saving face: chestnut hill college changes mind on cancer patient

3:08 P.M. UPDATE:

In a message dated 5/4/2012 3:04:11 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

Dear Carla,

Thank you for getting back to me.  I wish I could say something that would help you understand the position we have taken.  In the past, depending upon the situation, the nature of the illness, and the medical information we were given, we have made exceptions.  You don’t know about them because they never reached the press.  You can interpret our current decision as bowing to public pressure, and, in a sense, it was; however, what you do not know is that even after our original refusal, before any news of the situation became public, we continued to look for ways to permit her to participate and still to respect the policy we have established.

This policy may seem harsh, but in reality it draws a clear line between who can and cannot graduate.  Over the decades, students have offered every reason imaginable to be able to graduate when they had not completed their requirements.  When exceptions were to be made because of mitigating circumstances, we made them.  It must also be said that the policy also serves as an impetus for students to complete their programs in a timely manner.  College education is costly, the more quickly a student graduates and gets into the work force, the better it is for them.  We are going to maintain the policy, but I can promise you that we will make exceptions to it when it is necessary that a student be recognized in a timely manner.  We continue to be blessed with “wonderfully, loving and compassionate educators.”  You would only have to come to campus to know this is still true.

Carla,  I admire your honesty and for caring enough to speak hard truths.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  I will pray for your full and complete recovery from breast cancer.

God’s blessings,

 Sister Carol Jean Vale

2:50 P.M. UPDATE:

I have had a couple of e-mails:

First from Sister Carol Jean Vale, CHC President:

In a message dated 5/4/2012 11:41:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:

Please see today’s Daily News. We have invited her to participate in Graduation and have her named called as she walks across the stage. Further, we will recognize and honor her for her courageous persistence to obtain her degree. Thank you for your concern.
reconciling those memories meet the CHC of today.

Schools, even Catholic ones, have to grow to survive in today’s world.  You will not grow, nor will you prosper long-term if you do not learn to adapt your policies and meet people in the middle.
As I said in my post if you had also put forth a statement you were changing policy to avoid such situations in the future, I would probably not remain as critical.  But you have not. And you should.
To err is human, to forgive divine.  I can forgive people for being short-sighted if I feel that their hearts are ultimately in the right place.  If you value my concern, and the concern and perception of others and grow your policies to be more proactive, forgiveness shall be yours.
But as a breast cancer survivor who looked death in the face for the first time a year ago, I can say with a clear heart your school has some work to do. You have a wonderful history and many fine traditions, but that will not survive if more things like this situation come to light.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.

Yesterday, I wrote about Chestnut Hill College and their genuinely un-Christian behavior towards cancer patient Elizabeth Furey.

Apparently they have had a change of heart.  After the public outcry this time, they changed their mind and will let her walk with her class.

I thought about editing my existing post, but since  they never even had the courtesy to acknowledge, let alone reply to my written inquiry about their actions as a breast cancer survivor and daughter of an alumnus, I decided no, God gave me a voice for a reason and the original post will stand.

I do not believe for one hot second that the reason Chestnut Hill changed their mind had anything to do with faculty and students, but more with the  public perception and outcry.  I know many breast cancer survivors who wrote to the school when I posted all the e-mail addresses.  (And I believe the e-mail to the college president is .  Their PR hack is , the Director of Planned Giving’s e-mail is, and the Media Relations Director can be reached at

Chestnut Hill College couldn’t fight the public relations disaster they created on this one, so they reneged on their earlier position.  And it wasn’t how they were being perceived on the inside, but the outside that did it.  Knowing that, I don’t know if I was Elizabeth Furey if I would walk.  After all, they obviously still did not come to a decision for the right reasons.  In my humble opinion, they are not doing this for the right reasons, but to try to save face.

My original post received a comment from someone using a pseudonym who asserts this school has many issues it needs to deal with.  Well, are we surprised?  As a Catholic, I may still have my faith, but I am a realist when it comes to the issues in the Philadelphia region with things Catholic.  Take as another example, the whole pedophile priest/sexual abuse issues currently being vetted in the court system .

One thing I have not written about here on this blog is the pedophile priest who was accused more than once and was defrocked and put back into my old neighborhood for years.  A neighborhood full of small children.  This former priest pled guilty recently to sex abuse charges and is in jail. And oh yes, for all those years he was in this neighborhood he owned an apartment building he inherited from his mother that often had families with small children and it was across from bus stop for the school district.

