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Episcopal university vice-chancellor moves to reassure students after Charlie Rose furore

Posted on: February 28, 2018 12:55 PM
Charlie Rose addresses graduates as he receives his honorary degree from Sewanee: the University of the South in May 2016
Photo Credit: University of the South

The vice-chancellor of a university owned by dioceses of the US-based Episcopal Church has sought to reassure students that it “has steadfastly stood and continues to stand against sexual misconduct of any sort on the campus and in the workplace.” The comment was made by John McCardell, vice-chancellor of Sewanee: The University of the South, in a letter addressed to “Members of the University Community.” It comes as students and staff continue their calls for the University to rescind an honorary degree granted to disgraced journalist Charlie Rose, who has apologised following claims of sexual harassment.

In his letter, Mr McCardell explains that the university’s ordinances gives the Senate – the Vice-Chancellor, the Provost, the Deans, all full professors, and the Chaplain of the University – the power “to originate and discuss any proposal necessary for the good government, academic proficiency, repute, and common weal of the University, which they may think expedient to lay before the Board of Regents.” And that it “shall approve all candidates for honorary degrees.”

He said that at a meeting of the Senate this week, the members voted unanimously to create draft procedures under which honorary degrees, once granted, could be reconsidered. The draft procedures would be taken to the Joint Regent-Senate Committee “for discussion and eventual action.”

He continued: “As a result, there will be a process, where none had existed, for the orderly review of an honorary degree once awarded. The Ordinances of the University currently state that ‘recipients of all honorary degrees must be approved by the Board of Regents’” – the university’s trustees – “For this reason, any new, or revised, process for the granting or the reconsideration of honorary degrees will ultimately require the approval of the Board of Regents. The Senate members of the Honorary Degree Committee will work to ensure that the views of the faculty are solicited and communicated in the course of their work.”

He said that the Senate also “passed unanimously an advisory motion to rescind immediately the honorary degree awarded to Charlie Rose. This motion will be communicated to the Board of Regents.”

A university spokeswoman told the Episcopal News Service that the Regents had no immediate response to the Mr McCardell’s statement; but that the body may be called together at any time by the chair to consider the Senate’s motion.

“This past week has made us all painfully aware of both our institutional aspirations and the ways in which we still fall short of meeting them,” McCardell said, referring to on-going protests about the university’s position. “I pledge my own continued involvement and energy in articulating and advancing those aspirations, civilly and respectfully, and those many things we need yet to do to bring us closer to their attainment.”

He said that: “the university has steadfastly stood and continues to stand against sexual misconduct of any sort on the campus and in the workplace, has clear rules to that effect, and has well-established procedures for dealing with allegations that those rules have been violated.

“The university continues actively to work to combat sexual misconduct, and a special task force . . . has been working diligently to . . . make recommendations that will continue to address the issue of campus sexual climate.

“As there can be no mistaking the commitment of the university to these matters, so can there also be no mistaking the need for every member of the community to come forward with your own best thinking and suggestions. I know the task force will welcome those ideas; I will, personally, welcome them as well.”

Sewanee: The University of the South, is owned by 28 dioceses of the US-based Episcopal Church. Its Board of Regents include the Bishop of Florida, Samuel Johnson Howard, the university’s Chancellor; the Bishop of East Carolina, Robert Skirving; the Bishop of Southwest Florida, Dabney Tyler Smith; and the Bishop of Louisiana, Morris Thompson.