University of St. Thomas has announced a controversial decision which
bars unmarried staff or faculty, who travel officially with students,
to share a room on those trips.
The new policy states that St. Thomas will pay for rooms for faculty and staff traveling with students, but only heterosexual spouses and children can share those rooms. The policy does not apply to staff traveling to professional conferences without students
That decision, made by university president Fr. Dennis Dease, is unlikely to end the controversy that's divided the St. Thomas campus for the past few months and left some wondering “what’s next?” reported the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
While the travel policy affects only a few professors, it became a flashpoint on campus after two unmarried, heterosexual professors were told in December they could travel with students only if they stayed in separate rooms.
As a result, the unmarried couple declined to lead a student trip to Australia in January. They and others noted that before last year they had traveled together, and gay faculty had traveled with their partners, on student trips and it was not an issue.
Some faculty fear the new policy will impact university culture and dissuade gifted faculty and students from coming to the university.
Fr. Dease said he hoped his track record of hiring and diversity would provide a comfort level for St. Thomas employees. He said gay and lesbian people on campus “enrich the community as much as anyone else.” But he added: "I hope that people don't expect that in order to respect their values, I have to sacrifice ours as an institution."