Friday, August 1, 2008

U of M prof's actions reprehensible, but school fails to act

Joe Towalski, The Catholic Spirit: The University of Minnesota-Morris' apparent decision not to take action against a professor who desecrated the Eucharist, beyond deactivating a link to his blog, is both sad and disappointing.

The chancellor acknowledges that "behaviors that discriminate against or harass individuals or groups on the basis of their religious beliefs are reprehensible." But she also cites the school's policy on academic freedom, which allows faculty members "to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint" as long as they do not speak for the institution.

If, indeed, the university's own policies prevent it from taking disciplinary action against a faculty member who is guilty of behavior that promotes ignorance, prejudice and hate - whether on the job or off - then those policies need to be changed. Even the chancellor in this case seems to recognize Professor Paul Z. Myers' words and actions as "reprehensible."

Poor reflection

After a cursory glance at Myers' blog, it's easy to see he is more interested in the shock value of his outrageous views than the pursuit of truth. Myers' rantings about the Eucharist - which he calls "the cracker, this silly symbol of superstition" - and his diatribe against Catholicism, which he says "has been actively poisoning the minds of its practitioners with the most amazing [expletive deleted] for years," may, indeed, be his own private opinions.

But how certain is the university that his offensive views aren't carrying over into the classroom, or hallway conversations, or speeches in academic settings outside the purview of the university? Myers' views - personal or not - reflect poorly on the university whether the school chooses to acknowledge that fact or not.

Certainly, academic freedom is a hallmark of university life. But academic freedom should be anchored in respect and civility. Many people - not just Catholics - are left to wonder why a school continues its association with an instructor who, rather than engaging those he disagrees with in a rational and respectful way that befits a university professor, turns to acts of religious desecration to make a point.

Myers may have the right to freedom of speech, but we taxpayers, who help fund this public university and pay professors' salaries, deserve better. The student body deserves better, too.

Ways to respond

So what should we do?

We should contact the university and urge officials to reassess their policies so they are able to appropriately sanction professors involved in unprofessional conduct, inside or outside the classroom.

And we should take the advice of the pastor in Morris to see this situation as a learning opportunity.

As he noted in his Sunday bulletin recently, it's a chance for us to reread what the catechism teaches about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It's an opportunity to remind ourselves about the need for reverence when we approach and receive the Eucharist. And it's an occasion to respond to hate with Christian love by praying for a change of heart for Myers and others who share his views.

Contact info:

• Jacqueline Johnson, Chancellor
University of Minnesota-Morris
309 Behmler Hall
600 East 4th St.
Morris, MN 56267
(320) 589-6020

• Robert Bruininks, President
University of Minnesota
202 Morrill Hall
100 Church St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
(612) 626-1616

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