St. Michael’s College president David Mulroney

St. Mike’s president, faculty at odds

  • August 10, 2017

Long-simmering tension between St. Michael’s College president David Mulroney and some of the college’s senior professors, librarians and administrators has broken out into the open.

An “open letter” condemning an address Mulroney made to an international Catholic media conference has slammed the former diplomat for a “disappointing and embarrassing” presentation that has “shaken our confidence in you as president.”

The letter was signed by 22 professors and university officials, including two of the 21 members of St. Michael’s collegium — the university’s highest governing body.

Mulroney’s June 22 presentation at Laval University, which kicked off a convention bringing together more than 400 media professionals from around the world, stressed how the communications strategy of St. Michael’s was aimed at shoring up the university’s Catholic identity.

“We had lost a sense of community and you can’t communicate who you are if you don’t know who you are,” he said. “We very definitely didn’t know who we are.”

But in stressing the need for St. Mike’s to retain as strong Catholic identity, Mulroney also said St. Mike’s had the reputation of a “party school.” He brought up a past forensic audit of the undergraduate student association’s finances. He suggested the student body and faculty had been disengaged from debates over euthanasia and other life issues, and had been “dialing down the salient points of our identity.”

While the open letter objects most specifically to what it characterized as Mulroney’s negative portrayal of students, the controversy is really about the deeper issue of how St. Michael’s defines its Catholic identity, mission and purpose, said Collegium member and signatory to the letter Fr. Darren Dias. It’s a debate that has bubbled to the surface among faculty in recent years, said Dias.

“By definition, the Catholic tradition is wide and rich and complex. You could never articulate a single Catholic value, identity, mission,” Dias told The Catholic Register.

The open letter found it jarring that Mulroney chose to mention student issues at a conference titled “Sharing Stories of Hope.”

“When any of us is called to speak publicly about and for our students, we make choices. By choosing to offer an exclusively negative portrayal, we contend, you effectively reduced the ‘hope’ of our university to your leadership as president,” the letter reads. “We beg to differ.” 

Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Media Foundation, said he was shocked by Mulroney’s presentation.

“I was in the back of the room. I was very surprised at what I heard. I did not recognize the university in what I heard,” Rosica said.

St. Michael’s was established by the Congregation of St. Basil in 1852 and the religious order continues as the university’s sponsoring body.

Mulroney illustrated his assertion that St. Mike’s had become primarily known as a “party school” by showing part of a video shot at an off-campus event sponsored by the college’s student union. Titled “Cowboys and Schoolgirls,” the video shows young people drinking shots, dancing and flirting with the camera. Cutting the video short, Mulroney tells his international audience, “It’s about 20 minutes of people drinking excessively, women being objectified.”

The actual video is three minutes and 20 seconds long.

Basilian superior general Fr. George Smith declined comment on the controversy, other than to say, “I have confidence in the ability of the collegium of the university to address all the issues at hand.”

Mulroney declined to comment for this story.

Since his appointment in 2015, Mulroney has maintained that he would serve only a single, four-year term as president. A search committee has been struck for his replacement and will begin actively looking for a new president in September.

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