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Franciscan University changes course description

Prompted by alumni who were dissatisfied with a course description in the school’s catalog, Franciscan University of Steubenville faculty voted to change the description of the Social Work 314, Deviant Behavior course. The alumni, members of the unofficial Facebook group Franciscan Gay Alumni and Allies, complained in August that the course description classed “gay people with murderers and rapists” and made complaints to the Council on Social Work Education, an accrediting agency.

Franciscan University provided the following release to The Cardinal Newman Society, explaining the change:


STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—When faculty members at Franciscan University learned that several alumni had concerns regarding a catalog description of the class, Social Work 314, Deviant Behavior, which seemed to imply homosexuality was in the same category as criminal behavior, two lines of discussion emerged.  How can we be responsive to the concerns of our alumni? How can we ensure that a change to our course description does not imply a compromise in our faith commitment?

Franciscan University Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Daniel Kempton summed up the concern: “Plausibly, the language in the course description can be perceived as not being in accord with Catholic Church teaching, which calls us to treat those with homosexual tendencies with ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ At the same time, the Church teaches that homosexual acts ‘are contrary to the natural law. . . . Under no circumstances can they be approved.’ Thus, we found no contradiction in updating the course description while continuing to teach the Church’s teaching on sexuality.”

Since catalog changes are linked to accreditation, the Social Work Program faculty began a formal review. They found that the course originated in the Sociology Program and was transferred to the Social Work Program when that major was first developed. The course description, which conveys a sociological perspective, was not modified at that time to reflect a social work perspective. The Social Work Program faculty determined that a new description would better serve their social work students. They submitted a new description, which was approved by the Curriculum Committee and then by a vote at the November Faculty Meeting.

Franciscan University adopted the following course description for Social Work 314, Deviant Behavior:

Deviant Behavior examines the complexity of defining deviance and the influences on individuals engaged in deviant or diverse behaviors. The behaviors will be analyzed using micro and macro theories that explain difference and deviance. Students will be challenged to think about their own preconceptions as well as interventions that can be utilized in social work practice.

In reflecting on the word choices, faculty members determined that change was also needed because linking homosexuality with the term “deviant,” although properly used in the sociological sense of “departing from societal norms,” could be misconstrued as being disrespectful of persons with a homosexual inclination.

Faculty members and University leaders argue that since Franciscan students have considered multiple sides of an argument, including the spiritual and moral perspectives, they graduate better prepared to solve problems and engage with integrity around the world and in diverse industries.

Franciscan University faculty members teach the importance of engaging in both critical thought and respectful discussion with students in the classroom.  “Those animated by a genuine faith do not fear discourse on controversial and diverse views, nor do they engage in such debate disrespectfully,” stated Dr. Jonathan Sanford, professor of philosophy.

Dr. Sanford also highlighted the link between excellence and struggling with difficult questions. “In point of fact, those very habits of mind, the intellectual virtues, which we seek to cultivate in our students and to practice ourselves and which are the lifeblood of any excellent academic institution, whether religious or secular, dispose us to wrestle with difficult questions in a manner that is simultaneously critical and charitable.”

In reflecting on the need for greater spiritual and moral discussion in the classroom, Dr. Sanford said, “When arguing, as I do, that every university is made better by making room for the Catholic position on a controversial topic, it is absolutely necessary to stress that a faithful Catholic does not think a position is right simply because the Church professes it. Rather, the claim is that the Church professes it because it is right. In any presentation of the Church’s position it is necessary to articulate clearly and then to wrestle with the reasons for that position, and not to treat the position like a slogan.”

Franciscan University promotes an authentic and vibrant Catholic faith. We are committed to integrating faith and learning in and out of the classroom. We want students to succeed spiritually, morally, and intellectually, and we remain firm in providing the integration of faith and reason that will give them the best chance at lifelong success.

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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