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the state of catholic higher education

the state of catholic higher education



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Published by: Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Ed on Feb 11, 2009
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The Newman Guide
The Newman Guide gives the Cardinal New-

man Society the opportunity to highlight Catholic colleges which consistently and en- thusiastically embrace the mission of Catholic higher education.

But what about the Catholic colleges that
are not included?
The reasons why we have chosen not to
pro\ue000le other Catholic colleges vary with each

institution, most ranging from a lukewarm Catholic identity to serious scandal. General- ly, however, families seeking a Catholic edu-

cation outside the colleges identi\ue000ed here will
discover a sad state of a\ue002airs.
Most Catholic colleges have secularized
considerably over the past 40 years, such
that anyone who a\ue005ended these colleges in
the 1960s or earlier would scarcely recognize
them today. It is no surprise that more than
half the colleges in The Newman Guide were
established a\ue004er 1970, most in reaction to the
rapid decline of faithful Catholic education in
this country.

The good news is that a nationwide renew- al of Catholic higher education is underway. Not only are new, faithful Catholic colleges springing up\u2014bishops, religious orders and lay leaders are planning to establish several more in the next decade\u2014but nearly every Catholic college in the United States has in-

creased a\ue005ention to its core mission. We hope
to be able to recommend even more colleges
in the near future.
How does knowledge of these trends help
families who are currently seeking a Catholic
college? A basic understanding of the state of
Catholic higher education today is valuable
not only as a precaution, but also as con\ue000r-
mation of the great treasures we have in the
21 colleges pro\ue000led herein.
Identity Crisis

Notwithstanding the great strides the Church is making with regard to Catholic higher edu- cation, currently most U.S. Catholic colleges that are not in thisGui d e fall into two catego- ries. First, most of them have retained some degree of Catholic identity, but their leaders seem preoccupied with other concerns\u2014such

as conforming to a \u201cfeel good\u201d sort of spiritu-

ality, ensuring diversity in the student body and faculty, providing career training or sim- ply keeping the doors open. Second, there are many other historically Catholic colleges that have been seriously compromised by disdain for the Church and active dissent from Catho-

lic teaching. This la\ue005er group is smaller but
includes most of the large Catholic universi-
In either category of institution, the curri-
cula and o\ue003cial policies of the colleges are not
well-designed to e\ue002ectively uphold Catholic
identity. Even a small number of problematic
faculty, sta\ue002 or students have signi\ue000cant op-

portunities to push the envelope and loosen a college\u2019s historical ties to the Church. We see this time and time again, with college lead- ers scratching their heads about what went wrong.

The State of Catholic Higher Education
Patrick J. Reilly
The State of Catholic Higher Education
The Newman Guide
A student at the typical Catholic college
will \ue000nd:
a signi\ue000cant number of faculty who may

appreciate theology, philosophy and the arts as useful for presenting ideas and critiquing others\u2019 ideas, but who reject any claim to truth outside the natural sci- ences;

a curriculum featuring a broad course se-
lection with some required courses but no
integrated core and li\ue005le exposure to the

Catholic intellectual tradition, unless the student majors in philosophy or theology and actively seeks appropriate courses;

a religious studies or theology department
including faculty who dissent from Catho-
lic teaching and o\ue002ering courses with no
clear indication of whether they are genu-
ine Catholic theology courses;
a faculty with a signi\ue000cant portion (some-
times a large majority) of non-Catholics
and non-practicing Catholics, o\ue004en in-
cluding openly homosexual and dissent-
ing professors;
guest lecturers, o\ue004en with a decidedly

liberal-progressive point of view, includ- ing pro-abortion politicians and others whose public actions and statements op- pose Catholic moral teaching;

a campus ministry that is generally weak
and understa\ue002ed, minimizes catechesis
and spiritual formation, and o\ue004en plays
loosely with Catholic teaching and the lit-
urgy of the Mass\u2014which is a\ue005ended by a
minority of Catholic students;
student clubs which o\ue004en include some

that oppose Catholic teaching, usually on abortion or homosexuality, and few (if any) that provide opportunities for spiri- tual growth;

coed residence halls with some restrictions
that are generally ine\ue002ective in discourag-
ing sexual activity and alcohol abuse; and

campus health and counseling services that are under no obligation to support Catholic moral teaching.

