Catholic Universities: A Question of Identity
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.
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