Librarian emeritus responds to the addition of Rights House


By Ryan Asselin

Two weeks ago, my article entitled “The fall of the theme house system” was published in the Concordiensis.

In the article, I spoke of my disapproval of Union’s current theme house system.

Music Culture House, a one-time staple of the theme houses that even receives alumni visits, is being replaced at the end of the current school year.

In its place, “Rights House” will become Union’s newest theme house.

After my article was published, I was contacted with support from a Union librarian emeritus.

I asked that he send his objections to Union’s Office of Residential Life.

Here is the message Thomas McFadden sent to Director of Residential Life Amanda Bingel:




On the Theme House website, the following first sentence appears: “Are you interested in making art, music or an inspired meal? Learning more about different religions and faiths? Promoting literature, sustainability or social awareness?”

Well, apparently not music anymore. A typical theme house is supposed to embrace and promote a common theme.

Not much is said about what a “theme” might be, but the current themes suggest that the mission and purposes of a liberal arts college, with an environment of creativity, connections, learning, multiculturalism, stewardship of natural resources, open discussion and dialogue of political, social and religious issues, are a common thread.

Except for music, one of the core liberal arts and a member of the classical quadrivium.

But how does the theme of “rights” fit into this scheme?

Does anyone seriously believe that there will be free and open discussion of the rights of anyone outside the mainstream of current liberal thought? Or of the very concept of “rights”?

Are there any such things? Are there universal human rights, natural rights or transcendent rights claiming universal attention?

Is there such a thing as natural law, international law or God-given rights?

And will any symposia be held at Rights House to discuss and debate these matters?

Will Rights House dare to discuss the conflict between universal human rights and local cultural and political practices?

Can there be a respect for the Other (diversity) alongside a philosophy of universal human rights?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to hear these issues aired in the new theme house.

Symposium House, after all, claims to “foster an intellectual forum in which faculty and students can openly converse and cultivate a social atmosphere based on discussion, dialogue and honesty.”

Can Rights House emulate this laudable goal?  Otherwise, it has no justification for existence.




T. G. McFadden

College Librarian Emeritus

Union College




Leave a Reply