There is a culture war going on in Catholic higher education and a new book addresses the roots of it.
The controversy over the invitation of President Barack Obama to the University of Notre Dame has placed at the forefront once more the debate over the identity of Catholic universities.
ROME (Zenit) - The controversy over the invitation of President Barack Obama to the University of Notre Dame has placed at the forefront once more the debate over the identity of Catholic universities. Obama was invited by university president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, to give the May 17 address to graduates. He will also be awarded an honorary degree. Protests, which centered on Obama's anti-life measures taken in the first months of his administration, started immediately.
For those wanting to know more about what lies behind the conflict over this issue, Anne Hendershott analyzes the topic in a book published in January titled: "Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education," (Transaction Publishers). Hendershott is professor of urban affairs at The King's College, New York City.Hendershott starts off by referring to an essay published more than 50 years ago, in which Monsignor John Tracy Ellis questioned if the academic level on Catholic campuses was mediocre due to the priority given to the moral formation of students.
The echoes of this letter still resonate today, she commented, with some universities concluding that their Catholic identity is a liability in reaching the top echelon of tertiary institutions.A further milestone in the debate was the 1990 document by the Vatican, "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," that emphasized the need for a Catholic identity in higher education. A key component of this document was to require that theologians teaching in Catholic colleges obtain a mandatum, or certificate from the local bishop, testifying to the fact that their teaching adhered to Church doctrine.This requirement, Hendershott observed, was resisted by many professors in Catholic institutions. Yet, at the same time she gave examples of where colleges eagerly complied with secular accrediting associations when they recommended greater diversity in terms of race and ethnicity.
As a result, according to Hendershott, there has been a progressive loss of Catholic identity on many Catholic campuses due to a tendency among the faculty and administrators to conform to the desire for status in the secular world. There is, Hendershott argued, a culture war going on in Catholic higher education. This conflict is a reflection of the greater culture war between those who assert that there are no truths, and those who believe that the truths have been revealed and require constant reading and application.
Hendershott went on to describe cases in various Catholic institutions that, during the last few decades, have opted for deliberately walking away from a strict Catholic identity to a more secular position. In many institutions, Catholic ideals and teachings were seen as an unwanted interference in the academic work of the faculty, and Catholic intellectual traditions were not to be given any privilege.In practice, Hendershott noted, this meant that attempts to teach Catholic doctrine soon came to be seen as inappropriate or intolerant. Thus, the pluralism espoused by many faculty members did not mean a genuine dialogue between Catholic teachings and other ideas, but rather, only respect for those Catholic principles that the faculty already agreed with.
This change at the faculty level has been accompanied by a laicization of the leadership of Catholic colleges, Hendershott added. Many of the institutions transferred their charters and property holdings to independent boards of trustees, composed of a majority of lay people, and in so doing obtained legally guaranteed independence from Church authority.In part, Hendershott admitted, some of this trend to a secularization of the institutions was due to legal issues related to the matter of being eligible for government funding. As a result the Catholic colleges proclaimed their religious identity to the parents of prospective students and to alumni, but renounced in the public sphere their Catholic identity.
Hendershott even cited some examples of where some universities published different descriptions of themselves depending on the targeted audience. Several of them published one mission statement on their Web site, and a different one in the self-description for secular surveys.Hendershott also commented that, even to the extent that Catholic colleges do proclaim their Catholic identity to prospective students, they do so in a selective manner. She found that in a review of more than 200 mission and values statements of Catholic institutions, a substantial number downplayed their ties to Catholicism.
Some, for example, simply chose those parts of the Catholic identity that they feel more comfortable with. This is combined with statements affirming the diversity and plurality of the Church. Often reference is made to a sort of vaguely defined "Catholic heritage" or tradition rather than to any active Catholic identity. In so doing the aspect of having a Catholic tradition is often placed just as one among many other factors that are described as possible drawing cards for students.
Hendershott also observed that many of the Catholic colleges have gradually revised their values and goals statements so as to downplay any Catholic identity. So, while they may acknowledge some sort of foundation as a Catholic institution, at the same time they take pains to stipulate that they are autonomous and are committed to a respect for all cultures.She also cited a recent national survey of 124 senior administrators from 33 Catholic colleges and universities. Many of them were ambivalent as to whether the Catholic culture, or the culture of the religious institution that runs the college, should be predominant.
