“Men and Women for Others,” But Not You: My Time as a Teacher at St. Ignatius
“Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others…men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”
– Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, to the Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe, Valencia, Spain, on July 31, 1973
Many readers will know that I was fired from my teaching job at St. Ignatius College Prep (Chicago) in March 2017 after I was outed and harassed for being gay. There is, unfortunately, even more to the story. I also made a report of a student sexual assault that a student had first reported to me. A week after the Administration learned I was the teacher who made the report, I was informed that my contract would not be renewed for the following year. The following week, I learned the Administration had plans not to renew my contract before they ever learned of the sexual assault report, and solely as a consequence of the anti-gay harassment I had brought to their attention. The Administration quickly learned I was asking questions. Then I was fired.
Although I desired to share my story in its entirety back in 2017, I was counseled by advisors not to disclose much about the assault report right after my termination, out of respect for the students involved. I feel now is the time to share more about that report, some legal avenues I took, Ignatius’ public responses to my termination, and recommendations for any possible future change.
My abrupt termination affected, among others, my students and colleagues. My story is not, therefore, mine alone. I hope sharing it will help prevent the loss of other good educators.
I taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius for almost four years, and was initially excited to work there because I adored its humanistic, Catholic tradition of education, and I heard it offered an open-minded environment. While this may have been true in the past, around the time I joined the faculty current leadership began introducing a brand of traditionalist Catholicism to the school that didn’t leave room for people like me, and this trend only intensified.
To provide some context, Ignatius had no anti-discrimination policy for workers covering sexual orientation. Ironically, one of the few other LGBT employees assured me that non-discrimination was the school’s unspoken policy, and might even be made official (to this day, there is still no such policy). In addition, observance of the Day of Silence, a nationwide school movement to oppose LGBT bullying, was always scrubbed of any LGBT references. Perversely, a day devoted to opposing LGBT silence became a tool to reinforce it. In time, I even learned there was a sort of student LGBT support group, but it was not allowed to be publicized or openly discussed.
Speakers invited to the school also set a particular tone. In 2014, administrators welcomed James Meeks to address the school on “Catholic education,” despite Meeks being a Baptist minister and a notoriously virulent anti-gay crusader. Students were full of questions. So was I.
Similarly, within weeks of my termination, administrators invited alt-right personality Jason Jones to address the entire school. Jones cracked offensive jokes, and asked the girls to stand and publicly pledge never to have an abortion. I learned that some female teachers felt compelled to stand at this point, for fear of their jobs. This offensive invitation even led outraged students to draft a petition demanding change.
“He’ll Never Bring It Up”
As previously reported, an Ignatius senior lied about his age in Spring 2016 to gain access to the popular dating site OkCupid, where he came across my profile and learned that I was gay. My profile did not contain my name or the school’s name, and it could not be found via search engine. My photos were unremarkable; I was shirtless in one. This student took screenshots of my photos and sent them to many other seniors in a group chat, outing me to the student body. The group understood that institutional homophobia gave them power over me. One wrote, “He’ll never bring up the fact that he’s on there you’re safe.” Another responded, “idc [I don’t care] what is he gonna do [?]” I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day, and for many days to come. The fear I could lose my job under the current Administration was intense.
Despite the initial support and empathy of some administrators, the principal said the students were basically just “kids being kids,” and blamed me for having a dating profile. She didn’t articulate what was “wrong” with me having a profile, and she ignored the numerous straight teachers who used OkCupid and other dating sites. After she had conversations with the president and vice president of development, I understood the Administration just wanted things to die down and go away. She said the Administration would not be punishing the students, all of whom came from affluent families. In her attempt to get me to agree with her approach, she asked me to reflect on the message of the Year of Mercy and the sacrament of Reconciliation. I reminded her that the forgiveness of Reconciliation requires penance and a firm commitment to amend one’s ways. I also predicted that letting these students off the hook would lead to more harassment.
