Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Mary Lyons, president of the University of San Diego, has changed her position and will now allow an esteemed British theology professor to speak at the school, but under less-than-ideal conditions.

Tina Beattie, a professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London who’s known for her work on gender issues and feminism, was scheduled to lecture on how women are represented in art depicting sin and redemption.

But on Oct. 27, Lyons announced that she was rescinding her invitation to Beattie to hold a
n honorary fellowship in the Frances G. Harpst for Catholic Thought and Culture (CCTC). This decision came after Lyons learned that Beattie, along with nearly 30 other well-known Catholics, reportedly signed a letter to The Times of London back in August that expressed support for the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Lyons has taken a lot of heat the last couple of weeks from both faculty and students at the Roman Catholic university for this decision. 
In a letter today to Carlton Floyd, chair of USD's Academic Assembly, Lyons wrote:

I recognize that the last few weeks have been very disruptive and disturbing for our university community, prompted by my decision rescinding the invitation to Dr. Tina Beattie to hold an honorary fellowship in the CCTC. In previous statements I have explained the reasons for that decision. I realize that my decision continues to leave many thoughtful and serious academics, students and others - both on our campus and beyond questioning our university's commitment to Academic Freedom. Thus, I feel it is imperative to take a step forward, hoping to reaffirm this great university's reputation and to begin a process of reconciliation, especially with Dr. Beattie, as well as with those who do not understand or support my decision.

To that end, in response to the Assembly's request, I am endorsing that Dr. Beattie be invited by the CCTC to speak at USD, as early as the Spring semester, without conferring upon her an honorary affiliation with the university. I also recognize that, regardless of whether the Director of the CCTC chooses to extend such an invitation, out university community must continue to seek ways to reckon with the very challenging issues associated with our identity as a Catholic University in the 21st century and to restore confidence and trust in the University of San Diego's respect and support of Academic Freedom of its faculty.

After this letter was sent out today, the Academic Assembly at USD's College of Arts and Sciences declared "No Confidence" in Lyons by a vote of 99 to 16, with 19 abstaining. Larry Hinman, a philosophy professor at USD, told me he is not at all happy with the university's handling of this situation.

"There has been no convincing narrative or rationale for doing this in the first place," says Hinman. "I've taught here for 37 years, and I have never had my academic freedom impinged in any way. Now they say they are going to invite her, but not with any honors; she can't be a visiting fellow but she can give lectures."

Hinman adds, "This entire situation harms the faculty, it harms the students, and it harms the university's ability to recruit new faculty. If USD is seen as a place where academic freedom does not prosper, it will be hard to find good faculty in the future."

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