Faculty Senate to vote on HJR-6 statement

James Vaughn

The Faculty Senate will decide whether or not to make a public statement opposing House Joint Resolution-6 (HJR-6) Friday.

The 14-member body failed to come to a consensus at its Nov. 22, meeting regarding its stance on the amendment that, if passed, would permanently define marriage as a bond between a man and a woman and would remove protections under current Indiana law for same-sex couples.

After more than half an hour of deliberation, senators were split down the middle.

The senate tabled the discussion, requesting Assistant Professor of Philosophy Garret Merriam, who introduced the topic at the Nov. 8, meeting, and Vice Chair Jason Fertig collaborate on a statement.

How will senators vote? 

The Shield asked senators Monday how they were going to vote.

Chair Mary Hallock Morris said she would vote to make a statement opposing HJR-6. But other representatives weren’t as sure.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought – I have mixed feelings,” said Peter Cashel-Cordo, economics professor. “I’m undetermined.”

Assistant Professors of Health Services Frank Ward and Ethel Elkins were undecided as well.

“I have no idea what the resolution will say at this point,” Elkins said.

Merriam said he and Fertig will present a pair of resolutions to the senate Friday.

One will reaffirm USI’s and the senate’s commitment to diversity and equality, but maintain that it is not the senate’s place to weigh in on political matters.

The second will oppose HJR-6, encourage the administration to do the same and acknowledge the “controversial nature” of the resolution, but hold that it is contrary to the faculty, staff and student’s best interests.

“I am confident that one of these two resolutions will pass,” Merriam said. “I honestly do not know which of the two – time will tell.”

He said individual faculty members are encouraged to use their voice as they see fit, and some are.

Stand-in planned for Friday:

Assistant Professor of Psychology Amie McKibban organized “Stand by me, and I will stand by you: Opposing HJR-6,” which will take place at 2 p.m. Friday in USI’s free speech zone, located between the Orr Center and University Center East.

Students and faculty who attend the event will stand arm-in-arm silently as senators make their way to the UC to decide on a public statement.

McKibban said her goal is to create a visible sign of support, not a loud protest.

“When an issue is perceived as being controversial by higher administration, there is always that perceived threat of repercussions,” McKibban said. “The stand-in on Friday is not only going to allow us to stand beside students and students to stand beside us within that safe environment. It’s also going to allow us to make a statement that the silence of our administration and the possible silence of Faculty Senate doesn’t necessarily represent the many voices that do oppose HJR-6 here.”

McKibban, who directs the tri-state area’s Safe Zone initiative, said it’s both a personal and a professional issue for her.

“It falls in line with the work I do in my scholarship and the work I do for the community,” she said. “If we don’t stand up for ourselves and those who can’t stand up for themselves, who will? This is very much a same-sex marriage issue, but it’s also much more than that – it’s standing up so that we, as taxpaying citizens, can ensure that our constitution isn’t being used inappropriately, and to me that is everyone’s civic duty.”

McKibban doesn’t think it should be left to the Faculty Senate to take a stand.

“I think it’s higher administrations place to take a stand,” she said. “Given they have remained silent, I am pleased the Faculty Senate is at least considering the idea of opposing (HJR-6).”

She plans to attend the Faculty Senate meeting Friday and encourages others to do so, too.

McKibban said the issue affects students just as much as it affects faculty.

“I oftentimes don’t think students realize how much power they have in their voices at universities,” she said. “Students definitely hold more power than anyone else at this university, so I would like to see them show up in large numbers.”

Senior Amber Seibert will lend her arm Friday by participating in the stand-in.

“I can see it making a difference if for no other reason than to show that there are people in our largely conservative community who are willing to stand up for human rights,” Seibert said. “How will administrators know how we feel unless we have a way to tell them?”

The English education major has watched other Indiana universities and other states come out in support of same sex marriage in the news.

“It’s been frustrating to live in a state and attend a college where there has not been progress in that area,” Seibert said. “Ultimately, the university is here to serve students. They should be making decisions based on what is best for their constituents.”

She believes in giving everyone equal rights and in separating church and state.

She said her passion for the issue can be summed up with one of her favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Nov. 22, debate:

On one side, senators understood why the university should stand with Freedom Indiana, a coalition of Indiana businesses, groups and individuals formed to defeat HJR-6.

Potential lawsuits – the university offers benefits to faculty in domestic partnerships.

If enacted, the bill would alter the state constitution to prohibit any future legislatures from passing a law that would allow same-sex couples to legally marry or one that would allow any legal protections for civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Some senators suggested HJR-6 goes against the university’s mission statement and its strategic goal to increase diversity.

Indiana University, Purdue University, Ball State University, DePauw University, Wabash College and Butler University have come out against the proposed amendment.

“If colleges in Indiana are opposing this, it makes more sense to stand with them than to be silent on the issue,” Merriam said during the Nov. 22, meeting. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can say with great confidence that this is the way the country is going – this is the way the world is going.”

On the other side, members agreed it is not a public university’s place to make a political statement, and they questioned what purpose it would serve.

“It gives fuel to the sense that somehow all of the institutions of higher learning are hard-left, bleeding, blue liberals,” said Brandon Field, assistant professor of engineering. “Our statement won’t make – functionally – any difference.”

Fertig was strongly against the Faculty Senate taking a stance, arguing that it’s not a gay tolerance debate, but rather a same-sex marriage debate.

He recommended the Senate leave the decision to the President, whom in most cases, has made the official statement on behalf of the universities.

“I just don’t feel comfortable doing it,” he said. “It gives me the creeps.”

He said making a public statement would make it hard for the university to recruit conservatives and religious people.

“There will be some people who will be put off by this,” Merriam said. “But in terms of simple recruiting, we will be better off being opposed to the amendment than we will be being silent.”

At the last meeting, Merriam asked members to talk to faculty in their respective colleges about it.

The senators brought back varying results.

There was no consensus within the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education, according to Field and Associate Professor of Biology Rex Strange.

According to three representatives, faculty members in the College of Liberal Arts agree the Senate should take a public stance against HJR-6.

“I would not expect a consensus,” Merriam said.

The proposed amendment could be placed on the 2014 general election ballot. It will be discussed in the Indiana General assembly’s legislative session in January.