Realizing the student harassment was being turned against me, I asked if anything would be placed in my personnel file. The principal assured me nothing would be.
“I Have Screenshots That Could End You”
Several weeks later, I asked one of my sophomores to get back to work and be respectful in class. Other students notified me of a Twitter thread he then directed at me: “honestly hope you pull me aside after class because I will tell you exactly what kind of lowly vermin excuse for a teacher you really are,” he wrote, and “like try me I dare you. I’m just sitting here, relaxing, bitch.” He threatened to discuss my sexual orientation online and get me fired by making an explicit threat: “And let’s not forget I have screenshots that could end you [kissy-face emoji].” He then posted the shirtless picture of me that could only have been taken from OkCupid, which garnered the “likes” of other students in my class. His post was a public threat of blackmail: he was willing to use my profile and the fact that I was gay to end my career.
I sent the screed to the principal via e-mail, along with a report of harassment, before going to see her. I said that not punishing the first round of senior students had created an environment of impunity. The principal disagreed. Unbelievably, she said I couldn’t even be sure the post was about me. Of course it was, I said. The student wrote “you” numerous times, addressed a teacher, and included my photo at the end. The principal reluctantly conceded my point.
She then said I couldn’t assume the photo of me that the sophomore posted on Twitter was tied to the seniors who first spread my pictures because sophomores don’t talk to seniors. I bypassed this bizarre statement and identified several infractions the student had committed, any one of which warranted expulsion according to the Student Handbook. The principal said those consequences were merely “guidelines.”
The principal gave the tweeting student a mere a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, I continued to suffer through anxiety and depressive spells. Soon after, students began making not-so-veiled references in class to the tweets and my profile, with some even incorporating them into group projects and presentations. I returned to the principal one last time. I asked to partner with her in crafting policies that would help prevent teachers from being mistreated in the future. She was noncommittal. When I said I believed a lack of earlier consequences led to increasing disrespect, she claimed I was blaming her for all that had happened, positioning me as the aggressor and her the victim. I felt gaslighted at every turn.
From that point forward, she would only say “hello” to me. For my part, I avoided her as much as possible, afraid she would use anything she could to get rid of me. I knew how easy it was to become one of “The Disappeared” — the darkly comical name many faculty gave to those teachers and staff who were fired or forced out, and never heard from again.
At the end of the year I checked my personnel file. As should have been expected, there was nothing negative or critical. My various performance reviews were included, all of which were overwhelmingly positive.
Some harassment continued at the beginning of the 2016–17 school year, including a student shouting “fruit!” from the back of one of my classes, to snickers and smirks. Nonetheless, things were generally calmer. Then, in February, the school received abrupt news that a beloved teacher of 26 years — also a gay man — had just been fired without explanation, becoming the latest member of The Disappeared.
Soon after, I had class with a small group of seniors who arrived at class distraught over the sudden loss of their teacher, pleading to process the sorrow and frustration they were feeling. I resisted at first, but then realized that sometimes a teacher has to set aside lesson plans for a moment and listen to students, especially in the spirit of cura personalis, a Jesuit concept meaning care for students as whole, integrated persons. I allowed them to process as long as they didn’t discuss the details of the teacher’s firing or engage in gossip.
My students felt the Administration was not transparent and did not adequately listen to them, and that adults who did listen seemed to disappear. At one point, a student asked to make a comment, which I allowed. Without naming anyone, she said she knew a male student had sexually assaulted a female student off campus. I was stunned. I asked if she had reported the incident. She replied that she was bringing up the issue because a group of students had reported it to the Administration, but they felt nothing had been done in response. I said I couldn’t believe the Administration would do nothing, and that students should be able to feel comfortable sharing their concerns with administrators. I reminded them the Administration had been responsive to the concerns raised by students of color the previous year. I never thought a student would share such a story in class, but it revealed to me just how much students felt there was a culture of secrecy and taboo at the school, leading their concerns to bubble up in unexpected places.
