Thursday, October 23, 2014

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Fact Check: No Accrediting Backlash Against Franciscan University

An accrediting agency has challenged false media reports that the Franciscan University of Steubenville faces difficulties with the accreditor because of its sociology course on “Deviant Behavior,” according to the National Catholic Register.

Earlier this month, an unofficial group calling itself Franciscan University Gay Alumni and Allies launched a public relations campaign against the University, because the sociology course lists homosexuality among the discussion topics. The University explained that “deviant” is a sociological term and not intended to offend anyone; moreover, Franciscan University is committed to upholding Catholic teaching, which describes homosexuality as a morally “disordered” inclination.

But a highly biased report on the situation by National Public Radio implied accrediting troubles ahead for the University, even though NPR’s own quotes from the University’s accreditor did not indicate any sort of pending action. The implication that the University faced trouble was picked up by other news organizations and online blogs.

Now the Register has corrected the misinformation:

“Unfortunately, I used the term ‘red flag’ in my conversation with NPR,” said Stephen Holloway, director of the office of social-work accreditation with the Council on Social Work Education. “It would be completely inaccurate to say that a course description which may connote a pejorative interpretation of homosexuality because it’s listed with other terms is sufficient to put the accreditation in jeopardy.”

Accreditation, said Holloway, is determined by a 25-member commission that meets three times each year. Holloway said that he has contacted the university seeking additional information about the course, the content and how diversity is handled in the program.

“We do have a standard on diversity, which speaks to some of these issues,” explained Holloway. “Our standard speaks to a curriculum and learning environment that emphasize respect for, and acknowledgment of, all the variables that go to make up human diversity. There is a list with 20 categories, and homosexuality is one of them.”

In response to the concerns, the university plans to review the course description.

“They’re convening a group of academics to consider changing the description,” said Gronbacher of the Facebook group.

Holloway noted that faith-based universities with social-work programs tend to manage the diversity issue well.

“Even the really conservative Protestant ones do a good job with this standard,” said Holloway. “I suspect that’s what we’ll find out [with Franciscan].”

The Register also quotes The Cardinal Newman Society:

“This is an example of what the future holds for any faithful Catholic institution. The attacks on religious liberty are coming from all fronts, and Franciscan University of Steubenville certainly did not invite this sort of attack,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Manassas, Va.-based Cardinal Newman Society. “Whereas Franciscan’s course was in no way an infringement on anyone’s rights, the complaint is a radical infringement on the rights of Catholic institutions to operate within Catholic teaching, or even within the bounds of reason.”

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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