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University policy promotes double standard

Letter to the Editor | Friday, September 5, 2003

The “Student Life Policies” section of the 2003-04 Graduate and Professional Student Handbook lists rules describing behaviors the University “will not tolerate” (p79). The rules include reasonable prohibitions on “possession of heroin”and “physical violence.” Those found to violate these rules may receive punishments of disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal.Also subject to these same punishments are graduate students who violate the following policy which also allegedly describes behavior the University will not tolerate: “Because a genuine and complete expression of love through sex requires a commitment to a total living and sharing together of two persons in marriage, the University believes that sexual union should occur only in marriage” (p82). As one who thinks that this rule should be eliminated, I raise the following three issues.1. The Graduate and Professional schools enthusiastically recruit, fund and welcome students known to violate this policy. If “the University” really believed that sex outside of marriage was “behavior we will not tolerate” (p79), the Graduate School and the various graduate departments would not, or would not be permitted to, recruit students known to live in violation of this policy. Prospective students who visit campus with their unmarried partners and children provide some evidence that this is occurring. Routine social interaction with graduate students and their loved ones provides confirmation. When our recruiting efforts are successful, these students enroll in our programs and continue living their personal lives as they see fit. Most of these roughly 23-35 year old adults do not hide their partners from departmental friends and colleagues. We therefore recruit students who upon enrollment are subject to dismissal.2. No regulation of this kind can be found in the Faculty or Staff Handbooks. The Office of Student Affairs claims to be speaking for “the University” in stating that sex outside of marriage is “unacceptable” behavior. The University, however, makes no such statement about faculty, staff or administrator behavior. Apparently the mostly 23-83 year old administrators, faculty and staff at Notre Dame are adult enough to make their own choices about sexual matters free from the threat of University discipline, but our mostly 23-35 year old graduate students are not. This is not because Notre Dame is silent on employee discipline issues. The University apparently does not think that sex outside of marriage is intolerable behavior when it involves the lives of staff, administrators or faculty.3. Notre Dame is a Catholic University. One might think that this idiosyncratic policy concerning extramarital sex exists because the University chooses to incorporate Catholic moral views into its behavioral regulations. For this explanation to make sense, we would need to hear why the policy doesn’t find its way into the Faculty or Staff Handbooks and why this regulation is the only regulation in the book of this sort. One searching the relevant pages of the Handbook (pp79-85) will not find other instances in which distinctively Catholic moral claims are imported into the Handbook. There is, for example, no regulation stating that the use of artificial birth control is intolerable. Other rules concern matters such as obeying the criminal law and not selling football tickets for profit.In correspondence concerning this rule, Student Affairs administrators claim that “the University” will not hesitate to enforce the policy. Interestingly, this is not the position the Graduate School takes when discussing the issue with departmental directors of graduate study. Student Affairs administrators further note that the University has not yet attempted to coordinate its “behavioral expectations” with its “recruiting procedures” nor made any attempt to require that faculty assist with enforcement.It’s a good thing that the University has not yet attempted to do either of these things. It would be an even better thing if the University would agree that the private sexual choices of its adult graduate and professional students should be no more subject to University discipline than the private sexual choices of faculty, staff and administrators.

Fritz Warfieldphilosophy professor Sept. 4