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What Is Happening at Our Catholic Universities?

                                                                                                             
                                                                                                            by Daniel Boland, PhD.*


Allow me a few comments about this issue of attempting to correct the wayward doings of leaders in Catholic higher education. This issue has been close to my heart for a very long time. It inclined some of us to start a movement called the Sycamore Trust, an endeavor by which a number of my colleagues and I have, for years, monitored the gradual secularization of the University of Notre Dame: http://www.sycamoretrust.org/
 
1) The travail and morally deleterious decisions emanating from some major Catholic universities (Georgetown, Notre Dame et alii) are not new developments. The present moral malaise originated at the highest levels of university leadership and authority in the early 1950s. 
 
American Catholic education at that time in the 1950s was, in many instances, a highly insular, singularly encapsulated, excessively inward-looking, immigrant experience. Schools at all levels were normally operated by religious orders who did not acknowledge the validity of secular subjects and did not emphasize the need for advanced study for teachers and professors, especially in the core curricular fields of philosophy and religion. 
 
Catholic higher education at that time was closed to outside secular sources of research and debate, resistant to any challenge identified as a secular threat, highly protective of both its grasp on perceived truth and its allowance of differences. As one Bishop (who was then the head of a very large Catholic educational system) said to me when I pushed him to allow his teachers to attain at least a Masters degree, "We Catholics have all truth; the seculars have nothing to offer us."
 
2) Moreover, in the early 1950s, the science of Theology as we know it today had yet to emerge in Catholic academic venues. Departments of Religion in colleges and universities functioned more as sources of catechetical instruction in Catholic apologetics, doctrinal content and moral fundamentals than as sources of intellectual depth, academic challenge or growth in knowledge of the mysteries of Christian life and history. The climate was one of intellectually defensive re-action than courageous pro-action.
 
In attitude and readiness, then, Catholic education was woefully in need of "aggiornamento."
 
3) Thus, when the Land O'Lakes Statement arrived on the academic scene in 1967 (not long after Vatican Council II, if you recall), it arose out of a clear need to open Catholic higher education to the benefits -- as well as to the challenges -- of what was then, as now, referred to as the "secular" world.
 
Let us be clear:  In the context of Catholic education, the word "secular" had come to mean "undesirable, bad, corrupting, dangerous to faith and morals," and not without some reason. There was, in fact, a prevalent spirit of anti-Catholicism amongst the academic-scholarly elites who saw Catholic teachers and schools as fixated in narrowly religious ways, more concerned about slavishly honoring the past than in exploring the risky future.
In addition, Catholic intellectuals were little valued by an academic world in which the highest premium of performance was not religious faith but secular reason and human logic -- and the ability to write research proposals with big bucks attached.
 
4) In this context of faith and reason, we must recognize that the emergent ideal today is a blend of both secular rationality and religious vision and insight -- but it was not always so. Faith and reason are today recognized as mutually beneficial companions, not hostile enemies. Indeed, we must acknowledge that there is a form of secularism which is the essential and compatible forerunner of Faith, for (as we are often told) human knowledge is the beginning of true wisdom. For clarification of the value of proper secularism, one can read "The Dialectics of Secularization" by then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas (Ignatius Press, 2006) or encyclicals such as "Fides et Ratio" ("Faith and Reason") and "Ex Corde Ecclesiae"  ("From the Heart of the Church") by John Paul II.
 
5) Thus, it is within this temporal lens that the 1967 Land O'Lakes Statement must be properly placed. Today we can readily see that the Statement's claims to total academic autonomy were excessive, its outcomes detrimental to the American Church and American Catholic education. The text of the Land O'Lakes Statement can be found here: http://consortium.villanova.edu/excorde/landlake.htm
 
6) The Land O'Lakes Statement was spearheaded by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, then President of Notre Dame. The Statement was signed by some of the leading Catholic academics and intellectuals of that period. In the second sentence of this document, these Catholic educational leaders pungently declared that "To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself..." Astonishingly, the arguable academic and theological errors in the Land O'Lakes Statement have gone unchallenged by Church authority.
 
7) Thus, the Land O'Lakes Statement was actually a declaration of self-bestowed total autonomy. It announced total independence from, and abnegation of, the Catholic university's affiliation with -- and attachment to -- its founding religious orders and, indeed, the Magisterium itself. It soon became clear that the underlying goal was to emulate and be accepted by secular educational elites, the Harvard and Yale models.
 
Underlying the Land O'Lakes Statement was the belief that Church control and/or influence of any sort were detrimental to the university's integrity as an academic enterprise. The document's rationale rests on 1] a not-subtle criticism of the Church's adherence to a set of fixed beliefs, and 2] a negative evaluation of the levels of scholarship and research of Catholic academics and intellectuals.
 
