Heated faculty, staff email debate about politics, religion, sexual orientation circulates

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A recent email debate has made faculty, staff and students question how accepting of diversity the campus community really is.

The dixieall email was treated as an open forum Jan. 31 through Feb. 10, asking for suggestions and opinions on what characteristics to search for in a new president. 

Many faculty and staff members contributed to the mass email, but the suggestions and opinions began to offend some, and it drifted into a heated conversation about beliefs and values.

“I don’t know that the discussion was inappropriate, but the tone of the discussion was, at times, hateful, and we don’t need to be doing that on a public forum,” said Rick Rodrick, an associate professor of communication. “Let’s start over. Let’s think about what we’re teaching about civility to our students and try to follow those guidelines on what we’re saying.” 

The conversation drifted into topics that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with Dixie State University and the vision for the new president. It transformed into topics of politics, religion and sexual orientation.

It became a problem when participants began feeling uncomfortable with their colleagues, wondering why such hateful words were being shared.

“You don’t want to have to worry about working in an unfriendly, unsupportive environment,” Rodrick said. “I should be able to have an office right next to somebody who thinks different things than I do, and it shouldn’t affect us at all. We’ve got a job to do, and we need to do it.”

The comments and replies involved issues of the purpose of Dixie, morality and values, religion, the tendency to label people as outsiders, liberals and atheists, whether evolution occurred, the purpose of Latter-Day Saint missionaries, and belief vs. knowledge.

William Christensen, executive vice president of academics, said some people said things they may not have meant, and there were also misunderstandings.

He said there were also insightful comments from participants who suggested looking at the bigger picture of the vision of DSU. He said it is tough to try and handle a controversy like this because administration doesn’t want to close down the conversation, but it also doesn’t want to inflame it.

“I don’t think it was healthy, but just because it wasn’t healthy doesn’t mean that I would, in any way, want to prohibit it,” Christensen said. “Trying to stifle things like this would be a much worse thing than letting an unhealthy conversation take place.”

Students who are employees at Dixie State University also received the many emails throughout the debate, and some students were appalled at the arguments taking place. Bryan Poulsen, math lab lead support technician and a junior CIT major from Hurricane, helped faculty and staff become aware that students also receive the dixieall emails.

“I just wanted people to know that it does affect the views of professionalism in the students’ eyes,” Poulsen said.

Poulsen said some students thought the conversation could have been a nice discussion, but it turned into childish bickering. They said the emails just became obnoxious, and the students lost respect for those involved.

“I had one student tell me they would never take a class from one of the professors involved, and they couldn’t respect them because of their comments,” Poulsen said.

Poulsen said faculty and staff weren’t worried about their appearance to students because they believed it was a healthy discussion, but he said, from a student’s perspective, it does affect the professional image.

Christensen said the main reason why this happened was because of the lack of socialization with each other and not embracing each other’s differences. He said that will hopefully change with future forums and meetings, but this is a symptom of becoming a university.

He said faculty, staff and students need to harness and embrace diversity on campus because it can be beneficial. But he said if they don’t harness this controversy, it can be DSU’s destruction.

“It could be our downfall,” Christensen said. “There is a danger in this, but the hope in it is that instead of letting that hurt us, we can actually harness that passion and energy to send us in a positive, but new, direction.”

Rodrick said there may be a lack of leadership, but faculty and staff need to become leaders and move forward.

“It’s demotivating on the faculty level,” Rodrick said. “I can’t imagine anybody finding that motivational — people knocking each other down and going at each other — it’s just bad energy. It’s a bad vibe. We can’t afford that. We have work to do.”

The conversation ended with apologies and kind gestures to try and fix feelings of discomfort.

Christensen said this was a wake-up call for the administration. It realizes there need to be measures taken among faculty and staff to become friends. He said there is obvious division in the faculty and staff, but he believes they are capable of agreeing to disagree, and he demands they show mutual respect and professionalism toward one another.

“We all want to be loved; we all want to be happy; we all want to be appreciated; and we all want to be respected,” Christensen said.