Santa Clara University faculty senate battles University President Michael Engh

 The Faculty Senate Council [of Santa Clara University], by majority vote at its March 12 meeting, approved the following statement in response to the Board of Trustees’ letter of February 14, regarding President Engh’s decision to drop insurance coverage of “elective” abortions and his decision’s implications for shared governance at SCU:

To all members of the Santa Clara Community,

President Engh’s decision, supported by the Board of Trustees, contradicts Santa Clara’s mission. The Trustees’ letter invokes the recent additions to their bylaws that state that President Engh “has a duty to enhance and advance the identity and mission of the University as a Jesuit, Catholic university. In making the Decision, the President carried out this duty.” With identity and mission thus determined as under the President’s purview, faculty and staff are no longer recognized as crucial partners in the advancement of the university’s mission, goals, and success. We become merely the instruments through which the President’s and the Trustees’ definitions and visions are carried out, diminishing our vibrant community in two particularly important ways.

First, the decision contradicts our stated goal of fostering a diverse and inclusive community. Prohibition of health care coverage for a medical procedure on the basis of theology reflects a profound lack of respect for the moral discernment of faculty and staff (and dependents) as whole persons of conscience. How can we educate citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion, if we are not deemed worthy of exercising our own consciences?

The Trustees erroneously claim that this decision is necessary to uphold SCU’s Jesuit, Catholic character. To the contrary, such a choice upholds the doctrine of the Catholic Church while drastically undermining our unwavering commitment to the philosophical, paradigmatic, and theological pluralism that has formed the hallmark of Jesuit, Catholic education and attracted excellent and diverse students, staff, and faculty to SCU. Integral to welcoming and respecting other religious and philosophical traditions is feeling welcome and respected ourselves. As a Jesuit, Catholic institution, our primary goal is not to enforce doctrine, but to engage in intellectual and academic discourse, which requires a deepening of respect for and engagement with other discourses. Our mission is best served when the university models that same respect and engagement in its internal operations.

Second, this decision and its enforcement by the Trustees have led to a crisis of faith and trust in the mission, governance, and administration of the university. These feelings of alienation and betrayal are exacerbated by the tone as well as the content of the Trustees’ letter: “The Trustees decline the Faculty Senate’s request to instruct the President to follow and be bound by the ‘long established procedures of shared governance.’” If this new paradigm is implemented, anything to do with the identity and mission of the university as a Jesuit, Catholic university (which imbues everything we do as a community) is now beyond the shared governance system.

Santa Clara’s shared governance is not a matter of mere faculty perception. The Faculty Handbook, the UPC Charter, and other governance documents establish structure, rules, and principles. Prior to the Trustees’ decision, these documents created space for consultation and negotiation. In areas of disagreement, our tradition was to find solutions that were acceptable to all parties. The Trustees’ decision, if implemented, would obviate that tradition.

The Faculty Senate Council rejects the Trustees’ reasoning and conclusion, and strongly objects to their decision. We remain adamant that President Engh must work closely with faculty to achieve a shared understanding of the mission, identity, and evolving goals with which the entire SCU community is charged.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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