Presidential finalist Bushman confronted with question on gay rights

by Grant Rodgers

There was a moment of awkwardness in Monday afternoon’s open forum with one Simpson College presidential finalist when an alumnus confronted him with a question on religion.

Bob Williams, a Simpson alumnus and Indianola resident, asked presidential finalist David Bushman about his views on the Catholic Church’s social doctrine at the forum, which was open to students, faculty and staff. Bushman, along with his wife, Suzanne, is a practicing Catholic.

Specifically, Williams wanted to know whether Bushman was concerned with the church’s stances against gay marriage.

“It is very worrisome though, some of the things that are happening,” Williams said to Bushman, speaking about the last two popes’ stances against gay rights.

While Bushman did not directly address his views on the issue, he said he “didn’t disagree” with Williams’ concerns.

“The Catholic Church is a human institution, which means it’s going to have all the flaws…of any other institution,” Bushman said. “I’m just glad they got around to seeing that Galileo was on the right track.”

Bushman took the question as an opportunity to talk about his religious beliefs with the attendees.

As a scientist – he has a bachelors degree in biology and a masters degree and Ph.D. in entomology – Bushman said scientific reason has heavily influenced his faith.

“I approach my faith through this dialogue of faith and reason,” he said. “I can’t imagine them separately.”

Bushman, who was raised as a Lutheran, said his undergraduate years at Loyola College in Maryland played a role in his decision to convert to Catholicism. While he was there, he said, he encountered theology and philosophy professors that encouraged him to think about faith on an academic level.

“I think that the Catholic intellectual tradition where there is a commitment to dialogue in faith, that resonates with me,” he said. 

Students, faculty share views on Bushman

When junior Megan Wallingford met Simpson College presidential candidate David Bushman, his “youthful energy” stood out, she said.

Wallingford was one of a small group of students who met in closed-door sessions to meet and talk to Bushman while he visited campus on Monday. He was easy to relate to, she said, especially knowing that he has two children, one a college student and another a high school senior.

Being a father of college-aged students seemed to give Bushman an authentic view on higher education, she said.

“He takes a different perspective on college life than other presidents have,” Wallingford said. “I don’t think I really thought about that beforehand, but once I was in on the session…I thought, ‘yeah that will really work.”

Bushman’s perspective on Simpson’s graduate program was also impressive, Wallingford said. In the session she attended, the finalist said if given the job, he would look to expand upon the school’s current offering of graduate degrees, Wallingford said.

After hearing Bushman in an open forum with faculty and students on Monday afternoon, Maeve Callan, assistant professor of religion, said she was impressed by how Bushman spoke about the liberal arts.

During the forum, Bushman touched on the need for schools such as Simpson to stick to their essential mission of providing an education grounded in a variety of subjects – a hallmark of liberal arts education.

“He is a champion of liberal arts,” Callan said. “I don’t like the business school model of a liberal arts college as far as students are customers and the degree is a product. I don’t think that is a helpful model for liberal arts education.”

Professor of Spanish Mark Bates, who also attended the afternoon forum, said Bushman’s most impressive point was his personality. He came across as a community builder, who could listen to several perspectives before making a decision, he said.

“He was very personable,” Bates said. “He seemed the kind of person that if you had a problem or a concern that you could come to him and he would listen to you.”

While Bushman covered a variety of topics during the forum, Callan only had one critique. Some of the answers and discussion could have been more focused on Simpson, she said.

“There could have been a little bit more that was specific about Simpson,” Callan said. “You know, exactly like where he sees some strengths.”