Reading the Chronicle of Higher Education, the trade rag of my business, is a never-ending source of amazement. Those of you who have followed the campus antics of the bloviating far-leftist Ward Churchill, the man who compared the victims of 9/11 to the Nazis, will know what I mean; this week’s CHE contains an article by the historian Maurice Isserman using the occasion to utter the usual platitudes about the need to protect disagreeable speech, etc., etc.
Such platitudes ring hollow for those of us who know that the “disagreeable speech” of, let us say, a Jeane Kirkpatrick or another such thoughtful conservative will never get the same defense—and indeed, such speakers are only rarely even invited to campus. But such platitudes sound especially hollow in light of the following article, which I will reproduce at length, since access to the CHE’s website can be tricky for nonsubscribers. It should be read in light of the efforts by both Presidents Bush and Clinton to end the unwarranted (and now often illegal) discrimination against religious or “faith-based” institutions in the provision of social services. And it speaks volumes about the state of campus discourse:
Suicide Hot Line for Graduate Students Ends Its Religious Affiliation
By BURTON BOLLAG
A suicide-prevention hot line for graduate students is cutting its ties with the evangelical organization that established it so that more colleges may be willing to promote the service.
The hot line, 1-877-GRADHLP (472-3457), is available around the clock, seven days a week, and was established in 1999 by Grad Resources, a service of Campus Crusade for Christ International. Despite the group’s evangelical character, the counseling is devoid of religious content.
Grad Resources has now transferred the hot line to the Kristin Brooks Hope Center’s National Hopeline Network, a secular organization that runs the major national suicide-prevention hot lines. The National Mental Health Association oversaw the transfer and signed an agreement with the Kristin Brooks Hope Center formalizing it.
The graduate-student hot line will continue to operate unchanged. Hot-line calls were never actually answered by staff members at Grad Resources. That part of the service was provided by trained counselors at Girls and Boys Town, a nominally Roman Catholic charity based in Nebraska.
The hot line is currently promoted by about 50 colleges and universities. But other institutions have declined to do so because of the religious nature of the group behind it.
Following the transfer, H. Reese Butler II, president of the Kristin Brooks center, said he expected 400 more institutions would now promote the hot line.
Graduate students are in need of crisis-prevention services, said Mr. Butler, and are “a target group we are able to reach very effectively.”
P. Nicholas Repak, who founded Grad Resources, said he had decided to give up ownership of the hot line to allow it to reach more students. “I have gotten very distressing messages from campuses saying, We will not promote your service since it is faith-based,” he said.
While there is a great need for crisis counseling, said Mr. Repak, the limited number of institutions willing to advertise the hot line has meant that it has received an average of only 10 calls per month, one-quarter of them from students seriously considering suicide.
Brown University is one of the institutions that had initially advertised the hot line.
Last year, however, its Graduate Student Counsel, an elected student body, decided to stop doing so.
Jeffrey A. Reingold, who was then the council’s president, said he had acted after several students complained of the service’s religious affiliation. “I spoke with the graduate dean and someone from the campus ministry,” he said, “and we all decided it wasn’t a good idea to promote it.”
Mr. Reingold said that, in his opinion, the change in the hot line’s ownership means that its promotion could now “definitely be considered.”
Suicide is the second-largest cause of death among college-age young people. Limited studies indicate that graduate students, who often feel under considerable pressure from a combination of teaching, examinations, dissertation writing, and financial obligations, may be more at risk. But experts disagree. Higher-education institutions are not obliged to collect and report data on suicides, and there are no national statistics on suicide rates for students.
The National Violent Death Reporting System, a recently established data-collection program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is receiving data from only the 13 states that get federal funds for the purpose. “Once all 50 states are participating,” said Mr. Butler, “we’ll have a better picture.”
Having been associated for the past twenty-five years with American institutions of higher learning, most of them secular in character, it takes a great deal to shock me. But this article did. Imagine the fact that universities like Brown, and others all over the country, which bend over backwards in other respects to be as touchy-feely as possible—but where suicide among students is a shockingly common problem—have refused to make use of this service, for which there is an obvious and crying need, SIMPLY BECAUSE THE SERVICE IS PROVIDED BY A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION, even though there is not a shred of religious content in what that organization does—nor is anyone claiming that there is. Better to run the risk that suicidal students have nowhere to turn, than to run the risk that they might turn to…..a Christian organization. That says all that needs to be said about their priorities. And Mr. Repak has decided, it is better to renounce any and all vestiges of Christian identity than to cease providing the service.
Does the animus really extend that far? And is this the sort of attitude that proponents of “faith-based” initiatives have to look forward to? I fear that the answer to both questions may be “Yes.”