Some of this may astonish you. It is, in
fact, a list of the more common concerns. We
have identi\ue000ed much more unusual and ap-
palling problems, both at large universities
and at small, seemingly traditional Catholic
colleges. These include homosexual \ue000lm fes-

tivals, transvestite drag shows, conferences featuring pagan rituals and New Age work- shops, lectures by notorious pornographers and pro-abortion activists, etc. Once the door is opened, there is no telling what might come in.

How Did It Happen?
For several centuries, \ue000delity to the Church
was largely taken for granted at Catholic col-
leges and universities\u2014but the secularization
of Catholic colleges in the U.S. transpired
quickly in the span of a few decades.

It is no exaggeration that higher education grew out of the Catholic Church. The great medieval universities in Europe were estab-

lished, funded and sta\ue002ed by Catholics. For
centuries, Catholic colleges around the world
have been among the most highly respected.

The Church\u2019s involvement in higher edu- cation has also had its critics. In 1852 this led the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, the celebrated convert from Anglicanism, to publish perhaps the best-known defense of Catholic higher education.

In The Idea of a University, Cardinal New- man argued that a college should have edu- cation for its own sake as its only objective,

thereby fostering \u201cgrowth in certain habits,
moral or intellectual.\u201d With its promise of
Patrick J. Reilly
The Newman Guide
\u201cteaching universal knowledge,\u201d a college

cannot rightly exclude any branch of knowl- edge\u2014most importantly theology, which teaches truths that make sense of all other truths. The Catholic Church cannot rightly be excluded from an active role in higher educa- tion, because the bishops have the authority and responsibility to ensure the integrity of theological teaching and the dialogue of faith and reason.

Contrary to Newman\u2019s vision, American higher education has largely followed the model of the German research university. This means that even many small colleges are concerned with faculty research and publica-

tion as well as teaching; emphasize faculty
freedom and departmental independence
over interdisciplinary studies and an inte-
grated core curriculum; and underemphasize
theology, philosophy and the arts.

To their credit, most of the Catholic col- leges held on to their Catholic identity even as the leading Protestant universities, includ- ing Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, and many others, abandoned their initial Christian foundations. The Catholic colleges stayed Catholic primarily because the college

sponsors, o\ue003cials, faculty and students were
almost entirely Catholic. The curriculum and
campus culture largely re\ue001ected the interests
and culture of the Catholic Church.
It was the turmoil of the 1960s and the
a\ue004ermath of Vatican II that threw into disar-
ray the Catholic culture in the U.S., of which
college campuses were a microcosm. The G.I.
Bill, other \ue000nancial aid programs and new

taxpayer funding for public universities en- ticed growing numbers of Catholic students to forego Catholic education. Meanwhile, the aid programs brought increasing numbers of non-Catholic students to Catholic colleges, which also began to hire non-Catholic facul- ty. Soon Catholic colleges were faced with an identity crisis.

Competition for students and a desire for
greater acceptance by secular colleges led 26

American college o\ue003cials, scholars and bish- ops in 1967 to produce the \u201cLand O\u2019Lakes Statement.\u201d It publicly declared Catholic col- leges\u2019 independence from \u201cauthority of what-

ever kind, lay or clerical, external to the aca-
demic community itself.\u201d
The a\ue004ermath was shameful. Bowing

to the anti-authoritarian movement of the 1960s and the interests of increasing numbers of non-Catholic students and faculty, most Catholic colleges watered down their empha- sis on Catholic identity and their expectations for moral behavior. Fearful that courts would restrict government funding to faith-based

colleges\u2014a fear that never materialized on the federal level\u2014college o\ue003cials removed cruci\ue000xes from the classroom walls and re- organized under boards of trustees outside

Church control. Conforming to secular aca-
demia, they whi\ue005led away at their core cur-
ricula and focused on preparing students for
successful careers.

The resulting problems at Catholic colleges can largely be summed up into two categories. First, Catholic colleges embraced a distorted

de\ue000nition of \u201cacademic freedom\u201d such that it
is di\ue003cult to imagine what o\ue002ensive speech

or perverse activity might not be protected by it, so long as the ever-changing priorities of political correctness are not violated.

Second, most Catholic colleges have aban- doned responsibility for students\u2019 moral, so- cial and spiritual development. The operat- ing principle for most American colleges was once in loco parentis; today colleges provide campus facilities, support services and some programming for students, but most without clear objectives for personal growth or moral

standards to de\ue000ne a Catholic campus cul-

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