TOLEDO, Ohio — Officials at an Ohio university have ordered radios on campus shuttle buses be locked into one station and volume restricted after a student complained a driver was a playing a “far-right Christian political” channel at high volume.
The Blade newspaper reports (http://bit.ly/wD6N2J) the policy was suggested by the University of Toledo’s manager of transit services and gives drivers only an on/off option. In a memo, the manager, Steven John Wise, describes the selected station as “nonoffensive, work place type music, helpful weather info.” Radio volume also is being restricted as a safety measure.
The student made the complaint to university president Lloyd Jacobs on Jan. 26 and said the bus had become “a mobile proselytizing unit.” The student said those attending a state university expect to be free from forced religious and political views.
“The content of these broadcasts is blatantly offensive, derogatory, and abusive to anyone not in line with the very extreme views of those speaking,” the complaint says. “Issues such as women’s rights, sexual rights, and reproductive rights all come under constant attack. I can only imagine how someone affected deeply by any of these issues might feel being a captive audience to such abuse.”
Jacobs had responded in an email, “It sounds like you are correct — it may be inappropriate,” and instructed the vice president of administration to address the matter.
University correspondences show drivers were instructed on issues of safety and music selection, and radios were disconnected until the resolution was found.
Some University of Toledo administrators have been developing their leadership skills by participating in a "Global Leadership Summit," a program offered by the Willow Creek Association. This association is a ministry based in Barrington, Illinois; it broadcasts an annual leadership seminar around the world to a network of churches. The stated goal of the Willow Creek Association is to serve churches who hold to a historic, orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity. This self-avowed interdenominational network of churches also denounces same-sex relationships.
The Global Leadership Summit is organized around the conviction that "that the maximum influence and impact of the Church is felt when all of its Christ-centered leaders are at the forefront of establishing and growing well led local churches, companies, schools, governments and social enterprises,"(http://www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership/about.asp). This year, one of the featured speakers at the Summit was the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Mr. Schultz eventually refused to participate in the 2011 Global Leadership Summit because of Willow Creek's condemnatory statements about sexual orientation.
In 2010, the Jacobs' Administration, through Chuck Lehnert, then Vice President of Facilities and Construction, paid for eight employees, including several UT administrators to attend the Global Leadership Summit. This group included administrators from facilities management, a hall operations manager, a housekeeping manager, and two individuals in environmental services and grounds maintenance.
In 2011, the Jacobs' Administration and Chuck Lehnert sent another contingent of eight administrators to the Global Leadership Summit on Thursday and Friday, August 11 and 12. In the group were administrators from Human Resources, including Connie Rubin, Senior Human Resources Officer, a clinical compliance advisor, a chief safety officer, a senior business manager in Facilities Management, and a supervisor from building services.
Acknowledgement of these registrations included the following statement by Willow Creek: "We excitedly await your coming to this event and pray that God will reveal amazing things that will serve you and your ministry."
Religion does have a place in a public institution of higher learning. UT offers religious studies programs. In October 2011, Dr. Jacobs announced the formation of a Center for Religious Understanding on our campus. This is commendable. Serious study of and dialogue among world religions are important steps in developing diversity and understanding. This is very different from a public institution spending taxpayer money for employees to participate in an orthodox Christian sponsored seminar during work hours.
There is an additional complication: while the Jacobs' Administration has paid for UT employees (including administrators from Human Resources) to participate in an event sponsored by Willow Creek Association, with its history of actively denouncing gays and refusing to acknowledge the validity of gay relationships, President Jacobs in 2008 fired Crystal Dixon, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at UT, for publicly stating her adherence to her fundamentalist religious beliefs. A recent court opinion has declared that her termination was not a violation of her right to free speech; rather the judge declared that "the damage she did to her ability to perform her job and to the University provide ample justification for her termination" (Toledo Blade, Feb. 7, 2012). In his statement to the Blade regarding the judge's decision, Dr. Jacobs said: "The University of Toledo is committed to providing a safe, welcoming environment for all students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors, regardless of race, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability."
This poses an interesting conundrum: if Crystal Dixon's religious beliefs affected her ability to do her job, how will participation in a fundamentalist church-sponsored "Global Leadership Summit" affect the ability of UT employees, in particular those in Human Resources, to perform their jobs? How can an organization such as Willow Creek with its general fundamentalist views help shape leadership at UT as our institution strives to advance diversity? How can Willow Creek with its views on sexual orientation help UT create an environment that celebrates diversity? What kind of leadership can we expect from Chuck Lehnert, Vice President of Administration, and Connie Rubin, Senior Human Resources Officer?