The "Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life" at Franciscan University of Steubenville: Expression of Concern
An open letter from alumni and friends of FUS
Update: Response from Fr. Sheridan
NOTE
This petition is no longer accepting responses, but has been left online for transparency and ease of access.
To the President, Fr. Sean Sheridan
We are writing as alumni, donors, and friends of Franciscan University of Steubenville. A great number of us are indebted to our alma mater for a quality education and Catholic formation which has served us well in our postgraduate lives. As such, we are concerned by the recent promotion by the university of opinion pieces which seem to stem from a few faculty members associated with the “Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life.” Although not all of these writings are problematic, many of them betray poor quality of scholarship and an underlying ideology which we find troubling. As individuals invested in maintaining the genuine Catholic mission and academic rigor of Franciscan University, we ask that you consider our concerns.

We respect that freedom of speech and debate are essential in fostering a healthy academic life. However, the publications which the university has chosen to highlight provide an official university platform to a select group of professors who appear strongly ideologically aligned with the far right of American politics. Many of these essays are composed of broad, unsubstantiated statements on perceived morally evil cultural trends(1,2,3). At best, they betray poor use of argument, logic, and scholarly citations, and at worst avow attitudes which are contrary to upholding the Church’s teachings on the innate dignity of the human person(4). Indeed, the FUS social media account has twice in recent months retracted articles authored by the two most prolific authors of the Veritas Center, Anne Hendershott and Stephen Krason. Alumna Emily C. A. Snyder was compelled to write an analysis and response to the second of these articles(5), which contained not only a plethora of logical fallacies and not a single scholarly citation, but portions of which also appeared to contradict Church teaching on the integrity of the human person(6,7). We question whether it is appropriate for the university, as an institution dedicated to upholding Catholic orthodoxy and academic rigor, to continue to provide an official venue for these writings. In light of the recent testimony of poor handling of rape and sexual misconduct allegations by Franciscan University in the past(8), we do not feel that it is appropriate for the university to continue to provide official support for these writings.

We are also troubled by recent social media activity by Timothy Williams, a tenured French professor and associate of the Veritas Institute. Franciscan University has a reputation for adherence to Catholic teaching. However, Prof. Williams appears to toy with sedevacantism in his social media posts, comparing defenders of Vatican II to "flat earthers", and calling Pope Francis "an embarrassing socialist fool #notmypope". Prof. Williams' Disqus account hosting these comments has been deleted as of 4/17/18, but screenshots are included below for reference.

We wish to see the Church’s teachings on social issues, including human sexuality and the right to life, from conception to natural death, upheld and defended in the public sphere. However, we are concerned that the university has become partisan in American cultural wars between the ideological left and right. We feel that, at least publicly, Franciscan has conflated orthodoxy with American right-wing partisanship. As the great man G.K. Chesterton once said, “Moderation is not a compromise; moderation is a passion; the passion of the great judges.” While facets of Church teaching may at times appear to be aligned with right- or left-wing ideologies, they cannot be confined to a party platform. Furthermore, there exists room for legitimate debate within Catholic orthodoxy on living the Church’s teachings within the public sphere, particularly in regards to issues such as economic justice, subsidiarity, and environmental stewardship(8). As it stands, the Veritas Institute does not provide a venue for this debate but rather an echo-chamber for the ideological right. It is neither academically nor morally flattering for the public face of the university.

We ask that you give thought to these concerns and maintain transparency with students, parents, alumni, and donors moving forward.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Compiled by
Claire Gilligan '08
Annie Marie (Sohler) Snoddy '09
Theresa (Bey) Williams '07
Citations
1. Hendershott A. "First They Came for the Confederacy". Crisis Magazine, Sept 2017: https://blogs.franciscan.edu/faculty/hendershott-first-they-came-for-the-confederacy/
2. Krason S. "A Disturbing Portrait of the Present Day American Left". Crisis Magazine, July 2017: https://blogs.franciscan.edu/faculty/krason-a-disturbing-portrait-of-the-present-day-american-left/
3. Hendershott A. "Progressive Politicians Two-Faced Over Due Process Rights". Crisis Magazine, December 2017: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2017/progressive-politicians-demand-due-process-protections
4. Krason S. "Street Harassment: Another Misdirected Cause?". Crisis Magazine, December 2017: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/street-harassment-another-misdirected-cause
5. Krason S. "What Sexual Harassment Crisis?". Crisis Magazine, Jan 2018: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2018/sexual-harassment-crisis
6. Snyder E. "What Do They Teach them at Those Schools? Sexual Scandal at Catholic Universities". Jan 2018: http://emilycasnyder.blogspot.com/2018/01/what-do-they-teach-them-at-those.html?m=1
7. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 6, II: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm#II
8. Morson J. "Alumnae Question Franciscan University of Steubenville's Commitment to Title IX". 16 April, 2018: https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/alumnae-question-franciscan-university-steubenvilles-commitment-title-ix
9.The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 2: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c2a2.htm
Screenshots of Prof. Williams' deleted Disqus profile
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