For God and Truth?

What is Colgate’s mission? And what is essential for its achievement? The motto on the University seal proudly boasts “Deo ac Veritati,” 13 letters guaranteeing that every student who passes through this institution will have the opportunity and the privilege to participate in the pursuit of both “God” and “Truth,” whatever and wherever they may be. So, then, this is our goal — to partake in the vigorous and unending search for enlightenment, proper moral orientation and reality in a thoroughly confusing and rapidly changing world.

It should come as no surprise that for many people, their journey brings them to any number of Colgate’s incredibly vibrant and active religious communities and consequently into contact with one of the three University Chaplains. These men, leaders of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups on campus, serve as teachers, programmers, spiritual advisors and friends to hundreds of students of any faith or none in particular. They have created an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort, and most importantly, a home away from home for a huge group of students at this school.

However, this insulated community is not immune to the current economic woes facing this institution and this nation; Colgate’s endowment has dipped over twenty percent and as a result, the administration has implemented a “hiring freeze,” refusing to take on any new employees and terminating all those hired on an interim basis with job positions deemed not “mission-critical.” The Protestant Chaplain is one such position, and when he leaves at the end of the semester, another one will not be hired to replace him.

Although this job is one of many affected by the new policy, it is worth considering the massive ramifications and implications of considering a Protestant minister as a person not crucial to the attainment of the University’s goals for itself as an institution, as well as for its students, faculty and staff.

Completely disregarding the fact that Colgate was founded as a Baptist ministry (and that the 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers are probably rolling around in their 13 graves right now due to this news), to assert that a Protestant minister is not essential on this campus is implying that all those who identify as Protestant do not need leadership, guidance or even a friend to talk to and help them through a rough patch. It means that anything and everything that current Chaplain Dea DeWitt and his predecessor Mark Mann have accomplished, the school and its students could do without. It means that they have not helped or taught any of us anything of value, anything beneficial to our spiritual and personal growth.

Such an assertion and its subsequent result means more work for the already overburdened Catholic and Jewish Chaplains; in addition to having to absorb responsibility for University Church, Colgate Christian Fellowship, and the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu Student Associations, Mark Shiner and David Levy will be forced to abdicate some of their current roles. Organizations like the Interfaith Council and the Heretics Club will rely almost solely on student initiative, and while Colgate students are incredibly capable and driven, the young adults that constitute these groups are often deeply entrenched in many other extracurricular activities and will not be able to dedicate the proper amount of concentration to these endeavors. Additionally, the amount of time available for one-on-one counseling sessions with the Chaplains will decrease immensely – the loss of this important resource will be unequivocally devastating to the entire Colgate community.

On a separate but incredibly significant note, Rabbi Dave will not be able to teach either of his Jewish Studies courses next year due to his new, heavier workload. Here, the effects of losing the Protestant Chaplain have finally trickled down to the students who may never have even met him, let alone considered how his presence affected their lives. We are losing academic freedom and options because of the absence of this one man. If his job is not “mission-critical” and its loss results in a decreased number of course options, is not the administration implying that these choices — or academic choice as a notion – are somehow not crucial to becoming the enlightened, well-rounded adults that Colgate claims it wants us to become?

I am certainly not a Protestant (in fact, I’m President of the Colgate Jewish Union!), but I am well aware of, and outraged by, the ramifications of this loss. Although there are likely hundreds of Protestants on campus who would never consider attending a worship service or Bible study, having the option is crucial to feeling secure, especially for those who are away from home for the first time.

If upon my visit to Colgate, I had learned that there was no Rabbi on campus, I can state with absolute certainty that I never would have applied. I did not anticipate becoming a leader of a religious organization when I first arrived on campus, but knowing that I had the opportunity to meet the Rabbi and explore my Jewish identity was critical to my feeling comfortable at this school.

If having a smart, articulate, friendly, caring religious leader on campus is not critical to achieving our school’s goals, maybe it is our mission – and not the state of the budget — that we should reconsider.