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The Cost of Conforming

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What is wrong is not that [the ND administration] aims too high, it is that it aims far too low.  (Dr. Cyril O’Regan)


NOTRE DAME, IN — The permission given by the administration to a faculty committee to consider abridging the theology requirement evidences the weakening of the school’s Catholic identity. A leading Notre Dame theologian suggests this is part of the administration’s effort to emulate its secular “peers.” That may also be behind the administration’s selective comments on public policy issues – support, for example, to Obamacare, nuclear disarmament, and immigration reform, but silence on freedom of religion legislation and now, as we report below, on Planned Parenthood’s repellant traffic in infant body parts.

And don’t overlook our concluding Notes about Notre Dame’s U.S. News & World Report rankings; Harvard’s new model for “peers” in unhinged gender slicing and dicing; and Notre Dame’s favorable rating as a school helpful to pregnant students.

When the National Catholic Reporter joins the The Cardinal Newman Society in taking Notre Dame to task, one ought to pay attention.

Their fire is directed at a proposal to cut in half the six-hour theology requirement that’s been given serious consideration by a faculty committee scheduled to report this fall.

The chorus of criticism has also included, for example, the National Catholic RegisterFirst Things; former Business School dean and current president of Catholic Relief Services Dr. Carolyn Woo in America; Sycamore Trust board member and  former editor-in-chief of the Irish Rover Michael Bradley (ND ’14) in Ethika Politika; and scores of alumni and students (see, e.g., here and here and here).

The most significant criticism has come from the inside. The Irish Rover recounted faculty objections, as did The Washington Post in an article elevating the issue to a national level.

Even the president of Duke University weighed in with the admonition “Don’t mess up.” And Father Bill Miscamble described this ominous development to some 600 alumni on site and online at the Sycamore Trust June breakfast.

Our sense is that this tsunami of criticism may stave off this threat, but the fact that the administration has permitted this proposal to be considered is deeply disturbing. Indeed, this may well have been an administration-sanctioned trial balloon. As one of Notre Dame’s most respected theologians, Dr. Cyril O’Regan, has pointed out, the administration “could have stemmed the tide of considerable disquiet by stipulating that philosophy and theology or theology in particular would not be touched….” Instead, they reorganized the committee in a way that gave “plenty of cause for concern.” He explained:

In line with a highly activist senior administration, a dean—whose declared position was for radical change—was appointed co-chair of the committee; the constitution of the committee is, arguably, not fairly representative of the more moderate voices of the original committee….

Dr. O’Regan declared that, while he did not “intend to suggest a lack of open-mindedness ” of the committee members, “[T]he origins and constitution of the committee cry slant.”

We urge you to read Dr. O’Regan’s address in full, as well as Dr. John Cavadini’s Commonweal article on the central role of theology in a Catholic university. They and many of their faculty colleagues who have spoken up are honoring Father Hesburgh in action rather than in fulsome statements, for it was Father Hesburgh who declared:

The truest boast of the Catholic university is that philosophy and theology are cherished as special ways of knowing, of ultimate importance.

Even more to the point is the university statute that those in governance are bound in conscience to follow:

The intellectual life of the University should at all times be enlivened and sustained by a devotion to the twin disciplines of theology and philosophy. They are viewed as being central to the University’s existence and function.

And it is worth noting that today’s theology department stands out as  both strong and in general strongly Catholic.

If you’d like to share your views with the committee, write its co-chairman Dean John McGreevey at: John.T.McGreevy.5@nd.edu.

The “Peer School” Craving and the Curriculum

Dr. O’Regan links the curriculum issue to the administration’s yearning to be accepted as the near-equals, at least, of their claimed “peers,” the Dukes, Princetons, Harvards and their kin – the subject we discussed in our last bulletin. This driving ambition has fueled the secularization that has made serious inroads on Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. Dr. O’Regan accurately describes the phenomenon, anchoring his comment in what Father Hesburgh meant by “great Catholic university.”