The survey itself commented that by focusing on the sponsoring religious order the university runs the danger of ignoring the Catholic Church itself.There are, however, notable exceptions, and Hendershott referred to a number of Catholic colleges that proudly proclaim their Catholic identity and adherence to Church teaching.
This acknowledgment of positive trends is a feature of the concluding part of Hendershott's book. So, while many of the chapters do chronicle a dismaying denial of Catholic identity in higher education, there are positive elements as well.In recent decades a number of new colleges have been founded, and some existing ones have come back to a stronger adherence to the Church. Moreover, some of the strongly Catholic institutions have also obtained high rankings in secular surveys in terms of their educational excellence. While this new wave of firmly Catholic colleges does teach Church doctrine without apologies, they also present to students contrasting ideas, and encourage them to enter into debate with contemporary culture and ideas.
In addition to a number of flourishing colleges that maintain a strong adhesion to the Catholic Church, there are also growing numbers of students in many of the other institutions that take their faith seriously.Hendershott described a number of cases where this pressure from the students has led universities to take steps to proclaim a greater Catholic identity and even to include a wider variety of outside speakers on topics, instead of merely inviting dissenters from Church teaching.
A number of bishops are also taking more interest in what their Catholic universities are teaching and are insisting more on the need to be faithful to the Church.Hendershott concludes by adding that the secularization of many Catholic colleges, while in part due to outside pressures and the cultural context, was also the result of people who knew exactly what they were doing.It is possible to counteract this slide to secularization, Hendershott said, but it will require decision makers to embrace the richness of the Catholic tradition and to fight to preserve Catholic culture. A commitment whose importance is highlighted by the current controversy.
By CALIFORNIA NETWORK
The UCLA campus has been put on lockdown after reports of a shooter in the university's Boelter Hall were released via social media. Police reported a shooting on the UCLA campus, issuing a tweet to say that the school's Westwood campus was on lockdown following a ... continue reading
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
In a move reminiscent of the early 1900s, North Carolina State University segregated a student Christian group from the rest of the student population. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Grace Christian Life is a registered student Christian group on NC State's ... continue reading
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
St. Mary's University in Twickenham, London has been formally approved to name one of their buildings after Benedict XVI. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to its website, St. Mary's University will name one of their buildings the Benedict XVI Centre for ... continue reading
By Thomas Heed (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
The University of Portland recently launched a "Speak Up" campaign designed to put an end to discrimination, intolerance and "incidents of discomfort." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The University's Speak Up website specifies inclusion is a top priority - one ... continue reading
By Adelaide Mena and Matt Hadro, CNA News
Amid uproar over comparing struggling students to bunnies that should be drowned or shot, Mount St. Mary's University president is now under fire for criticizing expressions of the Catholic faith at the school. Emmitsburg, Md. (CNA) - Already facing turmoil, the ... continue reading
By Matt Hadro (CNA/EWTN News)
The future of religious freedom in the United States will one day be in the care of today's college students, so one Catholic college is working to equip them for that struggle. Washington D.C., (CNA/EWTN News) - Wyoming Catholic College is trying to form a "community ... continue reading
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
The Catholic education system is coming under attack by a plethora of policies designed to make the hiring process, acceptance of anti-Christian viewpoints, transgender issues and Catholic identity concerns. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Cardinal Newman ... continue reading
By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
A list of the top 40 traditional Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America was created, but were they rated fairly? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Newsmax revealed their top forty Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America, but what were their standards?The United ... continue reading
By Jessie Tappel, Communications Director at Divine Mercy University
God, the source of all mercy, provides us with an experience so great that we have no choice but to reflect it to our own brother and sister. Mercy calls for an outward response, which is made clear in the examples of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. You can ... continue reading
By Darnell Miller - University of St. Thomas
The University of St. Thomas, a member of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, broke ground on a new Center for Science and Health Professions on Nov. 12, 2015. The new facility, containing more than 100,000 square-feet of modern lab space and classrooms, will meet ... continue reading