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January 3, 2006

Choral directors told not to share bedroom

Two University of St. Thomas music professors have bowed out of a trip with students to Australia after the school said they could go only if they arranged separate rooms. Ellen Kennedy, 57, and Leigh Lawton, 61, live together as an unmarried heterosexual couple. The have taken previous trips with the university choir but this time, the school said they had to book separate. The couple decided not to go, saying that pretending to sleep apart would be deceitful. The students and other faculty members left for Australia on Friday.

The issue comes months after St. Thomas, a Roman Catholic university, told a lesbian choral director she couldn't officially bring her partner on a choir trip to France. The two stories have spawned campus debate over Catholic doctrine, and about how far the university intends to go to enforce Catholic values.

"If sin and vice become disqualifying factors for university employees, then students might have to start teaching themselves," theology professor David Landry wrote in a recent faculty newsletter.

University officials acknowledge the travel policy is ambiguous. For example, it's unclear whether the policy applies to professional conferences, or just in instances when students are part of the trip. There's been talk on campus that Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese and chairman of the St. Thomas board, played a role. University officials say that's not true. "The bottom line is it's not appropriate, we don't feel as a Catholic university, for unmarried partners, homosexual or heterosexual, to travel together" officially with students, said Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations.

Earlier this year, Ann Schrooten, a temporary music instructor and interim director of the Liturgical Choir, planned to have her female partner and their son go on the choir's trip to France. After a couple of students raised concerns, the university told Schrooten it was inappropriate for an unmarried partner, gay or straight, to travel with the choir. The university was willing to help Schrooten pay for her partner's travel as long as the arrangements were separate from the school program. She chose not to go on the trip.

The story has played out in the campus newspaper, The Aquin. Some students applauded the university's defense of Catholic values, others accused the university of bias. A university employment committee rejected Schrooten's claim that she was discriminated against because she is a lesbian. Kennedy said she and Lawton are longtime professors who have lived together for 12 years. They have gone on previous trips with students.

Posted by acapnews at January 3, 2006 9:35 PM