By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
The old explanation of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist came to mind when I read S.M.’s letter in response to the May 29 edition of First Teachers. That was the column where we listed the colleges and universities that are complying with the Church’s call to be faithful to Catholic theology and the Church’s moral teachings. The column included portions of an article by Tom Hoopes in the National Catholic Register expressing his gratitude for the role that an “authentically Catholic college” played in his intellectual and moral development.
“I commend Tom Hoopes,” writes S.M., “for recognizing the elements of a truly Catholic education. His willingness to ‘pay even more in tuition for what I have received’ attests to the fact that he understands the difference between being educated and being schooled.” S.M. writes of his own experience with an authentically Catholic college: “Our children attended the University of Dallas and they were indeed educated. The list of 16 truly Catholic colleges (those abiding by the mandatum plus those employing the Oath of Fidelity) is complete to my knowledge.”
But S.M. asks us to keep things in perspective. “The numbers involved reflect the magnitude of the challenge we face. My guess is that the combined enrollment of the 16 schools is between 50,000 and 75,000 students. This population is similar to that of the University of Minnesota, one secular university, if commuter students are included in their totals. A factor of 100X would be needed to leaven our society.”
S.M. also commented on the question of tenure for high school teachers, discussed in the same edition of First Teachers. “With regard to tenure, waiting six years is a necessary improvement. However, unless a renewal with real dismissals is held every six years, little will be gained in the long run. As long as defined-benefit pensions are provided (still free?) by the public, underperforming teachers will always hang on and slide through. Since students learn as the teachers teach, shouldn’t tenure also depend on the tested knowledge of the teacher? Most of our teachers are schooled, not educated (see above).”
How should we react to S.M.’s observations? Is he describing a glass half-full or half-empty? I have to straddle the fence on this question. To be sure, the number of students enrolled in colleges loyal to the mandatum is small in comparison to those enrolled in the more established Catholic colleges, the Notre Dames, Georgetowns, and Boston Colleges of this world, schools which largely ignore Rome’s wishes in regard to the mandatum. But what does that mean?
Should we be uplifted by the success of the schools that abide by the mandatum and work even harder to expand their reach? Or, instead, concentrate our efforts on transforming the larger and better-known Catholic universities into authentically Catholic institutions? Which is the more realistic option? Is it a fool’s errand to think that we can return schools such as Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Boston College to their Catholic roots? Are they too far gone? Should we be content to live for the foreseeable future with a small number of authentically Catholic colleges, hoping that they will provide an example for other Catholic institutions? Or is doing that a version of “going Amish,” accepting orthodox Catholicism as something outside the mainstream of American life? Is that a surrender of sorts?
There are those who will argue that it is still possible for Catholic students to receive an education that will ground them solidly in their faith at places such as Notre Dame; that, for all the problems at these larger Catholic colleges, students are still able to find solidly Catholic professors of theology and philosophy on their faculties, daily Mass and the sacraments, along with the rich architectural and artistic reminders — the statues, crucifixes, and stained-glass windows — of the heritage of the Christian West.
Not an easy decision. We invite our readers to weigh in.
With that in mind, we would like to call our readers’ attention to the new edition of the Cardinal Newman Society’s Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. The Newman Society describes the 2014 guide as one that “will recommend Catholic colleges that are faithful to Catholic identity inside and out: in the chapel, in the classroom, and in the dorm. This unique guide helps Catholic students open the door to a lifetime of faith-inspired success.”
The Newman Society guide does not limit itself to the colleges that were listed in First Teachers on May 29. The guide provides a detailed description of the course of study and campus life at the schools it recommends. The guide costs $10 (plus $5 shipping and handling) and can be ordered at the Newman Society’s website: cardinalnewmansociety.org.
On another topic: the wave of commencement speakers canceled this year in the face of leftwing student protests. It is good to see that is no longer just conservatives who are expressing outrage over the phenomenon. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the occasion of his speech at this year’s graduation ceremonies at Harvard to throw a spotlight on the hypocrisy taking place.
You don’t have to agree with Bloomberg’s understanding of the career of Joseph McCarthy to applaud him for his willingness to take on the academic leftists on their home ground:
“This spring, it has been disturbing to see a number of college commencement speakers withdraw — or have their invitations rescinded — after protests from students and — to me, shockingly — from senior faculty and administrators who should know better. There is an idea floating around college campuses — including here at Harvard — that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”
Bloomberg added, “In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96 percent of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. Ninety-six percent. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet Politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.”
I doubt many readers of this column are fans of Bloomberg, But you have to give credit where credit is due. Bloomberg said what had to be said to an audience that would not have listened if a conservative were the making the case. It was a classic case of bearding the lion in his den.
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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.