So sorry to go off on a tangent, and no Chestnut Hill College had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandal currently running through the court system, but they are still accountable for other examples of reprehensible behavior and that includes telling a cancer patient they would not make an exception for her to walk with her graduating class….until public pressure and a hue and cry they could not control or contain happened.

So Chestnut Hill College, yes you changed your mind.  But not because you really wanted to.  This issue may be this college’s Waterloo.  Messing with cancer patients generally brings bad mojo down.  If Chestnut Hill had announced that they were not only making an exception, reversing a decision, AND changing previous policies I might feel differently.  But these actions are meant to save face, not truly do the right thing in God’s eyes and the eyes of the public.

Polaneczky: A college’s change of heart

Ronnie Polaneczky, Daily News Columnist Philadelphia Daily News

EmailRonnie Polaneczky

             ELIZABETH Furey has a will of steel, as anyone knows who has watched her battle cancer these past six years.

On Thursday, her will was only strengthened when she learned that Chestnut Hill College will let her participate in commencement ceremonies May 12.

Surprisingly, she’s not sure if she’ll accept the offer.

“I so dearly appreciate and am grateful that the administration at Chestnut Hill is providing an exception for me to walk at commencement ceremonies,” she told me after she got the good news.

“However, I am struggling with whether I should walk. It seems like I should not be the exception but that the policy should be overturned completely. I don’t want students who come after me ….to suffer from the same inflexibility.”….Furey, 28, is three credits shy of her master’s degree in clinical and counseling psychology. She will finish them in July and wanted to participate in Chestnut Hill’s commencement. But the college turned her down, citing its policy forbidding anyone to walk until all their credits are completed.

Furey, though, has a rare, deadly and unpredictable form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a blood cancer — and fears it may prevent her from attending next year’s commencement. So she wanted to walk this year, while she could. Not just in recognition of her academic accomplishment but in honor of three friends and fellow Hodgkin’s patients — Eric, Anne and Adrienne — who didn’t live to complete their own master’s degrees.

But Chestnut Hill wouldn’t budge when Furey asked administrators to let her walk.

When my column about Furey hit print Thursday, reader reaction was intense. But not as intense, apparently, as the reaction Chestnut Hill got from students, faculty and outsiders who advocated for her.

As a result of the public outcry, “We had a change of heart,” says college spokeswoman Katheen Spigelmyer.

“We decided to make a special exception because [Furey] is a special case,” she says. “This was never about not recognizing her accomplishment. It was about not appearing to give a degree to someone who hadn’t earned it.

God don’t like ugly, Chestnut Hill College.  Learn from the mistakes of the Ardchdiocese of Philadelphia.  Truth will out every time.  Every time.

There is a comment on from Elizabeth Furey I am going to post as the last word on this:

Posted 6:03 AM, 05/04/2012

Wullie’s Wife is exactly on point.  This was not completely considered a ‘win’ in every single university in Philadelphia, I would have been walking without having to fight and battle administration; however, CHC policy differs.  The point of working with the press was to bring to light they a)rejection of my appeal/request (without the desire to walk), just showing awareness of what has unfolded and b) to create a catalyst of change for the school so many others who follow in 2012’s footsteps have the same opportunity to walk whether they are sick or healthy.
These were the goals at hand, this was the purpose.  To create awareness. To create change, and reveal an arbitrary policy that a chronic cancer patient had to fight tooth and nail, only after tons of press and social media shamed CHC enough to even consider walking.
CHC has left a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth.  And although I am appreciative of the opportunity, I still struggle with the disingeniune offer at hand.  If the offer had been months ago, or before the press, if the compassion and flexibility of CHC was revealed in those moments, I would be dancing across the stage.  But the damage unfortunately has been done, and this is not as clear cut as it was, once before.
Thank you for those who supported this article, and me through this time.


About carla

Writer, blogger, photographer, breast cancer survivor. I write about whatever strikes my fancy as I meander through life.
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1 Response to saving face: chestnut hill college changes mind on cancer patient

  1. Connected to the case says:

    Thanks for helping to raise awareness for Furey’s case. I have been involved with both Furey and the case for months so I just wanted to clarify one point which is easy to get lost here. The VAST majority of staff and faculty at CHC have been just as upset as the public. And MANY MANY staff members stuck their necks out in this case. Furey’s is not the first sympathetic case that has been denied for graduation and many of those working at the school were already frustrated and angry about it –Furey’s case just inflamed it. Many went to bat for her but this decision was made at the highest level.

    I wholeheartedly agree that CHC is at fault but I wanted to make it known that the majority are 100% with Furey, have lobbied for her, and are heartsick about how this turned out.

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