A Franciscan University of Steubenville course description that lists homosexuality as deviant behavior has drawn critical attention from the only social work accreditation council in the U.S.
Franciscan University said its “Deviant Behavior” social work class – which takes its description from a standard public university textbook – is intended to “help students learn how to better serve and assist future clients.”
The course has drawn hostile media attention after members of an unofficial Facebook group of gay and lesbian alumni asked the school to change the course description.
Currently, the class description reads: “The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness and drug use.”
Gregory Gronbacher, a 1990 graduate of Franciscan University who is a member of the group, told National Public Radio he thinks that the course description puts gay students “in the same category as murderers.”
He told NBC News he thinks the school’s administrators “mean well” but “live within a bubble.”
“If you live in that sort of intellectual isolation where gay people are hidden, it’s easy to wander down that path where gay people are rapists and murderers – that scary 'other,'” he said.
Gronbacher said he was a serious Catholic in college and went on to become a philosophy and theology professor. He said he left the Catholic Church in part because of its stance on homosexuality, NBC News says.
In response, the university’s Sept. 4 statement affirmed its adherence to Catholic teaching that homosexual persons are to be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”
Franciscan University’s social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, but the course description has prompted comment from Steven Holloway, director of the council’s office of accreditation.
“The fact that homosexuality was identified in the course description as a deviant behavior raises a flag,” he told National Public Radio. He said understanding “diversity and difference” is “critical for social workers to be effective in working with diverse populations.”
He also noted that the accreditation standards have a diversity requirement that includes sexual orientation.
The council’s 2008 accreditation standards say an accredited program must have a “commitment to diversity” including sexual orientation and “gender identity and expression” that is “reflected in its learning environment.” This includes “the demographic make-up of its faculty, staff and student body.”
The council is the only accreditation agency for social work education in the U.S.
The council’s Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice includes a council on sexual orientation and gender identity. This commission council says on its website that it works for “the full participation of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or two-spirit in social work education.” It identifies and advocates changes in “any policies, procedures, or activities” that impede these persons’ “full and affirming participation.”
Franciscan University spokesman Tom Sofio told CNA Sept. 11 that the university has not had communication from the accreditation council.
The university’s Sept. 4 statement said the criticized course’s description is “little more than abbreviated chapter headings from the primary course textbook” that is used in over a dozen public universities.
The university said the textbook uses the term “deviant” in the sociological sense “simply meaning different from the norm.”
“We understand that some, not understanding the term or its context, might take offense at the description,” it continued. “Nevertheless, changing standard sociological definitions is beyond the scope of our work.”
The social work class treats other topics including crime, alcoholism and heterosexual deviance. The university said the course uses secular sources with “timely research findings, current data, and solid sociological analysis.”
Franciscan University said it expects that faculty present “authentic Catholic teaching,” saying that this benefits its graduates and their future clients because they have considered both sides of an argument.
“(T)hey leave here better prepared to assist clients than their counterparts from schools that teach only one perspective,” the university said.
The university’s statement also addressed its graduates.
“Our prayers and our love go out to all our alumni,” it said. “All men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation, are deserving of respect, compassion, and love, and as a Catholic university we not only believe that, but also strive to live out that belief each day in our relations with students and alumni alike.”