My Alma Mater, Making National News
Franciscan University of Steubenville is a small Catholic college not especially well known outside of a few niche Catholic circles, but its decision to drop student healthcare coverage, ostensibly in response to the HHS mandate and the PPACA, has made the national news. And how! I haven’t seen the school receive this much press since…well…ever. The Herald Star quotes Michael Hernon, VP of Advancement:
We feel the health care mandate from the Obama administration violates our religious conscience because it includes coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We also are concerned for our students and their families because the plan dramatically increases the cost of the health insurance for students. We don’t feel it’s fair to pass that cost on to our students.
As this school is my Alma Mater, I suppose I should say something. I figure I owe it more than an eye roll, my customary response to its ventures into politics.
First, a little context. Franciscan University takes pride in its reputation for orthodoxy and devotion to the magisterium, fancying itself a leading and valiant upholder of authentic Catholic culture. If you were to call the typical student a dogmatic extremist, she’d take it as a compliment. I was never quite the typical student there, but at the time I gleefully breathed in the atmosphere of antagonism: having the Truth and wielding it skillfully as a weapon against its enemies. If we couldn’t save the world, we could at least be retainers of Real Catholicism. As you may imagine, the university caters to the sort of Catholic who finds the world an evil place and desires a light in the darkness, a safe learning environment where there’s no risk of heterodoxy or heresy passing from a professor’s lips. Strange that I fell to the dark side of philosophy there.
Anyhow, to survive in the market, the university needs to uphold this particular reputation. I therefore suggest keeping this in mind when inquiring into the meaning of its public actions. Kate Sheppard is right: the university will go a long way to make its stances clear. It has a vision of itself to promote, and there’s nothing like free publicity. No doubt the school administrators are very pleased with the news coverage. They may be trendsetters. And be assured that this principled stance plays very well with the school’s prospective customers.
But is this a principled stance? Noticeably, the university has not done away with health insurance coverage to its administration or faculty, even though these would, by their reckoning, also fall prey to the mandated offenses. The Herald Star touches on this:
Hernon said the university has not taken action on employee health care, “because we believe cooler heads will eventually prevail. We believe legislative action and other options will allow us to provide health care to our employees in a sound moral environment.”
But not to the students? Color me skeptical. If you can wait on dropping the faculty’s coverage, then why not also wait before dropping the student coverage? The alleged additional costs, we’re told, but, if so, then this particular decision was made for economic reasons rather than because keeping the student coverage would be a violation of conscience. Not exactly consistent with the university’s stated reasoning, is it? If the employee and student coverages differ in a way that’s relevant here, then the school spokespeople should say so clearly. They haven’t, though. Instead, they’ve given the impression that dropping student coverage now, before the law is set in stone, is a moral necessity. That doesn’t seem to be true.
So what’s going on here?
If you’re wondering, the staff and faculty of Franciscan University are sincerely devoted to upholding and promoting the Catholic faith, at least in so far as they understand it. Their overall religiosity is much too tied to right wing politics for my liking–as illustrated by their dismissal of board member Nicholas P. Cafardi’s after his endorsement of Barack Obama and by their inviting a known supporter of torture techniques to give the commencement address–but I do not question their hearts. If push comes to shove, you can bet the university will also drop employee healthcare coverage.
Right now, however, there is a reputation to promote, and being the first Catholic institution to drop coverage, if only in part, has its promotional advantages.
And here I am, doing my little part like a reliable alumnus.