Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:12

WCU faculty make collective, although not unanimous, stand on same-sex unions

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Western Carolina University’s faculty senate took on the hot button statewide political issue last week of Amendment One, the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The faculty senate passed a resolution opposing the amendment, which will appear on the state ballot in May.

It wasn’t a unanimous vote: 18 faculty senate members voted for the resolution, four voted against and one abstained. The resolution stated that the faculty senate, which is the top leadership group for WCU faculty, believed Amendment One would constitute targeted discrimination against certain employees and students. Additionally, the resolution stated that the amendment would be antithetical to the university’s mandated policy of nondiscrimination.

North Carolina currently stands as the only southern state without a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Laura Wright, a professor in the English department and director of graduate studies, submitted the resolution. She termed Amendment One “prejudicial legislation,” and said that the decision to seek official Faculty Senate opposition was the outgrowth of a conversation on Facebook with three other faculty members.

Wright noted eight or so Student Government Associations in North Carolina have passed similar resolutions. The issue was to be debated by WCU’s Student Government Association this week.

Karen Starr, a professor in physical therapy, did not necessarily question the resolution’s content but did balk at passing something that purported to speak for all faculty.

“My question is, we are voting on something and we don’t know how they actually feel,” Starr said.

Wright did not object to changing the language specifically to “faculty senate” rather than “faculty.”

There was some discussion about whether to delay a vote, but Christopher Hoyt, a professor of philosophy and religion, said he believed “timing does matter ... if we want to weigh in before the vote and try to contribute to some momentum against this.”

Leigh Odom, a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders, said she worried that the faculty senate was venturing into a “personal, philosophical and faith-based” matter where it didn’t belong. Odom added that she didn’t believe it was fair to make an “all-inclusive” vote on such a touchy subject.

“Why would this be any different, the majority carries the day. I don’t think it means every single person — there’s certainly room for dissension,” responded Libby McCrae, a professor in the department of history.

Erin McNelis, chair of the group, said in her view debating the resolution was the proper purview of the Faculty Senate. In the past, she said, Faculty Senate had, for instance, passed a resolution supporting the campus newspaper and free speech rights.

“Officially the faculty senate is the voice of the faculty,” McNelis said.

Odom added that the proposed constitutional amendment is “very deep and very personal — you are making a very strong statement.”

“Amendment One is very personal, too,” said Wes Stone, a professor in the department of engineering and technology.

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