As Beattie fallout settles, committees form
By Matt Hose
The fall semester ended with many unanswered questions for students, faculty and administrators alike regarding the Tina Beattie issue.
Coinciding with the dawn of the spring semester, a task force appointed by President Mary Lyons has convened to discuss the issues involved in the Beattie controversy, hoping to answer some of these questions. At the same time, a separate ad hoc committee has also been formed by the College of Arts & Sciences to address some of these same issues.
Lyons’ task force was created as a result of the disinvitation of Beattie, a British theologian, from holding an on-campus fellowship. Beattie was set to deliver the second annual Emilia Switgall lecture in early November through the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. Protests erupted across campus at the beginning of November as students and teachers claimed that Beattie’s academic freedom had been violated because of the disinvitation. This all culminated in a vote of “no confidence” at a meeting of the academic assembly of the CAS on Nov. 13.
Now, Lyons said that she is looking to the future of the university as the task force comes together.
The mission of the task force, as Lyons wrote in a document explaining its purpose, is the development and recommendation of “protocols and processes to assist the university with its responsibility for insuring congruity between its mission and identity as a Roman Catholic University and the bestowal of institutional honors and honorary affiliations upon those who are not employees or students of USD.”
Essentially, said Amy Besnoy, co-chair of the task force and chair of the university senate, the task force will be taking a holistic perspective when it comes to the Beattie issue.
“We are considering everything from academic integrity, academic freedom, institutional integrity, institutional mission and bringing that all together to have a process that is comprehensive,” Besnoy said.
The task force is composed of a representative from each of the colleges on campus, as well as representatives from university ministry and public relations, along with Associated Students president Morgan Schwanke and graduate student council chair Nick Franco. Representing the College of Arts & Sciences, which has had the most heated debate over the Beattie decision, are Ron Pachence and Lori Watson.
Stephen Ferruolo, the other co-chair of the committee and the dean of the School of Law, said that the task force is a good representation of the USD community.
“If you look at the membership of the committee, it’s a very broad and inclusive group,” Ferruolo said. “You have students and faculty and people who are known to have articulated different views at the time of the Beattie event. So it’s a really good committee.”
Nevertheless, some people are more skeptical of the task force. Notably, in an address to the Mortar Board Society, which is an honors society for college seniors, former english professor Barton Thurber harshly criticized the president’s formation of the task force. He said that the committee was essentially a conflict of interest for Lyons.
Jerome Hall, an anthropology professor, agreed with this analysis, saying that any committee investigating this matter should be independently appointed.
“For this administration to set up its own committee to investigate a matter in which it is an active participant is an insult to the collective intelligence of USD,” Hall said. “For us to accept such foolishness, either in committee composition or the report it will undoubtedly produce, is a waste of our time.”
In a later interview with The Vista, Thurber explained that he believes that the president having her own committee allows her to frame the debate of that committee, thus shaping the way its decisions are made.
“Any committee that is constituted that way is compromised before it does anything, no matter who is on the committee, because it is appointed by the president,” Thurber said.
Despite this criticism, Lyons asserts that the task force does not want to look into the past. She said that it instead is completely forward-thinking.
“It’s not an investigation of anything we did,” Lyons said. “Its basically a task force that will recommend to me any ways in which the university can go forward and clarify institutional honors and affiliations. Since there was some question about whether a visiting fellowship [from Tina Beattie] was an institutional honor, I wanted to gather people around the table to think” about what an institutional honor means.
Confirming this, Besnoy said that Lyons asked them to have some recommendations or answers to two questions by the end of the semester.
The first question asks, “what constitutes an institutional honor or honorary affiliation?” according to documents related to the task force.
The second asks what “processes can assist with the review…of whether the bestowal of institutional honors or honorary affiliations…is congruent with USD’s Catholic mission and identity.”
Ferruolo summarized the first goal in different terms.
