Opposition to Priest as Choice to Lead French University

December 14, 2016

The appointment of Michel Deneken, a Roman Catholic priest and theology professor, to lead the University of Strasbourg has attracted controversy among some who argue that the choice violates the spirit, if not the letter, of French laws calling for separation of church and state, France 24 reported.

The public university in eastern France announced the election of Deneken as its new president on Tuesday. In a vote by the university's Council of Directors, Deneken -- the interim president since September -- received 26 votes while his opponent received nine.

The France 24 article published prior to his election quoted both the SNESUP higher education union and the UNEF national students' union expressing concerns about the selection of a priest for Strasbourg's presidency, with the latter group saying, “The appointment of someone who owes allegiance to both the state and the Vatican will not be good for the image of the university.”

Deneken said his status as a priest should not prevent him from assuming the presidency. “I’ve been vice president of the university for eight years, and interim president since September,” France 24 quoted him as saying. “Each individual has his own beliefs and convictions, and universities are places where matters of faith should never interfere with teaching or research, and should always respect the laws of the republic and the ethics of education.”

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