CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
Franciscan University’s future, its recent brushes with scandal and how it will retain its Catholic identity were just a few topics addressed during a hearing on Monday with the university’s “Key Three” administrators.
The congressional-style hearing by Franciscan University Student Government featured a panel of 19 Student Government members questioning three of the university’s top administrators: the Rev. Nathan Malavolti, TOR, chief evangelization officer; Bill Gorman, chief operating officer; and Daniel Kempton, chief academic officer.
Each member had 5 minutes to ask questions and receive responses from any of the three administrators, in addition to written questions that had been submitted and answered previously regarding an array of issues brought forth by the members and the general student body.
One of the most common concerns was the university’s ability to maintain its orthodox Catholic identity as it seeks to expand. Sen. Patrick Senour asked if Franciscan would have the same fate as Notre Dame — a school generally criticized as being Catholic in name only — or how it would avoid that trap.
Kempton responded by saying that some universities made “conscious decisions” that being academically excellent meant having more academic freedom, a “slippery slope that led to having more non-Catholic faculty … and less loyalty to the Magisterium.”
“Every time I meet with a prospective faculty member, I say to them, ‘We know the easy way to becoming more academically excellent is to compromise your passionately Catholic nature. We’re not willing to do that. How do you fit into that?’”
In a written response, Gorman said he didn’t expect the university to expand to more than 3,000 students on campus, but Sen. Carly Newman expressed concerns of what that would mean for the moral character of the student body.
“There is a disconnect between the conferences and what really takes place on this campus,” Newman said. “Alcohol and drugs, house parties, sex among students and households that have morphed into fraternities with rosary beads are simply a reality. What steps are being taken to clean up the mess we have before expansion?”
Malavolti said the university was aware of these issues and is trying to address them by having more resources available to minister to students, including more counselors and friars for pastoral care. According to one of the written questions, the ratio of students to friars is 150:1, a statistic Malavolti said he hopes changes for the better.
Another hot topic in both the oral and written questions was the university’s response to articles in Church Militant and the National Catholic Reporter regarding the use of “The Kingdom” in an English class and the university’s handling of Title IX cases.
“Those articles are contained in their readership,” Gorman said in the university’s defense, “who by and large doesn’t like us. It’s been difficult for a lot of us, but … you have to look at the overarching mission of the university. That’s what needs to be defended, even if some of us have a bad few months.”
Concerns raised by both Chief Justice Jeremiah Poff and Justice Maria Lencki was that the university is not caring for the portion of the student body that desire the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and more traditional worship.
Malovalti validated their concerns and said the university will take serious looks at how to care for those students spiritually and will consult with Chapel Ministries to see if the need for the Extraordinary Form is enough to justify changing Christ the King Chapel’s Sunday Mass schedule.
Several senators noted the need for the university to improve and expand its academic departments; specific examples included communication arts, the foreign languages and economics. President Gabe Gessler proposed that the human life studies minor be converted into a major, allowing the university to continue being on the forefront of the pro-life movement.
In response, Kempton urged the student body to give his office constructive feedback so that he can more accurately assess what areas to target with funding and general improvement.
Sen. Carrie Perham asked about the possibility of a program similar to the Priestly Discernment Program for women discerning a vocation to the religious life; Malovalti said this had been on his heart for a while and he has been in discussions with the TOR sisters about the idea.
In addition to the oral discussions on Monday, several other questions were answered in the written questions, and Gessler said the responses will be made public and posted on Student Government’s website in addition to the minutes of this hearing.
About a dozen student onlookers attended the meeting, which was billed as a follow-up to last month’s strategic planning meeting, and were pleased with its results.
“I really was encouraged by the dialogue between Student Government and the administration,” said junior Parker Stroh. “Some of the issues we students think are obvious aren’t obvious and we should do a better job of communicating them.”
David Schmiesing, vice president of student life and Student Government’s advisor, attended the meeting and said, “This was a great way for Student Government to fulfill its mission to represent the thoughts and ideas of the student body to administration.”
Poff concurred, saying, “This was a landmark moment for Student Government. It’s the most dialogue we’ve had in my three-and-a-half years in Student Government and possibly ever.”