A Georgetown University professor believes that school officials made a “grave” and “scandalous” mistake in asking Kathleen Sebelius to speak at an awards ceremony during commencement weekend.
In a letter to university president John DeGioia, government professor Patrick J. Deneen warned that Georgetown is “increasingly and inevitably” remaking itself “in the image of its secular peers.”
Deneen, who is dissatisfied with the Jesuit university and will soon be leaving its faculty, was able to gain the support of only eight of Georgetown’s more than 2000 faculty members with his letter.
The nation’s first Catholic college, Georgetown University has drawn criticism for inviting Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to address Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute at an award ceremony on May 18.
Sebelius, who is Catholic, has been the center of controversy surrounding a federal mandate that she recently issued to require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
The mandate has been condemned by bishops from every diocese in the U.S., who warned that it poses a serious threat to religious freedom and could lead to the extinction of many Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies.
Sebelius has also adamantly supported abortion in both her current position and previous role as governor of Kansas.
In his letter, Deneen noted the ardor with which the bishops and other members of the Catholic community have focused their attention on fighting the contraception mandate in order to preserve the critical “first freedom” of religious liberty.
Given this context, he said, “it is difficult to believe that the according of this honor to Secretary Sebelius was motivated by anything other than a desire to send a message of endorsement.”
Georgetown should be supporting the bishops rather than “honoring the mandate’s leading architect,” he argued.
The decision to invite Sebelius has also been criticized by Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis., as well as a recent editorial in The Catholic Standard, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. In addition, an online petition objecting to the invitation has gained more than 26,000 signatures.
The current controversy does not mark the first time Deneen has been unhappy with the administration’s decisions.
Early in 2012, he publicly announced that he was planning to resign from Georgetown at the end of the semester in order to take a position at the University of Notre Dame.
In a Jan. 24 post on Front Porch Republic, he explained that one of the primary reasons for his decision was dissatisfaction with the Catholic identity of Georgetown.
In seven years at Georgetown, Deneen said, “I have found myself often at odds with the trajectory and many decisions of the university.”
He explained that Notre Dame recruited him because they believed he could contribute to their Catholic mission and identity, something that is “generally not a consideration” in hiring decisions at Georgetown.
“Without such a criterion, Georgetown increasingly and inevitably remakes itself in the image of its secular peers,” he said, adding that without an “internal standard of what a university is for,” the commitment to truth is abandoned in order to seek “prestige for the sake of prestige.”
While the university’s Catholic identity “should inform every activity of the community, from curriculum to dorm life to faculty hiring,” it has instead “been cordoned off to optional activities of Campus Ministry,” he said.
Deneen acknowledged that he will face challenges at Notre Dame but said that he will at least find “a sizeable core of faithful colleagues to share in the effort, something altogether lacking at Georgetown.”