Faculty respond to proposed policy change

Laura Fay
Sarah Mueller

COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Kevin Quinn, S.J., emailed faculty and staff announcing a potential change in The University’s insurance policy in regard to abortion coverage in February. Faculty members have said they want to have a conversation about this potential policy change.

COURTESY OF THE UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT Kevin Quinn, S.J., emailed faculty and staff announcing a potential change in The University’s insurance policy in regard to abortion coverage in February. Faculty members have said they want to have a conversation about this potential policy change.

University faculty want the conversation regarding the recently proposed health care policy change to continue.

University President Kevin Quinn, S.J., sent emails to faculty and staff on Feb. 10 and Feb. 17 announcing The University’s intention to remove abortion coverage from insurance plans.

Although they disagreed on some points, members of The University’s faculty union said this week that those who attended a closed forum Friday agreed that more discussion is needed.

The forum gave faculty members the opportunity to share their fears, opinions and personal stories within the context of a Faculty Affairs Council (FAC), or faculty union, meeting. Faculty members said the conversation was helpful, but they still have some questions about what the changes could mean.

Michael Friedman, Ph.D., a FAC officer, said the forum was productive.

“Everybody who has spoken to me about the forum was really glad it occurred, so I think it was a very positive step for the faculty that we had this discussion with each other. I think that people really profited from what their colleagues had to say,” he said.

However, the consensus seems to be that people want more time to consider this issue.

“Many people believe that this is a discussion that ought to be held openly among members of The University community and that we should think about it over a long period of time,” Friedman said.

Additionally, faculty and staff are waiting to receive more detailed information about what procedures will not be covered in the proposed policy.

“There is still a lot of confusion” after the forum, Friedman said.

Although the faculty seems interested in discussing the proposed change, the president’s two letters to faculty and staff did not specifically mention engaging in a dialogue. Neither letter mentions any willingness to engage in conversation about the issue. The Feb. 17 letter states that the issue will be “addressed first in the context of negotiations” and calls the change a “necessity.”
The University declined to comment further regarding the statements released in Quinn’s letters.

The apparent lack of openness concerns Jean Harris, Ph.D., a union member and tenured political science professor.

“Typically with contract negotiations there is compromise. I am not sure that the president is willing to compromise. If one person on one side of a conversation is not willing to compromise, then there’s not much of a conversation,” she said.

Harris, who is opposed to the change, said women’s rights are at issue as well.

“There are so many rights that women think they have now that laws have changed. But the reality is that we don’t have as many rights. And there is push-back. It is disconcerting,” she said. “Things you never thought to worry about, and now you have to. It’s just unfortunate.”

She also said that this emotional decision does not fit clearly into Catholic moral theology.

“If you are a victim of rape or incest, you have to make really hard life decisions. And if you’ve already had your right to choose taken from you — there’s just so much on the reality of the situation that, I apologize, but men can’t understand, and priests can’t understand,” Harris said.

Harris said her personal opinion is that this is a decision people need to make independently.

“Because it’s such a difficult choice, everyone should make it on their own. The bottom line is, it’s you and God … those in favor of it are allowed to have their own viewpoint, I just don’t want it imposed on everybody,” she said.

Joseph Kraus, union member and tenured English professor, said the forum was a civil and effective sharing of opinions and information. He added that the consensus among those present seemed to be that the conversation must continue.

“I was stunned at how productive it seemed,” he said. “I would paraphrase that conversation as being, ‘Let’s talk about this, but let’s talk about it in a way that honors the full ethical, theological side of things and the full and painful personal experience of the individuals in our community. And contract talks are not that place.’”

Kraus said he is concerned that mixing such a sensitive topic with contract negotiations, which tend to be about details such as salary, distribution of research money and other more bureaucratic matters, is “unseemly.”

Christian Krokus, Ph.D., a professor in the theology department, said he supports the president’s decision to revise the health care policy, but he also said the conversation needs to continue.

“People want to be heard, and they want to have their fears heard. That’s important,” he said.

Krokus said he and other members of the faculty want a chance to engage in discussion with Quinn about this issue in a panel, forum or meeting environment rather than more letters from the president.

Krokus acknowledged that the issue is a sensitive one but also that Catholic doctrine is “bigger than Father Quinn.”

Overall, Krokus supports the president’s decision to bring The University into more compliance with Catholic doctrine, but he said the change creates a space to discuss topics that might not otherwise arise.

“I think one good that’s coming out of it is it does force us into a conversation about these very delicate issues that we are happy not to discuss otherwise,” Krokus said.

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