My resignation from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University

As my decision to resign from my position as an “Ethics Scholar” at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has been gathering increased media attention, including from our local press and the AP but now also from the Chronicle of Higher Education and some folks in the right wing blogosphere, I thought it important to make available my full letter of resignation.

This should help as well with some of the inaccuracies that have appeared. I did not resign my position as a faculty member, as some have reported, only from my post at the Ethics Center. To leave the University, where I am a tenured member of the School of Law faculty, because of the decision by the President would not be compatible with the view I expressed in the letter that there are two souls, so to speak, within the Santa Clara community. I remain because I am supportive of what I consider the more open, transparent approach to governance of a university including the right of my female colleagues to exercise their individual right to make decisions about their health and well being.

As this is a matter of significant public concern (indicated by the media coverage) and also an area of my own research (I write and teach about governance extensively and recently published a book about the Nicaraguan Revolution that includes a chapter on the role of the Catholic Church, including the Jesuits) it is an issue that I feel is relevant and important to speak up about as a faculty member.

In addition, I express in the letter my shared concern with the Pope for certain aspects of the abortion issue. In this regard, my view is that we should as a society try to create the conditions that would make abortion less likely without trampling on a woman’s right to choose. This is not easy to do but it is the only solution in my mind. I think the Pope’s recent comments about the mistake the Church has made by obsessively focusing on this issue points in this direction.

The text:

I appreciate that there are deeply held differences within the SCU community over the question of abortion. I myself have long had concerns about the use of abortion in a “throwaway” fashion as Pope Francis recently described it. However, I firmly believe that the question of whether an abortion is acceptable is a question to be resolved by a woman after receiving appropriate medical advice from her doctor.

I am also as you know a strong advocate of shared governance as an essential principle of the modern university. I believe shared governance to be critical to the success of academic freedom. Thus, I am very concerned that the President, presumably with the support of the Trustees, unilaterally and without notice or discussion with faculty, imposed a material change in our benefits with respect to a false and unsustainable distinction between therapeutic and elective abortion insurance coverage.

As you may know, I grew up in the Catholic Church. My uncle was a parish priest for more than 50 years. My great uncle founded one of the Chicago area’s leading Catholic Churches nearly a century ago. Several of my cousins completed seminary training. One of my cousins was a close aide to Cardinal Bernardin. My parents were leading members of our parish.

My entire family worked diligently for many years to bring to fruition the teachings of John the 23d and Vatican II, particularly with respect to the rights of women and minorities. At the heart of those reforms was a commitment to a more open, transparent and accountable church. This decision by the President reminded me that these lessons have yet to reach many in the Church.

In light, then, of my support of a woman’s right to choose and my support and belief in shared governance and in light of the role the Markkula Center is playing in imposing this decision on our community, I no longer believe my views of what is considered ethical and those of the Center are in agreement and thus I am tendering my resignation as an Ethics Scholar at the Center.

I remain willing to participate in Center activities on an individual basis, including my scheduled role as a moderator of the Feinberg visit next week, as appropriate. Certainly, however, if you feel that is not appropriate I will understand. I appreciate the opportunity to have been a part of the Center’s work over the past several years.