In effect the Statement claims that the Church's dogmatic nature is antithetical to the best interests of academic freedom and inquiry. To be on equal footing with secular institutions which are unhampered by any sets of fixed beliefs, the university must be free of interference and influence, free from coercion and control of any sort, including the moral and doctrinal boundaries of the Church.
 
To be an authentic university, the Catholic university must shed those links which tie it to its own identifying Catholicism. The Catholic university must be a liberated university which -- somehow, in some way, for some reason -- still prefers to call itself "Catholic."
 
There were, of course, immediate problems of re-definition and long-term dangers in such radical severance of Catholic institutions from the official Church as promulgated by the Land O'Lakes Statement. Some of these dangers can be readily recognized when one realizes this document severed the Catholic university entirely from the Magisterium, the official teaching authority of the Church (i. e., the Holy Father acting in unison with the Bishops of the Church). But beyond curricular considerations, the Magisterium is more than a quasi-legal entity or dictatorial overseer, issuing pronouncements and formal guidelines, making dogmatic demands and leveling punishments.
 
In fact, the Magisterium is also a source of spiritual focus and moral tonality. It is an inspirational colleague, a collective voice of Catholic Church leadership which reveals and echoes the Mens Ecclesiae, the Mind of the Church, the Mind of Christ which is most often not merely expressed in laws and demand but in attitude and moral acuity to the errors and foibles of individuals and whole cultures.
 
By severing itself from the Church, the Catholic university not only split off from the letter of what it saw as a burdensome law. It also separated itself from the Spirit of a wise and beneficent institution, from the wisdom and insight which the Catholic intellectual tradition has mastered over centuries. By severing itself from its salvific, prophetic origins and from source of its own identity, the Catholic university severed itself from its own core. It denied itself the pervasive spiritual, social and cultural influences which positively contribute to the environments in which student life and moral values are formed. 
 
8) In fact, the formal work and pronouncements of the Magisterium most often did not actually intrude upon or delimit most of the work of the Catholic university or the faculty therein. There is no doubt that the Catholic university needed a collective upgrading toward greater academic excellence. But by severing the institution from the Church's traditions, a long-term, fervently secularist psycho-educational process was inaugurated. This process has severely delimited the overall influence and impact of Catholic faith and morals, delimited and marginalized the Mens Ecclesiae in the formation of individual and institutional beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. It has also marginalized the value of the Faith in the minds and hearts of administrators, in evermore secularized faculty members and -- worst of all -- in the minds and hearts of students. 
 
Unfortunately and astonishingly, the signers of the Land O'Lakes Statement also did not take into account the inevitable secularizing outcomes which followed over ensuing decades -- and which continue to this moment. Nor did the signers anticipate the profoundly seductive power of post-modern, politically correct, secularist academic freedom and, truth be told, the allure of being an academically elite institution.
 
The ascendant power of secularism now abets the ongoing collapse of Catholicity in many schools. Sadly, the Faith is, less and less, the inspiring principle and energizing intellectual wellspring of the pseudo-Catholic universities which have arisen. Indeed, some faculties openly express their disdain of Catholicism in favor of academic status.
 
9) The Land O'Lakes Statement has served for nearly fifty years as the template for an increasingly widening gap between the Catholic traditions of many once-Catholic institutions and their transmogrification into schools larded with policies, procedures and a plethora of administrators -- lay and clerical -- faculty members who support politically correct, radically humanistic, often anti-Catholic principles of secularist academic freedom.  
 
In many cases, the once-Catholic identity, mission and prophetic role of these universities have been obliterated (Notre Dame, for example, recently approved the formation of a GLBTQ student organization, to be funded and supported by the University. I have written a criticism of this decision; it is available on your request).
 
10) This wide-spread transformation of Catholic institutions across the land could not have occurred without the direct cooperation and approval of the leaders of these universities and the approval of the religious superiors at the highest levels. 
 
In addition, one must point out that corrective measures and interventions by the Vatican have been entirely absent during this time, despite the mandates of several of the Vatican's Congregations, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for Bishops . The local bishop has usual diocesan jurisdiction over many Catholic institutions except those which are canonically exempt religious institutes, such as the Jesuits, Dominicans and a few others.
 
Perhaps most discouragingly, on his visit to the United States in April 2008, Pope Benedict made no mention whatever of these problems during separate visits with a large number of Catholic educators and with the American Bishops.
 
11)  Let us be clear about another issue:   There is assuredly a legitimate cause to be made for the necessary exercise of academic freedom in Catholic colleges and universities. Authentic academic freedom is one of the several essential elements which define the fundamental purposes of every university. One must indeed be extremely cautious not to polarize Catholic principles against academic freedom, as if these were antithetical, radically opposed factors in the higher educational sphere. They are not.
 
