and because opposition to abortion is one of the core values of the Catholic faith, Father Dease refused to authorize the extension of academic credit to academic or service work at Planned Parenthood.
I regard Father Dease's decision in 1999 as controlling -- and for this reason I must reverse the decision of the PSB. Volunteer service at Planned Parenthood, whatever the nature of that service, advances the mission of Planned Parenthood, an organization whose mission is fundamentally at odds with a core value of the Catholic Church. Such service does not constitute "qualifying public service" for purposes of satisfying the School of Law's graduation requirement of 50 hours of public service.
I understand and appreciate that my decision in this matter will be met with mixed reaction. At the School of Law, we have set a course that attempts to live out our Catholic identity in a way that, on the one hand, is true to this identity and, on the other hand, is welcoming and embracing of those who differ. I regard this decision as an effort to walk that path. Because our Catholic identity begins with the value of extending respect and dignity to every individual, rarely should it require us to make decisions that cause unhappiness or discontent. This is one of those rare circumstances, however, in which living out our Catholic nature as a Catholic law school may cause a difference of opinion and feelings among students, faculty, and staff.
Finally, I would like to make clear that my decision should not be read as critical of the fine work of the PSB. The student members of the PSB have consistently worked effectively and tirelessly to administer our public service requirement, to make public service opportunities available to this community, and to encourage all of us to become servant leaders. With regard to this particular issue, the PSB debated deliberately and reflectively on their roles and attempted to reach a decision that was true to our Catholic identity and encouraged each of us to draw on our own faith and values to become professionals of character and integrity. I commend the PSB on the seriousness with which it undertook to resolve a difficult question.
Thomas M. Mengler
Dean and Ryan Chair in Law
University of St. Thomas School of Law
- to - Elwin Ransom