Public opinion sought in development of RA policy

January 26, 2006

Inconsistency within the UW System regarding the rules for religious and political activities that RAs can partake in is one step closer to being resolved, following the Jan. 11 release of a final report by the Resident Assistant Working Group.

System President Kevin Reilly now is asking for the public to comment on this report so he can develop a policy that would satisfy the majority, said Doug Bradley, a System spokesperson.

The report concludes with a list of five principles outlining what the committee agreed would be the best course of action for Reilly and the UW Board of Regents to take.

Bradley said after questions arose at UW-Eau Claire about the restrictions placed on RAs, Reilly realized steps needed to be taken to ensure everyone’s rights were being recognized.

He sought legal advice, but after Deputy Attorney General Daniel Bach refused to give an opinion, Reilly gathered a group of representatives from all UW schools.

The Resident Assistant Working Group’s objective was to determine what campuses are doing with respect to RA restrictions and to draw up a list of principles for developing a permanent policy, Bradley said. Reilly’s official policy proposal, he said, will hopefully be presented to the Board of Regents at its March meeting.

Bradley stressed the importance of coming up with a policy that would best serve the interest of every System student. Therefore, all students are encouraged to participate in the public comment period at http://www.wisconsin.edu/RAfeedback.htm, which will last for about another 10 days, he said.

Senior Dawn Snyder, an RA in Oakridge Hall, said the recommendation is “a little vague, but understandably so.” She said she supports the ideas expressed in the principles, especially those that encourage RAs to have values and encourage diverse beliefs among residents, quoting the first principle because of its description of an “open, inclusive and supportive

residential community.”

“We need to be aware of our actions and how they influence our residents and their feelings,” Snyder said.

However, some feel the recommendation does not go far enough in its conclusions.

“We don’t think (the recommendation) changes anything,” said Robert Shibley, a program manager at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Shibley said FIRE refuses to support the working group’s advice because it does not explicitly guarantee the right of RAs to hold Bible studies in their rooms.

FIRE put Eau Claire senior RA Lance Steiger in contact with the Alliance Defense Fund after Steiger received a letter last summer from Associate Director of Housing and Residence Life Deb Newman stating he couldn’t lead a Bible study in his room or residence hall. Steiger then contacted FIRE after his dialogue with the university didn’t improve, he said.

ADF now is representing Steiger in a civil suit against the university.

Kevin Theriot, the ADF attorney on Steiger’s case, said the working group recommendation does not have any effect on litigation since the suit will stand unless a permanent school policy is adopted to guarantee RAs the right to freely exercise their beliefs in their places

of employment.

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Schools: University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Cases: University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire: Ban on RAs’ Leading Bible Studies