“If I’m teaching a class, I might have someone come in and teach a class or participate in a class,” he said.
According to Ferruolo, he could bring in a convicted felon to a law class to tell students about the experiences of living in jail.
“I have complete freedom to do that,” Ferruolo said. “It’s my call who I bring into my classroom, and I think we would agree that’s not an honor. That’s what I think academic freedom here is. Now the situation is: I invite someone here to give a public speech and I call that person an honorary member of the law school. Should there be a different process for that?”
He said that the answer to that question is what the task force is set out to determine, hopefully by the end of the semester.
Nevertheless, Carlton Floyd, a professor in the English department, thinks that the task force will ignore key voices that have already spoken about the Tina Beattie issue.
“The creation of the task force suggests that no other group exists on campus to address or advise the President on such concerns,” Floyd said. “Why would the President listen to the President’s Task Force, but not the University Senate, Phi Beta Kappa, the College of Arts and Sciences Academic Assembly, the University Senate, or the Advisory Council of the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture? Given the presence of these various groups, I find the President’s Task Force redundant.”
He, along with several other faculty members of the College of Arts & Sciences, has joined an ad hoc committee of the CAS Academic Assembly to investigate the Beattie issue further. An ad hoc committee is formed in response to a pressing issue and is usually dissolved after the issue is resolved.
“The significance of the ad hoc committee…is that we answer to no one but the faculty,” Thurber said. “According to the university’s own policy on academic freedom, the faculty are the ones who determine whether academic freedom is at issue. So we are in that sense independent of the administration, which we are both documenting and investigating.”
The committee, which is chaired by Floyd, is tasked with the documentation of all matters relevant to the Beattie issue, as well as drafting responses to faculty, administration and outside players. Additionally, according to a Nov. 29 document, the committee is asked to give recommendations for the Academic Assembly to take action. Thurber said that he expects to see some resolutions or recommendations from the task force by Feb. 26.
Whether or not either of these committees will be effective remains to be seen. However, members of both believe that their respective committees will bring about results.
Thurber said that he believes the problems of the Beattie issue will not go away, and that the ad hoc committee will highlight some of the deeper issues, including academic freedom.
“I suspect that some large movements are lurking just beneath the surface,” Thurber said.
On the other hand, Lyons said that her task force looks toward the future. After one meeting of the task force, of which Lyons herself is not a member, Besnoy said that they are not trying to judge past mistakes.
“I think it’s important to look back so that looking forward is informed,” Besnoy said. “But to look back and rehash, I don’t think is productive. We can’t undo what has been done, but hopefully by understanding what was done, and knowing where there perhaps were gaps in a process, we can hopefully fill that gap with a process so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Ferruolo agreed with this analysis, adding that he thought the first meeting of the task force was very productive.
“This is a really good mix of people [on the task force],” Ferruolo said. “It was a very constructive dialogue. We can bring together a group of people like that with very divergent views…and really just sit there and talk about these issues in a very open and frank way.”
Despite the differing goals of the two committees, junior Juan Barragan thinks that both have their pluses and minuses.
Referencing the composition of the task force, he said, “Since Mary Lyons made it herself, she’s hand-picking individuals. There’s a clear bias there, and that’s problematic in terms of getting an objective opinion.”
However, he appreciated the diversity of the body, saying, “What I did like was that she did pick a student [for the task force], the AS president.”
With the ad hoc committee of the CAS, Barragan thinks that the selection process could be more objective, leading to more effective results. However, he wishes that the committee had a student member.
“What i did not like about this one is the lack of a student voice to be heard,” Barragan said. “This issue that went on with Tina [Beattie] is something that affects the whole community, and to not have a student voice is problematic.”
Seeing the problems and benefits of each of these committees, Barragan thinks that a combination of the two bodies would be the best solution.
“If we were able to mesh those two together and combine them to work it out, it would be a more ideal scenario,” Barragan said. “It would be a better way to come up with a new set of rules.”