Beattie boils over
Faculty and administration butt heads at a panel about the Tina Beattie controversy.
By Matt Hose
Emotions spilled over at the first event of the semester to discuss the Tina Beattie issue that took campus by storm late last fall.
The event was titled “Forum on Academic Freedom and Religious Institutions”and was sponsored by the provost’s office, the office of the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and USD’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
This panel was the first event to bring in outside perspectives to campus to discuss the Beattie issue. Controversy occurred late October of last semester when President Mary Lyons rescinded an invitation to Beattie to hold a fellowship and host the Emilia Switgall lecture on campus.
Panelists at the forum included Don Briel, the director of the center for Catholic studies at University of St. Paul in Minnesota; Kelly James Clark, a former philosophy professor at Calvin College in Michigan and B. Robert Kreiser, the associate secretary of the American Association of University Professors. Kreiser was also the writer of the AAUP’s letters condemning President Mary Lyons’ decision to rescind the invitation to Beattie.
During the question and answer period, two professors, Daniel Sheehan and Stephen Ferruolo, got into an argument about whether any administrators had stood up to Lyons’ decision to rescind the invitation.
Sheehan, a USD physics professor, said that several administrators had spoken off the record in previous instances, stating that they disagreed with the president’s decision to rescind the invitation.
“What I find disturbing though is that no administrators spoke out,” Sheehan said.
However, he said that these administrators likely did not speak out publicly because, unlike faculty members, they do not have academic freedom privileges or tenure and could easily be fired for taking a position.
Ferruolo, the dean of the School of Law, responded heatedly by saying that Sheehan’s statement was “nonsense” and “offensive.”
“I find that statement offensive, and I don’t think it should stand for 30 seconds,” Ferruolo said. “The notion that any of us on the administrative side did not speak up because we were intimidated or fearful for our jobs or in any way felt threatened by the president or by our board is just pure nonsense.”
Sheehan asked Ferruolo directly if he had spoken out against the president. Ferruolo responded by saying that he had no reason to speak out against President Lyons, because he does not feel that Beattie’s academic freedom was violated.
“To stand up and publically dispute the president, many of us believe would not serve the university in any respect,” Ferruolo said.
Instead, Ferruolo said that the administration was involved in extensive discussions to more adequately understand the nuances of the Beattie issue.
Senior Arjan Jooyan, the creator of the Facebook group “Toreros stand with Beattie,” thinks that the back-and-forth was a sign that the Beattie issue is still smoldering among some faculty and administrators.
“I think some people’s buttons were pushed, and I think it speaks to the fact that this issue is very deep and personal for a lot of people,” Jooyan said. “It’s not an issue that’s resolved. Tensions are still high, emotions are still very up and down. But at least the discussion is happening with faculty and administrators and students.”
Their argument paralleled the broader debate that has gripped USD since the rescinding of the invitation. Teachers such as Gerard Mannion, the director of the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture who originally invited Tina Beattie, have said that Beattie should have been protected by the university’s policy on academic freedom, and that this freedom was violated. Lyons and the administration, on the other hand, have said that only the honorary title bestowed on Beattie would have been inappropriate, since she signed a letter as a Catholic theologian advocating an issue that the church did not teach.
Lyons rescinded that invitation on Oct. 27 after Beattie signed a letter as a theologian saying that Catholics could “in good conscience” support same-sex marriage.
The fallout was swift as protests erupted across campus at the beginning of November and the administration and faculty sent letters and emails back and forth pointing fingers to who was to blame. An academic assembly of the CAS then voted “no confidence” in Lyons’ administration.
However, with the dawn of the spring semester, the campus quieted of protests, forums, votes and emails regarding the issue until the Thursday night event.
The panel itself was mixed with denunciations of the Beattie affair and higher rhetoric about the nature of academic freedom.
Kreiser, the AAUP secretary, was first to speak. He said that seeing the Tina Beattie affair had especially shocked him because he had written a letter four years before denouncing a similar situation at USD. He referenced the renouncing of an invitation for theologian Rosemary Reuther to come to campus.He said that he felt a sense of deja vu when he saw the Beattie invitation also rescinded.
“I thought the university would have learned its lesson,” Kreiser said. “Something good and important seemed to have come out of the Ruether debacle. Important lessons seemed to have been learned, if only temporarily.”
President Lyons rescinded Ruether’s invitation to hold the John R. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology in 2008 because of Ruether’s position on the board of directors Catholics for Choice, an organization that advocates for abortion rights for women, according to the U-T San Diego.
One of the lessons that Kreiser believed was learned from the Ruether case manifested itself in a new academic freedom policy, which he described as “a very good policy.” However, in the Beattie case, he believes that the policy was violated.
“We take the view that when an authorized faculty or student group invites an outside speaker, that does not mean that the institution approves or disapproves of the speaker, or what the speaker says, has said, or will say,” Kreiser said. “The university does not endorse a particular speaker’s views any more than it endorses the content of a particular book in its library.”
Briel, the director for Catholic studies at the University of St. Paul, said that he did not know the specifics of the Beattie case, but instead spoke in a more general manner about academic freedom at Catholic schools.
“The crisis right now is not necessarily the crisis of religious education, but the crisis of the university itself,” Briel said.
He said that the classical task of the university before the 19th century was to try to understand knowledge in the context of faith. However, by the 19th century, faith had been reduced to “an emotive principle,” or a feeling not based on facts.
“The university, if it is truly a university, I think has got to try to seek an integration of all of human knowledge, and for a catholic [university] that includes religious faith,” Briel said. “[The university needs] faith critiquing reason and reason critiquing faith.”
Clark, the former philosophy professor at Calvin College, bridged the gap between the rhetorical argument of Briel and the concrete denunciations of Kreiser.
He quoted one of Beattie’s writings on her website, which says that Mary is the thinking heart of the church. However, he replaced the word “Mary” with “Christian college” to prove that the intellectual tradition of universities are very important to the church’s growth.
“The Christian college is called to be the thinking heart in the center of the unfolding story of Christ in different times and places,” Clark said. “To me, a christian college is where the church does its thinking, and sometimes you have to think out loud. When you think out loud, people hear it, and you’re going to get criticism. Christian colleges have to have thick skins, Christian college administrators have to have thick skins.”
However, Clark went on to say that it is not only the administrators that are at fault. He said that there is a culture of arrogance among academics and professors, and that they are often intolerant of religious views.
“The academy needs to be a place where people on both sides of the issue are allowed to speak,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of hostility to belief in the academy, especially to christian belief.”
In the end, despite the back-and-forth of the panel and the audience members, students were glad to see that discussion of the issue was opened back up.
Yasamin Mahallaty, the vice president of Associated Students, was happy to see the renewed dialogue.
“I thought it went really well,” Mahallaty said. “It was definitely what needed to happen this semester to kind of get the dialogue going again regarding this issue.”
However, she would have liked to have seen more students present at the event.
“I’m kind of disappointed at the lack of student voice and student presence at the event,” Mahallaty said. “I know that it was put on by a bunch of faculty-centered offices, but I think it would have been helpful for students to hear what outsider professionals to say about what happened.”
Jooyan also would have liked more students present at the event. However, he was more satisfied with the administration’s efforts to put on the event.
“I personally would have liked to see more students show up,” Jooyan said. “I think it is positive that the university administration was actually closely involved in getting this event setup … It’s not something that they were dragged to, or had to be asked to participate in. The university did take the steps to open up the dialogue.”