Faculty in revolt at St. Jerome's

By 
  • February 18, 2009
{mosimage}Faculty at Waterloo’s St. Jerome’s University have voted no confidence in the school’s president and have begun talks with the Canadian Association of University Teachers about forming a union.

The crisis at the Catholic liberal arts college affiliated with the University of Waterloo began with the mass resignation of the St. Jerome’s chaplaincy team just before Christmas.

“There is a crisis of morale at every level at St. Jerome’s — staff, faculty and I would imagine by now in administration as well,” St. Jerome’s Faculty Association president David Seljak told The Catholic Register. “It’s not an institution that is functioning at 100 per cent of its potential.”

Members of the faculty accuse their new president of being uncommunicative and uninterested in the opinions of the university professors and staff who work for him. Fr. David Perrin of the Oblate Missionaries became president of St. Jerome’s 18 months ago.

Perrin did not return phone calls and e-mail messages from The Catholic Register before leaving the country just prior to The Register’s deadline.

Dorothee Retterath, chair of the St. Jerome’s board of governors, told The Kitchener-Waterloo Record that “the board fully endorses the strong senior administrative team it has assembled.”

Twenty of the 30 members of St. Jerome’s college council voted no confidence in Perrin in a Jan. 29 secret ballot. There were two opposed, four abstentions and one blank ballot. Three members of the council couldn’t be present for the vote.

When the St. Jerome’s college council, comprised of professors and other staff, sought to interview the chaplaincy team about their reasons for quitting the board of governors warned them not to, calling such interviews a “clear encroachment beyond college council’s mandate.”

The attempt to prevent the interviews amounts to interference in academic freedom, said Seljak. The college council’s mandate is to advise the president on “any matter that affects the university as a whole,” he said.

“We felt that the collapse of the entire chaplaincy unit in one week was certainly a matter which affects the university as a whole since chaplaincy — it’s not like the registrar’s office, this is an essential part of our Catholic identity,” Seljak said.

Academic freedom includes the right to criticize and investigate the university itself, said Seljak.

“We don’t want to run the place. We don’t want the final say,” said Seljak. “But we have to insist that when it comes to questions of academic freedom and collegial governance, when it comes to questions of the academic integrity of St. Jerome’s University, the faculty are an essential voice, an essential player.”

Both the Ex Corde Ecclesia — the Vatican’s basic document on Catholic universities — and the University of Waterloo’s statutes support the full exercise of academic freedom and the idea of a university as a community, according to Seljak.

“We have people who are all committed to St. Jerome’s as a public, Roman Catholic university. They have different interpretations of what that means, but I don’t think that calls into question the Catholic character of the college.”

St. Jerome’s has 835 full-time students and 184 part-time students. Its residence houses 285 students. It started off as a boys school founded by the Resurrectionists in 1865. It became an independent university in 1959, and then sought federation with the newly established University of Waterloo.

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