Hundreds Show Support for Internationally Acclaimed Professor

Students and faculty congregated by the Colachis fountain before proceeding into Hughes Administration Center

By Juan Barragan

Location: Colachis Plaza, USD
November 6, 2012

Usually, students and visitors associate Colachis plaza as a peaceful and quiet place that many use to study or eat lunch with friends while soaking in the rays of the sun. Yesterday, that tranquility was replaced by hundreds of students and professors combined, coming together in an act of solidarity to peacefully protest a decision made by Mary Lyons, the president of the University of San Diego. The decision was rescinding the internationally acclaimed theology professor, Tina Beattie, an invitation given to her by the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. Lyons claimed in a letter that Beattie publicly dissents from the Catholic moral teaching based on Beattie’s signature on letter signed by 27 other British theologians that supports open discussion regarding the possibility of civil unions.


As people gathered in Colachis Plaza, professors were asked what they thought about the situation. Many showed concerned about basic fundamental elements of higher education, such as academic freedom. Associate Professor of Anthropology Jerome Hall said, “I think it is a tremendous insult to the concept of academic freedom across the entire university. I think the administration is setting up a double standard, as it always does; except this time I think they got caught.”


Students alike showed their concern about this situation. The governing student body at the university, Associated Students, was not included by the administration in this very important matter. Associated Students Vice President, Yasi Mahallaty said, “From what I know, I feel very disappointed because I have a lot of faith in this university and I think we do a good job of promoting different types of thoughts and views with the purpose of having our students critically think about the decisions we are making and what we are learning about.” Concerning the administration making decisions on the student’s behalf without student input, Mahallaty said, “It is really alarming. It’s very difficult for us when we hear about these decisions to back the administration on that, when they didn’t ask for our opinion or our voice in the matter.”


Eventually, the leaders of the protest took Colachis fountain as the stage and addressed the members in the audience. It was here that students and professors who attended the protest got to voice their opinion in an effective manner which resulted in applause and cheering in support of the issued statements. Senior student Charlie Daly said, “President Lyons, I’ll start by saying that I am sympathetic to the LGBT community who has been alienated by the university’s decision to blackball an advocate who supports their right to marry; as you and I are free to enjoy it, assuming you identify as heterosexual. My primary concern is with the issue of academic freedom. This decision is a betrayal of the university’s goals of diversity and inclusion. USD falls pitifully short of the basic criteria for an intellectual environment. If this is a matter of towing the church’s line, then you are a coward and champion of inequality and ignorance. If this is a matter of appeasing donors, which I suspect it is, then you are morally reprehensible, a fraud! You embarrass me, the students you serve, and yourself!”


The director for USD’s Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, Gerard Mannion was also in attendance, which was the individual who invited Tina Beattie. He addressed the audience, giving them details about what happened from his point of view.  He said, “I want to mention the official teaching of the Catholic Church. The Church teaches that you must follow your conscience, in all circumstances, even when it is wrong. Tina Beattie signed a letter in the Times of London, telling Catholics that they should follow their conscience, and helping them to inform their conscience on deciding about what to do about the impending legislation concerning same-sex civil unions in the United Kingdom. She was standing up for church teaching. Tina’s work and career has stood up for people oppressed and marginalized. She writes on human rights, on marginalization, on oppression, on women’s issues, on feminism. USD should not be banning Tina Beattie; they should be giving her an honorary doctorate.” He mentioned how he received a letter from a parent in support of Tina Beattie that also showed concern for the administration’s handling of the case. He says the letter said, “We do not pay our tuition fees to have our children prevented from being exposed to challenging and different points of view.” Mannion added, “Solidarity is a fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church. With it you can move mountains. It is never too late to say, ‘Hey, I might have gotten that one wrong, I might have been misinformed,’ that is a sign of maturity. None of the official statements put out justify this on any grounds whatsoever. Tina Beattie was not guilty, and even if she was, she should have still been invited and protected under academic freedom. People think that because they have money they can shut people up. A couple of years ago the university had an event, exploring inclusion and diversity with regards to the LGBT community, and I was asked to be on the panel of that as the director for the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. On that panel I said that the social teaching of the church is consistent across centuries and indeed a couple of millennia. There are current disagreements in certain schools and methods of moral theology. It is better to stick with what is consistent: the human dignity of all persons regardless of their background, orientation, and gender. Thank you for your solidarity and keep fighting for a good cause!”


The demonstration ended when students silently walked towards the Hughes Administration Center, home to the office of the President. No one responded upon reaching her door. The crowd dispersed when Public Safety arrived and instructed the crowd to keep the volume to a minimum.


As of the publication of this article, the USD administration has not reversed their decision to allow Tina Beattie to visit the campus to talk about Visions of Paradise: Women, Sin, and Redemption of Christian Art.