Faculty members and staff of St. Michael’s College (SMC) have published an open letter accusing SMC President David Mulroney of dishonouring the college and its alumni. The letter, released on July 31, was signed by 22 current and former professors, associate professors, and librarians.
The letter is a response to a speech that Mulroney gave at the opening ceremony of the SIGNIS World Conference at the Université Laval, hosted by Christian media organization Salt + Light Media.
In the speech, Mulroney lamented that SMC has lost a sense of community. He stated that the undergraduate students, the Faculty of Theology, the library, and St. Basil’s Catholic Parish were all operating in isolation from each other. “We very definitely didn’t know who we are,” Mulroney said.
He played a section of a St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) video called “Cowboys and Schoolgirls” to the conference attendees, saying that the the video was exemplary of the trajectory that St. Michael’s student culture had come to follow: “people drinking excessively” and “women being objectified.”
“These were the great communicators of our narrative,” Mulroney added. “We’d given up communicating the message.” He reiterated that the student union was improper in its use of social media, referring to the SMCSU scandal that broke last December regarding a series of leaked Snapchat videos.
The open letter argues that Mulroney’s criticisms of the culture at SMCSU do not reflect the behaviour of all its constituents. “We believe this is a distorted picture, and a disservice to the nearly 5,000 undergraduate students in the Arts & Science Division and over 200 graduate students in the Faculty of Theology,” the letter reads.
Mulroney also said that U of T has become a “much more aggressively secular institution” since his time as a student, citing what he saw as the secularization of Trinity College and Victoria College, U of T’s two other federated colleges. He said that he doesn’t want to see SMC follow the same path. He noted that SMC stopped recruiting from Catholic-related institutions and, as a result, has attracted more non-Catholic students, causing SMC to be “involved in this continuous process of dialling down the salient points of our [Catholic] identity.”
He also criticized SMC for not providing a “Catholic voice” to speak on the spread of euthanasia around Canada, something he regards as a significant failure.” The writers of the open letter disagree, stating that “as the euthanasia debate heated up in this country in 2013, students in our Christianity and Culture programme hosted an open forum—an event which was covered favourably in the Catholic press.”
The letter concludes: “It was very disappointing and embarrassing to members of this community who have come to appreciate the gifts of our students and the legacy of the University of St. Michael’s College as a leader in post-secondary education… Your remarks, in our judgement, have dishonoured this legacy and shaken our confidence in you as President.”
Mark McGowan, the Principal at SMC from 2002–2011 and a signatory of the letter, told The Varsity that “since [Mulroney] made the comments and showed a clip from an off campus ‘party’ video to an international conference, whose proceedings were being filmed and disseminated by Salt & Light Media, we thought it necessary that our defense of the vast majority of hardworking, conscientious, and gifted SMC students be made in a public manner.” McGowan explained that the letter “signaled our public support for our students and alumni.”
This turn of events comes just one month after it was announced that Mulroney would be stepping down as President and that a presidential search committee had been established to find his replacement. Mulroney assumed the role in June 2015 following a lengthy career in the Canadian Foreign Service.
Mulroney has been outspokenly critical about SMC in the past: he has criticized SMCSU, The Mike, other SMC student groups, and called for a total reform of SMC in September 2016.
The Varsity has reached out to SMC for comment.
This article has been updated to include comment from former SMC Principal Mark McGowan.