My students emphasized that sexual assault was a critical issue in their lives, but one rarely discussed at school. As college was just around the corner for them, we discussed the high incidence of sexual assault on college campuses, and proposed concrete strategies for preventing it. We then reflected upon how our Ignatius school community might respond to the problem of sexual assault in a meaningful way.
These students were the most focused and engaged I had ever seen them as they brainstormed how to stand up for one another. That is precisely what a Jesuit education is all about: utilizing one’s intellect in the service of others. Several of those students have since thanked me for turning an awkward topic into a teaching moment, and for truly listening to them. I am proud of how we as a class handled that unexpected situation.
An Impossible Decision
I relayed the sexual assault report to the principal’s office after class. A while later, the principal pulled me from class into a room of administrators, one taking detailed notes. I asked to have an additional administrator of my choosing present, which was begrudgingly allowed. The principal instantly peppered me with several accusatory, leading questions. It seemed she was on a fishing expedition, but she came up empty. Before releasing me, she said the school had already addressed the assault report. She then informed me that she would be questioning some of my students to check my story.
A few days later, the principal told me my contract would not be renewed for the following year. She said that while I had been a “good teacher” and was slated to receive tenure, “we,” which I understood to mean she and the president, felt that I simply didn’t “fit with the mission.” Despite telling me a year prior that nothing would be in my file about being outed and harassed for being gay, the first justification she gave for dismissing me was that I had “showed poor judgment” by having a dating profile.
The principal then acknowledged my “good judgment” in quickly reporting the assault, but her second reason for not renewing my contract was that I had “allowed the discussion to go on at all.” She said I should have immediately shut down the student’s report and told her to speak with me after class. Not only did it happen very fast, but silencing a student attempting to report a sexual assault, just after students complained of not being taken seriously by adults at the school, did not seem prudent. I, too, wish the story had not been shared in class, but not even the best teachers can predict what will come out of a student’s mouth. Good teachers do know, however, how to turn an unexpected situation into an opportunity for growth and genuine learning.
The principal also said that I was “negative” and “undermined authority.” When I asked for a single example of such behavior, she replied, “I don’t have to give you examples, Matt.”
I then asked the principal what my students she had interrogated said, and she had to admit they confirmed my account. In fact, they said I handled the situation with care and that I clearly supported the Administration, telling the class they should always feel they can trust their administrators — just the opposite of negativity or undermining authority.
At this point I said I thought I was being dismissed for being gay — a point the principal neither confirmed nor denied. I then gave a retrospective of my relationship with the principal, explaining how positively it had begun and how excited I was to come work for her. But when I said the Administration became hostile after I reported harassment, she abruptly cut me off.
While this entire experience was traumatizing, one element has particularly haunted me. The principal claimed not to renew my contract in part because of how a sexual assault report was shared with me. I, and my students, had already testified that the student’s report was wholly unexpected and unsolicited. It seemed that I was being blamed because the way in which the report was shared with me was inconvenient for the Administration. I felt that as a teacher, I had been faced with an impossible decision: report the assault and lose my job, or hold onto my job by keeping silent. I feared a dangerous precedent was being set.
The principal told me I had two options: I could finish the year, or I could resign. Resigning would have relieved the school of most, if not all, legal liability. I said I would continue serving my students. As if to confirm the concerns of my students over a culture of silence at the school, the principal forbade me to share anything with them about being disciplined or dismissed. I was to face my classes each day as a dead man walking.
Too Close to the Truth
I suspected this was all an elaborate ruse to conceal that I was being fired because my sexual orientation had become public knowledge — a common reason Catholic schools fire LGBT workers — and because the school knew it did not adequately address the anti-gay harassment I had reported. I felt that administrators were piling on accusations to make it appear my dismissal was somehow justified. Everything was happening so fast and with so little explanation, my head was spinning.
The following Friday, I went to speak with a trusted administrator out of desperation, and learned that before the principal had any knowledge of the report shared in my class, she had already informed administrators that she was not going to renew my contract, solely because of my online dating profile. I felt things had just become much clearer.
