Yesterday, we reported that Thomas Mengler, dean of St. Thomas' law school, barred students from volunteering at Planned Parenthood for school credit. His actions prompted 80 St. Thomas law students to sign an open letter to him decrying the decision.
In response, a rival faction of students is circulating a pro-dean letter through the school's Christian Legal Society. Among other things, these students encourage their classmates to support the dean "in order to demonstrate that, even though we might respectfully disagree with his decisions from time to time, we support him nonetheless, since he knows, better than anyone else, what is in UST Law’s best interests."
Read the full letter after the jump.
Dear Fellow Classmates at UST Law,
By now you are all probably aware of the controversy that has surrounded the recent decision of the Public Service Board (PSB) in approving service hours at Planned Parenthood and Dean Mengler’s decision to overturn this action of the PSB. It is not the purpose of this letter to rebut each of the arguments that the “Open Letter to Dean Mengler Regarding the Recent Public Service Board Decision” (“Open Letter”) sets forward. Dean Mengler has made his decision and that decision is final—it is not our place to fly to his defense.
Contrary to the premise of the “Open Letter,” the issue at stake is not our “due process rights,” the limits of the Dean’s authority, the autonomy of student organizations, or any past precedent that has been set by the University of St. Thomas. Indeed, this controversy is about more than counting service hours at Planned Parenthood—the real issue at stake here is this: What does the University of St. Thomas School of Law mean when it calls itself “a Catholic law school” —more pointedly, what does Catholic Identity mean for UST Law?
It is obvious that this is a very important question, and worthy of discussion. It is equally obvious that this is the wrong time to have that discussion, since we are all in the throes of our final exams and papers. We simply don’t have the time to hold a fair and extended dialog right now.
The purpose of this letter is to make it known to the entire law school community – students, faculty, and staff – that there are many students at the law school who have voiced concerned about the integrity of UST Law’s “Catholic identity.” We believe there are many more students who agree with the Dean’s decision, and we hope they will join their voices with ours.
Two weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States for the first time since his papacy began in 2005. During his time in Washington, D.C., he spoke to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. Our very own Father Dease was present at this event and highly recommends that we read the Pope’s address. Pope Benedict discussed the issue of Catholic Identity:
A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction – do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self – intellect and will, mind and heart – to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.
The Pope raised a number of issues that are worth thinking about in this discussion of our identity as a Catholic law school. Unfortunately, the Open Letter (whether its authors realized it or not) is asking the student body to take a premature and uninformed stance about UST Law’s identity without taking into adequate consideration the viewpoints and interests held by students on all sides of this issue.
THEREFORE, we ask those who oppose Dean Mengler’s decision – both those who wrote the Open Letter and those who signed it – to wait with us to discuss these issues until after finals are over. There is simply not enough time to give this issue the attention that it deserves at the busiest time in the semester. We propose that it is best to wait until the beginning of next semester, when we will all have time (at least, more time) to have an open, honest, and informed dialogue—a forum where all of our interests can be voiced and defended.
If you wish to support the idea that we all wait until next semester to resolve this vital issue of UST Law’s Catholic Identity, then please send an email to [address removed] with the word “yes” at your earliest convenience. Please show your support for the Dean in order to demonstrate that, even though we might respectfully disagree with his decisions from time to time, we support him nonetheless, since he knows, better than anyone else, what is in UST Law’s best interests.
Best wishes and God bless with all of your final exams. Consider these last words, taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s address to Catholic Educators:
“Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.”
Thank you for your time and consideration.