Father Hesburgh, Dr. O’Regan said, “saw no reason why a Catholic university could not be as excellent as the great universities in North America.” To be sure, “[H]e foresaw tension, but denied that there could be contradiction.”

“That is where we have been,”Dr. O’Regan continued. “[T]he issue is where are we now?'”

We quote liberally from his illuminating answer (with some elisions because of its length):

“Catholic” is muted and is in danger of being elided. “Great” and “Catholic” are now effectively in opposition and are pitted against each other: the higher the Catholic quotient, the less the greatness; the higher the greatness quotient the less the substantive Catholic character. This is defeat or the verge of defeat. Perhaps the common way these days in the university is to identify “great” with the “prestige” afforded you by society at large as well—and especially—as to how you are perceived by other universities, especially top line secular universities like Yale, the university at which I taught before I of my own free will came here, attracted by the very things at Notre Dame which administration seem anxious to discard as an embarrassment and a hindrance to their taking their place in the world whose light is provided by another sun altogether than the Son that is the center of our faith.

“If ‘greatness” is something different than ‘prestige,’ Dr. O’Regan asks, “then what is it?” If we follow Hesburgh, he declares — attend carefully! — it is this:

[G]reatness lies in the confidence of who you are and the proud resistance to be other than who you are, the incapacity to be shamed into thinking that you become truly first class by making yourself more like the ones who are the holders of worth and prestige. Greatness demands resolve, perseverance, and the willingness to pay a price. For a university to be great is for it to celebrate what makes it different, to become what is was meant to be, that is, a unique and capacious lens on all reality that makes Catholic citizens. To risk the difference for those students, to be a unique gift for all students of Notre Dame both present and future, and to contribute to the way they understand themselves and see the world aright; this is what it is to be great.

“What is wrong with our current administration,” Dr. O’Regan concludes, ‘addicted to prestige, embarrassed by its Catholic present and past, is not that it aims too high, it is rather that it aims far too low.”

Planned Parenthood Redux

In a recent bulletin we brought you an article by Professor Carter Snead, director of the university’s Center for Ethics and Culture, describing the repellant trafficking in infant body parts by Planned Parenthood and the compelling case for cutting off its government funding.

Now, with a touch of organizational pride, we bring you another illuminating article in Catholic World Report about Planned Parenthood’s sanguinary work, this one by Dr. Thomas Hibbs (ND MMA ’83 , PhD ’97), Dean of the Baylor University Honors College and member of the Sycamore Trust board of directors.

Positioning Planned Parenthood’s rationalization of its work in the intellectual framework of a progressive, technocratic strain of modernism that transmogrifies moral evil into scientific good, Dr. Hibbs observes:

However well-educated, however refined the manners, however high the ideals of the supporters of Planned Parenthood, it is, as Lewis describes it, “a thoroughly nasty business concern”—a barbarism at the heart of advanced Western civilization.

Given the homicidal swath that Planned Parenthood is cutting across the landscape, we had thought that Father Jenkins might say a word or two. After all, as we’ve observed, he’s praised Obamacare and called for immigration reform and nuclear disarmament.

So we asked the university whether Father Jenkins or anyone else in governance planned to comment.

There has been no reply.

postscript

ND’s pursuit of peers stalled – in 1989

The Ranker-in-Chief U.S. News & World Report has just issued its 2015-16 rankings. Notre Dame fell from a tie for 16 to a tie for 18. That is precisely where Notre Dame stood in 1989, the first year it was listed.

Super-Peer moves goal line

“Harvard University is allowing students to choose their preferred gender pronoun from a list including such gender-neutral identifiers as ‘ze, hir, and hirs. ‘… Beemyn said misidentifying an individual’s gender is a ‘microaggression.’ Students may also choose to be referred to as ‘they, them, or theirs,’ officials said.”

ND recognized for assistance to pregnant students

Students for Life of America has just issued its “Top 11 Pregnant and Parenting Friendly Schools” rankings, and we are pleased to report that Notre Dame is fifth. Seven of the eleven are Catholic, mostly smaller, schools. Notre Dame and St. Louis University (sixth) are the two major Catholic universities listed.