The principal and vice president of mission called me that Sunday to say I was being terminated, effective immediately. After first trying to get me to guess why I was being fired, the principal said I had been “insubordinate” by seeking clarification on my dismissal from a superior — indeed, just the opposite of insubordination. She also gave another reason: I mentioned considering legal action. Firing me for contemplating a legal response to discrimination revealed just how retaliatory my termination truly was.
I asked why she hadn’t followed our explicitly-stated policy of “progressive discipline” for employees, which the Administration had elaborately rolled out a year or so prior. This took her aback. After fumbling for words, she said the Administration just didn’t feel that was the course they wanted to take. I requested that she send me a written report outlining all the charges against me. She simply responded, “Matt, there is no written report.”
I requested my personnel file be sent to me. Even then, after being fired, there was nothing negative whatsoever in my file, no trace of any of the charges the Administration had used to so easily discard me.
I was also sent a non-disclosure agreement. If I didn’t sign it, my salary would be immediately cut off and I would receive no job recommendations, likely shutting me out of future work in Catholic schools. If I did sign it, I could receive a “neutral” job recommendation and the rest of my year’s salary, but only in exchange for remaining silent in perpetuity and foregoing any legal action. If I broke silence after signing, I could be fined $10,000 for each individual infraction. It appeared the school wanted to buy my silence. Unfortunately for them, my integrity was not for sale.
Excerpt from the non-disclosure agreement:
After my story was released, the principal sent an e-mail to faculty. She wrote, “I can assure you [Mr. Tedeschi] was treated fairly at all times by the Administration of the School, and we wish him all the best in his future career.”
The president and principal also sent a letter home to parents that was posted to Ignatius’ website. They wrote, “Our school handbook states: Saint Ignatius strives to provide a supportive environment where all students and faculty are respected on the basis of personal characteristics that include ethnicity, socioeconomic status, physical ability, sexual orientation and gender.” There was just one problem: the quotation was altered. An almost identical sentence is found in the Student Handbook, but it only mentions students and only applies to students. That original sentence lacks the words “and faculty,” which were simply added into the letter to make the Handbook appear more inclusive than it is. The administrators closed by avowing, “As a Catholic community we remain committed to respecting the dignity of each human being.”
Letter from the president and principal to parents, as it appeared on the Ignatius website:
Relevant section of the Student Handbook, with no reference to “faculty”:
The responses got weirder. I was told by alums who called the school that top administrators invented new — and completely false — justifications for my firing. I was also told that school officials made strikingly glib comments, including “there’s racism everywhere” and “there’s homophobia everywhere.” When one of my former students pressed the president on why I was fired, the student wrote online that the president demanded to know who was paying him to make the call.
An alum’s Facebook posts detailing a conversation with an administrator (used with permission):
Moreover, I felt the Administration was attempting to reduce me to poverty so I could no longer stand up for myself. In addition to cutting off my salary, Ignatius contested my application to receive unemployment insurance, claiming I had engaged in “misconduct.” Luckily, the unemployment investigation uncovered the truth: “The evidence shows the claimant was discharged from ST IGNATIUS HIGH SCHOOL because he discussed the reasons his contract was not being renewed with [an administrator].” Ignatius lost its appeal.
A Culture of Silence
I figured something was afoot when the length of Ignatius faculty contracts doubled in the 2015–2016 school year. New language stated that “the School considers each Faculty Member an essential ambassador and partner of its spiritual mission, who agrees to integrate spiritual principles with teaching within his or her academic discipline or co-curricular activity, as appropriate.” I figured that casting all teachers as “spiritual ambassadors” — whether they were Jewish, or taught mathematics — was an attempt to encompass all faculty within the “ministerial exception,” a legal loophole that considers employees at religious institutions who perform “religious” duties to be “ministers,” and denies them anti-discrimination protections. Indeed, the Administration had become increasingly adamant about having teachers of all subjects lead prayer in class. In so doing, teachers could be giving up critical legal protections.
