He who troubleth his own house…

January 19, 2006

Is it reasonable for a public university in Wisconsin to require that its resident assistants abandon certain religious practices during the scholastic year? A committee commissioned by the UW Board of Regents seems to think so.

Recently, an assembly of 14 student life experts — including one from each of Wisconsin’s four-year, public colleges — was called upon by UW System President Kevin Reilly. The committee, called the “Resident Assistant Working Group,” was to recommend a policy concerning the liberties a UW school can take in restricting the rights of its RAs to practice ideology in their rooms. The committee adjourned Jan. 11, offering five principles that any future policy should follow. Unfortunately, the fourth principle offered — a principle stating that UW schools have “the right to establish reasonable restrictions on RA activities” — essentially calls for the UW System to allow its universities to continue prohibiting RAs from leading Bible studies and other ideologically-based discussions in their rooms.

This board feels that RAs within the UW System have the right to lead ideological discussions in their own dorm rooms so long as such sessions remain strictly voluntary. To ban an RA from observing a belief is to ban an RA from being human. That the committee appointed by the UW System would advocate guidelines allowing each school to make its own policy regarding the matter is ludicrous and misguided. Equally troubling is the lack of student participation on the committee.

Since the UW Bible-study debacle began last year in Eau Claire, the UW Board of Regents has proven incompetent in handling the issue of an RA’s right to practice ideology. The results of its most recent action have proven disappointing, yielding only the conclusion that any system-wide policy should essentially go no further in regulating UW schools than the current non-policy. The Board of Regents must assert its power in guaranteeing the basic liberties of an RA. If this means ignoring the recently convened committee’s advice, then so be it.

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