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Monday, February 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Calbreath: Whitworth decision reflects its values

A relatively overlooked connection between Whitworth University and the local Planned Parenthood organization was brought to light last fall. The Whitworthian (student newspaper) ran a column describing the strong advocacy for abortion that existed in some of the university’s course offerings. In addition, the column pointed out the relationship between the school’s internship program and Planned Parenthood. The news quickly went national, with protests pouring in to the campus administration. Several national anti-abortion organizations encouraged their readers to contact the university to make their feelings known.

After some months of internal discussion and debate, Dr. Beck Taylor, president of Whitworth University, announced that the institution’s connection with Planned Parenthood would be terminated. In his April 17 email to the university community, he stated that Planned Parenthood has become primarily associated in the public mind as being a major abortion provider. He said, “Whitworth’s relationship with the organization, even as limited and tangential as it currently is and has been, sends a confusing signal to many of our constituencies. … Being connected to an organization like Planned Parenthood sends the unintended message to many that Whitworth has taken a side in this social and political debate.”

In a May 6 column in The Spokesman-Review, two Whitworth University alumni strongly disagreed with this decision. Renee Hopkins and Laurie Werner speak of certain aspects of Whitworth education and culture, expressing their concern that somehow Whitworth is hindering discussion about central issues in women’s health care. They believe the institution should encourage “analytical and open-minded thinking” (which it does), but they neglect other very important aspects of that environment.

As a retired Whitworth faculty member, I would like to address the situation and clarify some information that apparently was missed by the authors.

Whitworth is one of the few Christian institutions of higher learning that do not have their employees sign a doctrinal statement. Applicants are asked to write a statement that articulates “a clear Christian commitment,” but there are no specific denominational restrictions. As a result, the community is composed of Protestant mainline churches, evangelicals, Anabaptists, Catholics and Orthodox. The school is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a denomination that respects the sanctity of life while taking a nuanced approach to abortion situations.

As a result, there are committed Christians who represent all shades of the abortion debate. In addition, the board of trustees for the university has eight pastors as board members.

Yes, Whitworth encourages the exploration of complex issues, but with an important proviso: The stress is placed on the integration of faith and learning (a statement that appears frequently in the catalog and in other documents that describe Whitworth college life). No, a student is not required to believe the Christian message, but they should be aware that the faith of faculty and staff strongly influences the way they look at the world. To ask for “unbiased learning” to is ask for an impossibility. Everyone brings their perspective into the discussion; Hopkins and Werner certainly have done that, along with their uncritical defense of Planned Parenthood.

However, they seem to deny that right to others in the Whitworth community, many of whom have a much longer and much deeper investment in the values of the university. President Taylor recognizes that tension and encourages a discussion about wider issues of women’s health (among other things) without the appearance of supporting a process (abortion) that has been shown to have serious consequences of its own (both physical and emotional).

One aspect of the president’s April 24 public statement is telling. President Taylor was not aware of the relationship between Whitworth and Planned Parenthood until he read an article in the student newspaper. Taylor states, “After investigating the details of the relationship, and after discussing its implications with cabinet members and trustees, and after much personal prayer and reflection, I decided that I would have never endorsed, nor would the board of trustees ever allowed, such a partnership to exist in the first place. …”

Apparently, someone lower in the administrative hierarchy made a decision that was not sanctioned by the institution.

The decision by Whitworth University to dissociate itself from Planned Parenthood was one that was squarely in keeping with the values of the institution. To do otherwise would seriously compromise Whitworth’s principles and its mission.

Donald F. Calbreath, Ph.D, is an emeritus associate professor of chemistry at Whitworth University.

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