A “mandatory arbitration” clause was also added to our contracts, forcing us to sign away our right to court trials, and ensuring secrecy in legal proceedings. Mandatory arbitration clauses have often been used to conceal cases of sexual harassment and retaliation. The #MeToo movement brought more awareness to this reality, and has prompted movement in Congress to ban this insidious tool from being applied to cases of sexual harassment. By signing our employment contracts, it was as if we received Holy Orders and took a vow of silence with only the stroke of a pen — but received none of the advantages of being actual clergy.
“Religious Liberty” to Break the Law
These tools of silence were effective. I filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), arguing that the Administration allowed a hostile work environment, then retaliated against me for reporting harassment and for reporting a student sexual assault by not renewing my contract. I further argued that my ultimate termination was in retaliation for requesting the truth and contemplating legal action.
I also demonstrated that I was held to an unfair and novel standard. I supplied evidence that the principal had enforced certain Student Handbook policies against past students, although she told me such policies were mere “guidelines.” I also pointed to a less severe case in which students insulted a teacher using social media, for which the principal said the students received “serious consequences.” Yet students who lied to illegally access a dating site, captured and shared my information, outed me to the student body, harassed me, and even attempted blackmail were given few to no consequences, and somehow I was the one who “didn’t fit” with the mission. I sincerely believe the school would have reacted differently had I been heterosexual.
Administrators responded to my charge by making novel accusations and avoided addressing my specific claims. Instead, they argued I had no standing to raise a legal claim, since I qualified as a “minister.” To be clear, I can’t officiate at First Communions, or hear confessions, or say Mass. I can’t even read the gospel from the lectern at Mass. I didn’t have a degree or training in ministry, didn’t have a ministerial role, and was never considered by the Catholic Church or Ignatius to be a minister. In fact, in our meeting about the sexual assault, the principal told me explicitly, “Matt, you’re not a counselor. You’re a teacher — you stick to the curriculum.” And yet, magically, I became a minister — a sort of super-counselor — the moment I complained of harassment and reported a sexual assault.
I filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education for potential Title IX violations because I was unsure whether school administrators adequately investigated my student’s report of a sexual assault, and I was concerned over their use of that report as a basis for terminating me. Unfortunately, the OCR was unable to investigate because Ignatius does not receive federal funding.
Ignatius also managed to avoid liability with the EEOC: the agency eventually issued its standard “no finding” decision, meaning it neither confirmed nor denied discrimination, and gave me a “right to sue” letter. I could not sue, however, because of the mandatory arbitration clause, and I would likely lose in arbitration due to the “ministerial exception.” And in any negotiations, Ignatius was intent on my signing a non-disclosure agreement — the last thing I was going to do.
I lost out on that year’s remaining salary, as well as another year’s, as it took me that long to develop new experience and find a new job. I lost my apartment and my affordable health insurance. I received no job recommendations from Ignatius, making it difficult to move on. Ignatius’ position seemed to be that I was wholly at fault and they were liable for nothing. I guess the Year of Mercy had ended.
I lost not only a job, but an entire career. I am not licensed to teach in public schools (which would require time and money I don’t have), and in any case religious studies is my field of specialty and passion. It seems everything I had worked so hard for was stolen from me, simply because I asked for help in combatting harassment.
Talking Out of Both Ends of Its Mouth
Since I wrote my open letter, it appears Ignatius has made few changes. I called for allowing a secret LGBT student support group to openly identity as such. The school felt enough heat from alums, parents, and donors to start allowing this group to advertise within its walls, but it still isn’t listed online alongside other student groups. It is also my understanding that this student organization is the only one specifically required to answer to the vice president of mission, the priest-administrator who assisted in terminating me.
