Current conversations about EMU’s hiring policy reveal a conflict between pragmatism and dreams of change, between feasibility and expectation, which must be addressed.
“There’s nothing more important than the hiring decisions we make in terms of where the university is going,” Provost Fred Kniss stated emphatically, echoing the sentiments of many on campus in recent months. Through various venues, portions of the student body have been clamoring for a hiring policy that accepts openly gay faculty members.
The current hiring policy for tenure-track, or long-term, faculty limits EMU’s ability to hire gay faculty who are in same-sex relationships. Technically,there are no limitations on hiring openly gay, celibate faculty. According to President Loren Swartzendruber, the hiring policy addresses behavior, not orientation.
The limitation on hiring LGBTQ faculty who are in relationships is based on the interpretation of marriage within the Mennonite Church as portrayed in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and EMU’s Community Lifestyle Commitment (CLC).
Although there is increasing disagreement over the extent of its application, the Confession of Faith provides the backbone for EMU’s hiring policy.
Tenure-track faculty must sign the CLC, which restricts sexual relationships to the confines of marriage between one man and one woman. Furthermore, faculty are expected to respectfully engage with the Confession of Faith, which states the belief that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.”
Because the CLC demands compliance, and the Confession of Faith must be respected by EMU employees, LGBTQ faculty in committed same-sex relationships cannot find employment at EMU.
While many have pushed the EMU administration for a change in policy, such a change is often beyond administration’s control.
The job of administrators, like the president or the provost, is to carry out the policy of the Board of Trustees, EMU’s ruling legislative body, and to create policies with Board approval. Because of their good relationship with the Board, administrators can influence Board decisions, but broad policy changes cannot be made without Board approval. According to Kniss, he has the choice to either “do [his] job and carry out Board policy, or to resign.”
While students and faculty have the “luxury of debating these issues every day,” as President Swartzendruber says, administrators cannot simply express their opinions. They must work in the best interests of the institution as outlined by the Board of Trustees.
This leads us to the real power holder: the Board of Trustees. Because the Board of Trustees operates under Mennonite Church USA, policy is made in line with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. Therefore, policy does not counter the current understanding of the Church’s stance that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.
Swartzendruber clarifies that “It would be inconceivable” for the Board to make decisions that do not “take into account how the Mennonite church would view the policies” it makes.
It is important to note that the influence in policy making at EMU lies with the Board of Trustees and the Confession of Faith, but not with EMU donors. Of course, there are some single-issue donors that support or abstain from supporting EMU based purely on its stance on homosexuality, but their contributions do not sway policymaking.
However, Swartzendruber believes “the vast majority of our donors are with EMU regardless of whether they agree on every issue.”
Although donors hold influence at EMU in some ways, the hiring policy is not one of those ways. It is the Board that legislates these policies, and the administration at EMU is charged with implementing these policies.
Many who clamor for change in EMU’s hiring policy desire rapid change. They call on administration to stand up for equality and increased diversity, and they want their appetite for greater equality to be satiated.
Undergraduate Dean Nancy Heisey sympathizes, saying “that’s what’s tough about being a student. You have such a limited time frame, and you want to make change now, but most change doesn’t happen that way. Most change is incremental over time.” She confesses, “It feels cowardly to be quiet,” but Heisey believes we must stay in conversation with people on all sides of this issue.
Provost Kniss agrees, and believes that student voice can significantly impact decisions of administration and the Board of Trustees.
Students have the power to remind administrators and the Board of Trust- ees about the issues that are important to the EMU community, ensuring that they remain in touch with student needs.