Unfortunately, some misguided administrators and academics in Catholic universities argue that their institution is, first and foremost, a university; only then can it be considered a Catholic place. This distinction is, in my judgment a false, specious one, a linguistic ploy by which these academics attempt to replace and subjugate an institution's Catholic traditions and prophetic history with a crude distinction, thus justifying the marginalization of Catholicity for the sake of academic elitism.
 
12) Like all human endeavors, academic freedom is not an absolute, nor does it exist in the abstract. Academic freedom has realistic limits, rational parameters and reasonable qualifications.
 
In the university context, the academic freedom resides in individual scholars. The exercise of academic freedom by a given scholar is limited by the nature of his academic discipline and the valid intellectual limits inherently imposed by that discipline. It applies when -- and only when -- a scholar speaks within the narrow limits of his academic expertise.
 
Thus, when an academic person or a faculty member acts or speaks about anything outside of, or beyond, the accepted limits of his particular academic discipline, he speaks not as one possessing academic freedom but merely as an individual. If he speaks outside the limits of his recognized academic field, then the validity of his opinions hinges entirely on their own logic, not on his expertise as an academic.
 
Some recalcitrant faculty members abuse this distinction and act as if they are endowed with a form of academic infallibility in all matters. In their unrestrained hubris, they often exceed not only the allowable limits of academic freedom but the boundaries of common sense and courtesy. It is well that academics in thrall to their own riveting ideas remember that tenure is not a coronation. 
 
One finally comment concerns the issue of the uses and abuses of ecclesiastical and educational authority. Briefly stated, one of the most galling aspects of this issue has been the lack of a timely exercise of proper authority by many Catholic administrators, Vatican officials (as noted earlier), local bishops and competent clergy who supposedly serve as ordained and/or appointed leaders within the Catholic educational cosmos. Pope Francis recently commented on the hard notion that delays and indecision by these leaders are a major problem for the contemporary Church. So, let us hope that those who possess both the authority and the responsibility to speak out in the face of mounting abuses in Catholic education might somehow be, at long last, inspired to corrective action.
 
However, having expressed that last hope, I must admit that a secular truth intervenes, to wit:   Newton's Third Law of Motion states that when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. The same might be said of some bishops and some Catholic university administrators whose active Catholicity seems deeply tucked away in cold storage.
 
Thank you for reading these words. I welcome any comments, criticisms or challenges.
Daniel M. Boland, PhD
bolandparke@sbcglobal.net


*ABOUT DR. DAN BOLAND
 
Dr. Dan Boland has Masters degrees in Theology and in Education, a Doctorate in Psychology and three years of post-doctoral training and research in human behavior and applied behavioral science.
 
Dr. Boland served for fifteen years as a Catholic priest-psychologist. In that role, he taught, supervised and counseled at the University of Notre Dame. In 1974 he resigned from both Notre Dame and (with Vatican permission) from the priesthood. He then taught at Arizona State University and opened his own private practice as a consulting psychologist in Scottsdale, AZ. He finally moved his practice to Southern California in 1981.
 
For more than fifty years, he has worked with a cross-section of various corporations, business and religious organizations, government agencies and countless individual leaders. He has also consulted with a number of law firms and the attorney-owners of these firms.
 
In 2005 Dr. Boland and several of his fellow alumni from the University of Notre Dame started an organization called The Sycamore Trust (http://www.sycamoretrust.org/). The Sycamore Trust is devoted to documenting facts, events and decisions relating to the process of secularization which has been occurring at Notre Dame for decades. This process of secularization has accelerated considerably in recent years. The Sycamore Trust continues to monitor changes, publish monthly newsletters, hold an annual meeting and record the steps being taken by the University as it reaches for wider secular acclaim and recognition as a research university. The Sycamore Trust has grown from a small handful of interested persons to more than fifteen thousand alumni and friends of the University.
 
Dr. Boland finally resigned from the Sycamore Board in 2012. He now pursues his own research and writing priorities about issues of survival and influence which affect the status and credibility of the traditional Church in our dangerous age of Liberal-Progressive instability among both laity and clergy.
 
Dr. Boland published in a number of journals over the years. His book "Let Me Speak To The Manager!" appeared in Avant Management Series. His workbook "A Talent for Ethics" was used by a number of corporations and associations. His professional affiliations include life membership in the American Psychological Association. He has also been an active member of the American Psychology-Law Society, the Society for Business Ethics, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, the World Future Society, the Acton Institute for Religion and Economics and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
 
In recent years Dr. Boland has also been awarded a permanent position as Consulting Elder and Tenured Papa to his twin grandchildren, Christian and Chloe. He resides in Carlsbad, CA with his wife, the artist Nancy Waite Parke (whose family were long-time La Jolla residents). Dan and Nancy are members of  St. John Evangelist parish in Encinitas.