Recently The Argosy published a letter by Dr. Eldon Hay, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Mount A, which I read with considerable interest.
In no particular order, I am the leader of PFLAG Canada, Sackville/Amherst Chapter, a lesbian woman, and Professor Emeritus of Music at Mount Allison. As you might imagine, I have a strong opinion on this contentious issue of publicly funding a university at which I could not apply for a job of any kind, and have been quite vocal about it in various ways over the past five or six years.
Dr. Hay’s letter to the Argosy (which was also published in full in the Sackville-Tribune Post, and later a shorter version in the Moncton Times-Transcript) points out that the Human Rights Act of NB protects the rights of religious institutions to deny equal rights to whomever they wish as long as it springs from faith-based reasons. He and many others – including this writer – have been disturbed that for several years Crandall accepted a $150,000 annual grant from the city of Moncton, while denying employment to an important segment of that city’s tax-paying citizens – GLBT persons. Dr. Hay notes that Dr. Fawcett, the new President, declined the grant in 2012, saying that the controversy was “a distraction”. The President indicated that he would review the situation in 2013, prompting Rev. Hay to ask the obvious question: “Will Crandall’s retraction be retained?” and to offer his opinion that the days of a “private discriminating university receiving public funds are over.”
Dr. Fawcett’s recent published response to Eldon Hay’s letter (Sackville Tribune-Post February 13, and the Moncton Times & Transcript, February 15) begins with high praise for Dr. Hay as a scholar, researcher, writer, and teacher. He provides background information about Crandall University mentioning that some faith-based institutions in Canada receive public funding. He states that Crandall is an “important partner in New Brunswick society” (I assume he means the segment of NB society that is not GLBT.) Crandall, because it is faith-based, saves New Brunswickers millions of dollars, Fawcett enthuses.
From this point on, Dr. Fawcett veers off in a disturbing direction. First of all, he says that in his letter Rev. Hay “calls” for Crandall to “abandon its lifestyle convictions”. Did he really? I reread Hay’s letter carefully, searching for his “call”, but it was not to be found. Quite the opposite. Hay wrote that because a segment of the population is discriminated against in Crandall’s hiring practices – its protected right to do so enshrined in the Human Rights Act of NB – he applauds Dr. Fawcett’s decision this year not to take public funding from Moncton, and hopes this will continue in future years. Prof. Hay writes with exceptional skill and clarity so it surprises me that a university president was unable to grasp this important difference. Or did he?
In the closing few sentences Dr. Fawcett sternly instructs Prof. Hay and all the rest of us who don’t agree with public funding going to Crandall in the future, and who say so publicly, to “ cease to promote discrimination against Crandall and its supporters.” Fawcett warns that our continuing to speak out would be “a form of harassment and…religious persecution.” Shaking a finger at us pesky public thorns in his tender side, he says “it would be better” for “critics” to stop criticizing, and instead to just learn to live with it. Wow! As an academic myself, I believe his hope that critics will cease and desist is the exact opposite of what a true academic would want. Debate and the expression of differing points of view is encouraged – in fact, expected – at all respected universities the world over. Sure, it’s sometimes very upsetting to hear opposing viewpoints to one’s own; that’s why we have the tenure system at universities – to protect those who express highly unpopular points of view.
While many of us believe that when we see an injustice we should fight it in words and in action, most of us lack the tenacity of Eldon Hay. He’s like the proverbial dog with a bone – he just doesn’t let go. He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t get lazy. I can imagine it must feel extremely uncomfortable to be caught in the glare of Eldon Hay’s principled spotlight as Crandall University has been for the past few years.
I live in a deeply loving partnership with a woman, and I am offended that Dr. Fawcett downgrades our relationship to a “lifestyle”. That trivial Hollywoodish term for GLBT persons, that’s bandied about on casual TV shows, talk radio, and now in writing by a university president, is insulting. I am not leading a “life style”, I am living my life. My being a lesbian is not a choice, a fad, or a frivolous fashion I am trying on, tra-la, like the flavour of the week. I hope that Dr. Fawcett will thoughtfully reconsider his use of this dismissive word to describe loving same-sex and transgender relationships.
In closing, I urge the university community to read Chaplain Dr. John Perkin’s insightful column Through Stained Glass in the February 14 Argosy, Mount Allison University’s student newspaper. He asks us to ponder the idea that the expression of deep love of another through the act of sex is a profoundly spiritual thing. It’s a beautifully written article and made me feel blessed that I have experienced such a love with my partner Marilyn for the past seventeen years. John Perkin understands that the sexual act between two people who love each other deeply can be a transcendental, spiritual experience. There is a stark contrast between Rev. Perkin’s understanding of sex and spirituality, and Dr. Fawcett’s. Both men are Christians, both are Baptists, both read the Bible and seek to understand and follow its teachings as best they can, yet one excludes some people, while the other, like Jesus, opens his arms in love to all of God’s children.
Dr. Janet Hammock