Professor Kirstein Remarks at Women and Gender Studies Symposium

Panel Presentation: Women and Gender Symposium, St Xavier University, January 26, 2008, Chicago, Illinois

Spanish philosopher Miguel Unamuno said, “At times, to be Silent is to Lie.” In higher education self-censorship may sometimes be construed in that manner. For example, not since 1991, have we had an open forum on this campus on reproductive rights, an event that I organised.

We need to engage the following issues by breaking the silence and ending self-censorship.

We need to have a renewed discussion of abortion and its impact on both our students and contemporary society. This is the thirty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade that represents a propitious moment for such a dialogue. This should include the legal, ethical, theological, feminist and medical implications of reproductive freedoms. I recall shortly after President Judith Dwyer began her tenure, there was a very public protest led by a prominent and financially generous member of the board of trustees concerning the appearance of pro-choice former Republican Governor Jim Edgar.

I support the right of protest but was pleased academic freedom prevailed with a strong affirmation from the president that St Xavier would not restrict access to speakers on the basis of partisan ideological beliefs. The time has come to reengage this topic as educators and as a university in the modern world.

Unlike DePaul University and Loyola University of Chicago, we do not have partner benefits for either homosexual or unmarried, heterosexual partners. We have made decisions that some faculty families merit health-care and others do not. We are a rich nation but with growing economic insecurity with 47,000,000 Americans without health insurance. S.X.U. can, within its own community, correct this grave imbalance.

We must not discriminate against any couples who have a meaningful, committed relationship. Five of our University Core Values: “Respect,” “Compassion,” “Hospitality,” “Diversity” and especially “Integrity” would logically embrace the notion of providing access to healthcare for all faculty families at this institution. I am hopeful that the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that is under negotiation, will end the discriminatory practice of selective family health-insurance coverage.

I have faith in my faculty union colleagues and in the administration that partner benefits will be provided in a  non-discriminatory manner. Yet I would urge the faculty to consider carefully rejecting any collective bargaining agreement that excludes some of our colleagues’ families from this basic necessity of LIFE. Those of us with health insurance must not allow those without to be discriminated against as second-class faculty families at this university.

I think it would benefit the institution, if we were to see a greater exploration of the relevance of church teaching to issues that are germane to the purview of the Women and Gender Studies Programme.

A) Is the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality consistent with a progressive vision of inclusion?

B) Is the church’s teaching on the role of women in the church consistent with feminism and gender equality?

C) Is the church’s teaching on embryonic stem cell research appropriate when balanced against the medical benefits such research might provide?

D) Is the church’s teachings on birth control and pre-marital sex-with its disapproval of intimacy between unmarried, adult, consensual couples consistent with modernity and the acknowledgement that humans are sexual beings for whom sex may not be intended for procreation, and virginity may not be the only moral option outside conjugal relations.

Faith-based institutions are strengthened when there is a vigorous and dynamic discussion of issues including the religious views of its charism and founding orders.

This is from St Xavier’s: “The Vision of Our Catholic Identity,” one of three virtual mission statements I might add.

“The central activities of the University are teaching and learning. Excellence in teaching is paramount, allowing for the advancement of the fields of study through careful research, critical analysis, and thoughtful discussion. An essential condition of this activity is the academic freedom of faculty and students. The Catholic Church recognizes the fundamental dignity of all persons on whom the responsibility to seek the truth rests, and supports each person in the pursuit of truth, especially religious truth.”

I interpret that as a progressive support for critical thinking. So let us not be silent but pursue the truth with a robust, directness sustained by academic freedom.

Roe v. Wade 1973

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