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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - Franciscan University of Steubenville, suffering from a recent spate of bad press, is trying to rein in faculty by threatening disciplinary action if they give comments to media.
In new guidelines on academic freedom sent this week to all faculty, the administration warns, "Anonymous communication of facts or opinions about the University to media outlets or other external organizations is unprofessional and unethical, and may be grounds for disciplinary action."
The document fails to clarify what such "disciplinary action" entails.
Last year Church Militant reported on a blasphemous and pornographic novel assigned to students by Dr. Stephen Lewis, then-chair of the English department. A number of faculty contacted Church Militant to provide comment, but out of legitimate fear of retaliation from the administration, they asked to remain anonymous.
Church Militant has learned that some of these faculty have since retained lawyers to protect their legal and academic rights on campus from potential reprisals from the university.
The report on Lewis led to a flood of complaints from parents, alumni and donors, resulting in Lewis' removal as chair of the English faculty. Lewis remains in power, however, still an active professor of English, still editor of Franciscan University Press, and still very much supported by the president, Fr. Sean Sheridan, and the chief operating officer, William Gorman. He has never apologized for assigning the book, instead publishing an article in First Things defending its use.
The administration places further restrictions on faculty in a proposed policy titled "Resolution of Disagreements Among Faculty":
At no time is it appropriate for faculty to breach confidentiality including, but not limited to the following: (1) spreading defamatory material among other faculty, students, or the public; (2) involving media outlets or providing them with anonymous information; (3) announcing information about the situation on social media; or otherwise going outside the circle of parties immediately concerned with the alleged objectionable behavior.
The reason faculty reached out to Church Militant last year is because they were dissatisfied with the way Sheridan and Gorman had initially handled the Lewis situation. When faculty expressed concerns over Lewis' blasphemous book assignment last spring, Sheridan reportedly dismissed their complaints, made excuses for Lewis and failed to take the matter seriously.
This followed Lewis' controversial championing of Rebecca Bratten Weiss, former adjunct professor of English, who supports radical feminism and witchcraft, and who, as editor of the Patheos Catholic blog, gives a willing platform to Melinda Selmys, a self-identified "queer" who promotes transgenderism, rejects the Catholic faith and admits to being sexually involved with a man who is not her husband.
After embarrassing media exposure, Franciscan failed to renew the contract for Bratten Weiss, who has since slammed the school for being "far right" and continues her leftward trajectory on matters social and political.
The faculty, who claim favoritism and bias are shown toward Lewis while conservative faculty are shown less respect, believed they had no other recourse than to report the situation to media. The school's new guidelines would effectively shut down any such future attempts.
The guidelines also crack down on use of social media. In direct response to faculty who have been critical of the administration on websites and social media platforms, the guidelines order that "faculty should use language that is helpful and builds up — that is edifying — those with whom they communicate on social media."
Critics fear the vagueness of the directive leaves interpretation open to punish faculty who use language critical of university leaders — even if what they say is truthful and accurate.