Seton Hall University’s governing board is debating whether to cancel a course on gay marriage after Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said the class conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The course is scheduled to begin next fall for upperclassmen in any major on the South Orange campus, university officials said. It is designed to explore the controversial issue without advocating for either side.
Myers said news that Seton Hall students will be studying gay marriage "troubles me greatly."
In a statement, the archbishop said the church teaches that marriage should only be between a man and a woman:
""This proposed course seeks to promote as legitimate a train of thought that is contrary to what the Church teaches. As a result, the course is not in synch with Catholic teaching," Myers said. "Consequently, the board of trustees of Seton Hall have asked the board of regents to investigate the matter of this proposed course and to take whatever action is required under the law to protect the Catholicity of this university."
As archbishop, Myers does not have the authority to cancel a class. But the conservative archbishop serves as chairman of Seton Hall’s board of trustees and president of the school’s board of regents, the governing body that oversees academic issues.
Larry Robinson, Seton Hall’s vice provost, said the course was approved by both the political science department and the dean’s office.
"The initial review at the departmental level and at the dean’s level suggests that the course is not an advocacy course ... but a ‘special topics’ course to objectively examine a significant current public policy issue," Robinson said. "Thus, we fully anticipate that the Catholic position on same-sex marriage will be explored."
W. King Mott, the Seton Hall associate professor of political science scheduled to teach the course, told The Setonian, the campus newspaper, he didn’t think it was unusual for a Catholic university to offer a class on an issue the church does not support.
"The best schools offer controversial classes," Mott told the Setonian in a story published earlier this week. "The class is not about advocacy, but about studying the issue from an academic perspective. It’s about awareness."
Mott, who is gay, has clashed with the church and university officials before. In 2005, he was demoted from his post as associate dean of Seton Hall’s College of Arts and Sciences after his letter challenging the church’s view on homosexuality was published in The Star-Ledger.
School officials objected to Mott signing the letter with his Seton Hall title, causing confusion about whether he was speaking on behalf of the university. The letter said the church unfairly scapegoats gay men for the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Faculty members protested Mott’s demotion, arguing school officials violated his academic freedom when they punished him for writing a letter. But Seton Hall’s provost upheld the demotion and Mott, who has tenure, remained on campus as a prominent professor.