This group is not intended to object to Church teaching, but rather to provide support to students at a critical juncture in their lives. And it is no secret that among LGBT kids, trans youth are the most at risk for depression and suicide, largely due to discrimination and harassment, and thus would most benefit from a student support group. I am not aware of any acknowledgement of trans students in any school materials. Not to recognize and welcome our trans population can render each day a literal Day of Silence for them.
I also publicly asked the school to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the non-discrimination policy. In January 2018, Ignatius’ Administration updated the “equal employment opportunity” section of the Faculty Handbook. They added new protections for such things as disability and military and veteran status, but there was a glaring omission: “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” appear nowhere in the updated non-discrimination policy. Ignatius administrators went to the trouble of re-wording a school policy to appear more LGBT-friendly, but wouldn’t change the one document that would demonstrate a true commitment to inclusion.
Moreover, the Handbook directs employees who have concerns over discrimination to report them to the principal or other member of the Administration. That’s what I did, and, well…
“I Thought My School Was Different”
Some people were slow to believe that my termination was a result of discrimination. They saw a few “out” LGBT faculty and staff, and couldn’t conceive that the Administration would fire me for being gay.
While understandable at first blush, such doubt or confusion doesn’t take into account the shift in culture that has occurred over the past 7–8 years, as evidenced by the Administration’s choice of guest speakers, its continuing failure to support a true Day of Silence, and its apparently chronic inability to add non-discrimination protections for LGBT employees.
The few “out” LGBT employees remaining at Ignatius were all hired under a past Administration that was more, shall we say, Jesuit. They enjoy the (meager) protections of tenure, and they hold prominent roles in the school, insulating them from being easily disposed of. That said, it is worth noting that of the 6 or so LGBT employees present in my last semester, only 3 remained at the semester’s end.
Moreover, the workings of discrimination are complex. Even if an individual doesn’t feel personal animus toward LGBT people, that person can still act according to unspoken discriminatory codes of conduct. The profound hypocrisy with which Catholic institutions treat LGBT employees is instructive: we are often left alone as long as we don’t affirm our dignity as LGBT people, and remain more or less closeted. Yet once the wrong people find out we are LGBT, we are disposable.
Take the recent case of Ms. Fitzgerald in Indiana. She was known to be lesbian by many of her colleagues for the 15 years she taught at the school. Yet she was suspended once her sexual orientation/same-sex marriage became public knowledge. Even many fired LGBT teachers — after years of being out at their Catholic schools — are finding themselves saying “I thought my school was different.”
Catholic institutions are more than happy to benefit from the labor, creativity, vitality, humor, commitment, and joy that LGBT employees bring to their workplaces, but once our LGBT status becomes too pronounced, we are as disposable as the weekly trash.
Men & Women for Others: 10 Steps to Ensure an Ignatius of Integrity
I don’t want the result of sharing my story to be that Ignatius becomes more cunning or efficient at firing its workers. I also don’t want parents to think twice before sending their children there. Rather, I would prefer that the school simply value all of its employees and students. Any push for change can use the following 10-point road map as a guide:
1. As mentioned in my open letter, the LGBT student organization deserves the same rights as every other group: it should be listed online, trans students must be welcomed and included, and this group must not be singled out to report to a priest. These changes can be made immediately.
2. “Sexual orientation” and “gender identity” must be included in the non-discrimination policy and adhered to in practice at all times. This, too, can be changed immediately.
3. I also requested a review panel for ensuring fair dismissals of faculty and staff. The panel would have to include teachers voted on by the faculty. I am aware of no movement to protect employees from harassment, discrimination, or retaliation at Ignatius since my case went public.
4. Various forces had been working on some sort of ombudsman for employees facing discipline or termination. The Administration has allowed employees facing discipline to have a “designated colleague” present during meetings. Yet this colleague has no authority, must be approved by the principal, and is bound to perpetual confidentiality. Without some say in the outcome of proceedings, such a colleague is useless. I myself had a “designated colleague” (an administrator at that!) — and his presence made no difference. Ignatius is ready to give the appearance of change, but this change has no teeth.
