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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Father Fessio Firing Follow-up

I know that Fr. Fessio's dismissal from AMU is old news, but I came across a few interesting items about the story.

First, this Naples News article.
Ave Maria University's board of trustees discussed firing the university's theologian, the Rev. Joseph Fessio, at its June meeting but took no formal vote on the matter, the board’s chairman said Wednesday.

The university announced Monday that it had "ended its formal relationship" with Fessio and that the decision was "made by the leadership of the university and supported by its Board of Trustees."

Chairman Michael Timmis would not say Wednesday whether the entire board agreed at the June meeting. He said the decision to fire Fessio was not something that required a board vote. Timmis would not cite a reason for Fessio's firing.

"Personally, as I read the scriptures, good people can disagree," Timmis said.
That's a weird quote about the Bible by Timmis. What episode or verse can he possibly be referring to? And sure, good people can disagree about what flavor of ice cream is better with neither one being wrong.... but sometimes when two "good people" disagree, one person is wrong and one person is right. It seems that often moral equivalency or agnosticism is invoked in debates about Ave Maria, because on both sides there are "good people" (code words for "orthodox, church-going Catholics") and therefore there is a reluctance to make judgments about whether a particular action is good or bad. Also, based on Timmis's comments, it seems like there wasn't a Board decision and vote on firing Fessio, but that Monaghan himself (or his "Executive Committee") made the decision unilaterally. This is similar to what happened with Safranek at the law school, so it's to be expected.
The trustees have three regular meetings per year, usually in Naples but occasionally in Washington, D.C., spokesman Rob Falls said. He said special meetings are sometimes called to address pressing issues.

Falls said Wednesday that the university would have no further comment on Fessio's firing.

He said the university considers it a "personnel matter" and that its policy is to "respect the dignity of individuals."
That is a bothersome quote by Falls. He is invoking the "this is a confidential personnel matter" excuse heard so often during the law school professor terminations. What makes it really frustrating is the fact that Fessio himself (like the law professors a few years) was not given a full explanation of the reason for his firing. How is it respectful of the "dignity of the individual" to fire the individual without a full and fair explanation?

The second interesting item is a Youtube video posted by AMU's Student Government Association President about the Fessio firing. Check it out here. It is admirable to see the student president give such a thoughtful, professional, and eloquent statement about the controversy. Kudos to him for his prudent diplomacy on a difficult topic and for his commitment to AMU. But the statement seems marked with the same moral agnosticism that I mentioned above. He is sad Fessio is gone, but there is no mention about whether the decision to remove him was a good action or not. He says the school is "not perfect" and never will be perfect because it is a human institution, but he is silent about what is not perfect about the school and how the imperfection can be improved. His vision and spirit are admirable, but I wonder about his naivete. (He reminds me of myself and of so many people I knew a few years ago.) He says that AMU will live on and prosper, that it "transcends" any one man or group of men, including Monaghan himself. I guess he hasn't heard the story of the now-defunct Ave Maria College.

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