Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Don't do something, just sit there! 

A few weeks ago FIRE put out a note that the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire had banned resident assistants from leading Bible studies in their dorm rooms. This occurred after an RA had gone into the basement of his dorm with some students to study a verse. Arguing that the students were employees of the university, UWEC said it was simply a work rule.

In a Sept. 22 e-mail to Steiger, Deborah Newman, associate director of housing and residence life, elaborated on the university's position.

"As a state employee, you and I have a responsibility to make sure we are providing an environment that does not put undue pressure on any member of our halls in terms of religion, political parties, etc.," Newman wrote. "As a 'leader' of a Bible study, one of the roles is to gather and encourage people to attend. These two roles have a strong possibility to conflict in your hall."

To have an RA lead Bible studies in his or her room might make that person unapproachable by others who are uncomfortable with the RA's religious nature. Others, such as the chairman of the UWEC College Republicans, Tom Burton, argue that it is a violation of a students freedom to religious expression.
I understand that the RA needs to be available to the students he is paid to support, but as long as he is open to people contacting him during his Bible study and is not turning students away, he should not be stopped from studying the Bible.
Or as this student letter to the editor says, there are lots of things that an RA can do that can make another dorm resident uncomfortable, like drinking. (I take it to be legal there if you're 21 -- SCSU is a dry campus.) FIRE got involved and sent a letter to the school agreeing with this view. The school has responded and said it does not permit RAs to do any organizing of groups or activities. Yet last year, FIRE notes, an RA was praised for organizing a discussion group ... about the Vagina Monologues.

U.S. Representative Mark Green (R-Green Bay) is turning up the pressure, calling for hearings. (h/t: Boots and Sabers) And Owen notes that the Journal-Sentinel in Milwaukee gets it:

The problem is that there is no such place. Students don't just seek advice from R.A.s when they're in the dorm. They talk to R.A.s at lunch, over coffee and at the local bars. If the university's contention is that being an R.A. is a 24/7 kind of job, that applies no matter where the R.A. is when she or he is asked a question by a student.

But the university draws an artificial line at the dormitory door. It's a line that won't hold.