5. I recommended that the competent and experienced teachers of SICP be given more control over their own employment conditions, such as having more presence on Board of Trustee committees, which would be consistent with the Catholic principles of “participation” and the “rights of workers,” key lessons I was charged with teaching my students. I am aware of no movement in this regard.
6. The last and most important demand was for the school to allow a labor union for faculty and staff. Administration could simply include a “neutrality agreement” or “labor peace agreement” in employee contracts and handbooks, by which the employer neither prefers nor disfavors unionization, and the employees agree not to disrupt normal business.
Such an agreement would build mutual trust between Administration and employees, and align with Catholic teaching. The U.S. bishops have unequivocally stated the following:
“All church institutions must fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose”
(Economic Justice for All, §353). Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich has declared that “the Church has consistently taught that workers have a right to have a voice in the workplace, to form and join unions, to bargain collectively and protect their rights.” Unionized Catholic teachers exist in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Why not in Chicago?
Organized labor would also provide the surest safeguards against workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and unjust termination. As workplace control and intimidation underlie the events that prompted the #MeToo movement, one analysis claims that stronger labor protections could greatly reduce harassment. If I had had the protections of a union, the principal would have had to grant me due process before terminating me, such as a grievance procedure.
7. I now add, as mentioned above, that Ignatius should also abolish mandatory arbitration in employee contracts and eliminate the use of non-disclosure agreements, so the wider community is aware of harassment allegations and victims of harassment can have their day in court.
8. Ignatius must voluntarily disavow invoking the “ministerial exception,” which often serves to rob victims of justice. An explicit rejection of this tool could be included in contracts for all employees.
9. As with so many #MeToo responses, leadership change seems absolutely necessary for a healthy new start, especially given the wagon-circling and lamentably weak responses of this Administration.
10. Even with a persistent cultural shift and new blood in the door, transformation will not be complete. Ignatius must address the underlying problems of how power is structured. There were grave problems with administrators even twenty years ago — when, in fact, teachers succeeded in ousting a past president. Teachers have nowhere near as much power today. It has been systematically decimated. Although it has done good work, our “teacher’s association” is today a flaccid joke. To break this cycle of strife, there must be a shift in authority dynamics, incorporating more power-sharing among faculty and staff and the Administration.
The Midwest Jesuits and Ignatius’ Board of Trustees could start by opening up the position of president to laypeople, so that the best individual from the broadest pool of candidates can be chosen. The school could also submit the Board of Trustees and its revenue-seeking focus to a higher Board of Mission, concerned with the overall missional direction of the school. This Board could be comprised of emeriti/ae teachers, alumni/ae, education leaders, Jesuits, and others voted in by the faculty, staff, and alumni/ae of Ignatius. And given these boards have been dominated by men in the past, there should be plenty of women on them.
While these changes might seem surprising and overly idealistic to some, they are in fact practical, concrete steps that would position Ignatius at the cutting edge of educational reform within the Catholic Church. These changes would also help prevent future terminations like mine at Ignatius and result in more “buy-in” from the larger Ignatius community, ensuring that the entire community is charged with the privileges and responsibilities of guiding the institution.
As a teacher, I was always drawn to Fr. Arrupe’s quote (above) that there is no true religious piety without concern for others. What was done to me at Ignatius was petty and cruel and base. Even so, I still hold strong to the belief that we belong to one another. I was heartened to receive the following message from the parents of one of my former students, shortly after I was terminated, echoing just that sentiment:
“Our family feels strongly that no matter if we are Jewish or Catholic or Muslim, we don’t belong to a religion, but rather, we belong to each other. So, in support of you and the rights of others, we plan to write letters, make calls and rise up. We are responsible for this needed change too. You are not alone.”
Receiving these sort of messages over the past two years has strengthened my belief that there are still plenty of “men and women for others” out there, who know the work that is cut out for them, and are more than up to the task.