St. FX students want to end traditional church role

Some students want to stop automatic appointment of bishop as university chancellor.

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Some students want to change a long-standing university tradition. Photo: Brendan Riley

A group of students at St. Francis Xavier University want to change a more than century-old tradition of the university.

The university, which has about 4,900 students, has historically given its chancellorship to the bishop of the Antigonish diocese.

The diocese will introduce Brian Dunn next Monday as the new bishop.

Both the bishop and chancellor positions have been empty since the child-pornography scandal involving then-bishop Raymond Lahey.

Lahey resigned in September after being caught with child pornography on his laptop, and two months after negotiating a $15-million settlement with people who claimed they were sexually abused by the members of the diocese as early as 1950.

Outlined on the Facebook page created by the students, the group’s goal is to “abolish” the university’s policy of automatically appointing the bishop as chancellor.

The problem with automatic appointment

The group’s organizer, Kurt Andresen, did not grant UNews an interview. But in an interview with St. FX newspaper The Xaverian Weekly, he outlined the reasons for wanting a change in policy.

Andresen said having an automatic appointment is undemocratic. Giving the university’s board of governors the ability to vet and choose a chancellor based on merits would result in a candidate that is more representative of the university’s students, and someone with more connection to the school.

He suggested that by choosing a chancellor from credible candidates, such as distinguished alumni or prominent faculty members, the school could also allow for the possibility of appointing a woman or someone from a religion other than Catholicism -- changes that under the current policy cannot happen, Andresen said.

Mixed reactions

While representatives from the university and the diocese were unavailable for comment at this time, Sandy MacIntosh, president of the St. FX student’s union, said some students on campus are talking about the issue.

“There’s not a huge buzz about it yet,” said MacIntosh. “It’s something that just started to grow after we came back from the break.”

MacIntosh, one of three student representatives who sit on the board of governors, said they are still collecting student opinions and feedback about the issue.

He said responses have been divided, but he will provide the results, and a letter written by Andresen, to the board when they bring up the issue.

Comments on the student union’s online forum about the topic show the divisions in opinion that MacIntosh mentions:

  • “St. FX is a Catholic university. If you don't like it go somewhere else.”
  • “...A friend of mine who graduated a couple of years ago was telling me that when he tells people where he went for his undergrad, people now know it as “the one that was run by that pedophile.” I think it would be nice if we didn't have to rely on the church's judgment of someone's character.”
  • “Automatic appointment = trouble. I don't care if the church approves or not: we shouldn't be using external institutions to vet internal appointments.”
  • “The Chancellorship should be given to someone who is a distinguished alumnus committed to raising the profile of the university on the national stage.”
  • “And I'm not meaning this to be offensive, but SAINT Francis Xavier. The school and its traditions are Catholic. It's like saying Christmas isn't Catholic because some athiests might get presents on it too. If the university overturns this (which I don't think they will), I will be SORELY disappointed.”

A poll on the St. FX student union’s website has received 353 responses so far, with almost 53 per cent being in favour of changing the chancellorship policy.

No plans for now

Andresen said the group, which has 60 Facebook supporters, will not take any further action until the board of governors reviews the issue.

MacIntosh said the next general meeting of the board will not be until March, so Bishop Dunn will be chancellor when he begins in Antigonish next week.

Comments

Hopefully we can finally update this old and outdated tradition.

Posted by Scott Duncan | Jan 21, 2022 8:50 AM AT

In the 21st century, it's an aberration to have the university's chancellor automatically appointed, without any sort of capacity-based competitive assessment. And the Catholic Church should have nothing to do with the education of students from a multicultural society. StFX should change its medioeval policy on appointing its chancellor very soon. It's 2010!

Posted by Mark | 7 hours, 50 minutes ago

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