Chaplain sparks faculty reaction

Recognizing it would be “inappropriate” and a “violation of explicit College policy,” College Chaplain Rick Spalding said on Sunday he would not be sponsoring a phone-a-thon out of the Chaplain’s Office to protest war in Iraq.

Spalding had originally floated the idea in an e-mail to the Students for Social Justice (SSJ). In the e-mail, he said he was looking for students interested in contacting Senators to express their views on a potential war with Iraq using the phones in the Chaplain’s Office.

Upon reading his e-mail, several members of the community protested the idea of College resources going towards what they saw as a partisan political end. “The role of Chaplain should not be to organize political movements,” Mark Gundersen ’04, president of the Garfield Republicans, said. “His focus should be on organizing community service and promoting the spiritual life of the community.”

Liz Kaplan ’04, a member of the SSJ, said she thought it was important for the Chaplain’s office to be involved in a variety of different causes. “I know some people would draw the line between doing political advocacy and educational awareness on campus,” she said. “At the same time, it’s important to advocate political measures that affect people outside our campus.”

Spalding said he sees it as part of his job as Chaplain to encourage the expression of statements of conscience, but acknowledged the idea he floated to the SSJ should be taken off the table.

According to Dean Roseman, the College does not have a written policy on the use of its resources for political ends, but she said there is a general understanding that resources should not be used for partisan ends. “Clearly, Rick Spalding the person is free to articulate his own views freely, but the institution cannot be partisan and should do all it can to promote dialog within the community,” she said. “Rick follows a long and honored tradition of calling the community’s attention to issues of war and peace.”

Keeping the College unaffiliated with particular points of view is an issue that has come up in the past. Each year, for example, many faculty members send letters of support to various political figures and causes. At the bottom of each letter, they write: “Printed without use of College resources.”

According to President Schapiro, there is no simple answer to the question of whether College resources can be used for a political goal. He said if a phone-a-thon were aimed at a Senator’s toll-free phone number, for example, it would not be clear whether it was appropriate or not.

“The worst thing for our community would be to have people who simply don’t care,” Schapiro said. “Given that most of us, including our Chaplain, care passionately about a number of issues, this is a good time for our community to reflect on the acceptable ways that this passion can be manifested.”

Gary Jacobsohn, chair of the political science department, said it is important that individual efforts do not end up identifying the College with a particular point of view. “I have nothing against him getting involved in politics or inviting others in the community to join him,” he said. “ It does get a little iffy when a particular cause is identified with the College.”

Some feel that a phone-a-thon would cross the line of what is an appropriate use of College resources.

In an e-mail sent to Spalding, James McAllister, assistant professor of political science, asked: “What is your conception of a type of political activity out of the Chaplain’s office that would cross a line? My own standard is that College employees should speak out on whatever questions they want, but not in a way that relies on the use of College resources for the advancement of a partisan goal.”

For his part, Spalding said his intention was never to advance his partisan goal, but rather to help Williams students get in contact with key Senators to express their opinions on the war with Iraq – whatever those opinions might be.

Gundersen, however, questions why Spalding only contacted the SSJ if he was truly interested in opening the event to both sides of the discussion. “It seems to reveal the true purpose that only one organization with a predictable point of view was contacted,” Gundersen said. “Williams students and donors would really be indirectly funding long distance phone calls that may go against what they believe in.”

For his part, Spalding is upfront with his beliefs on a war with Iraq. “It’s no great secret that I think the impending war with Iraq would be a moral catastrophe for the United States,” he said.

Spalding is hopeful that members of the College will come to a vigil for peace this Thursday. The idea for a vigil came from several citizens of Williamstown who asked him to help inform people on campus about the event. James MacGregor Burns, professor of political science emeritus, is expected to be one of the speakers at the event to be held in Field Park, outside the Williams Inn.