Who Cares if Non-Catholics Predominate on Notre Dame’s Faculty?

We bring you a trilogy of articles that should be required reading for all members of the Notre Dame family. In these articles, two of the University’s leading scholars exchange contrasting views respecting the question whether Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is threatened because of the precipitous decline in the proportion of Catholics on the faculty.

We have previously sent you the first essay, The Faculty Problem, by Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., which appeared recently in America. The rejoinder,Catholic Enough? by John T. McGreevy, was published in Commonweal. The final essay is a privately circulated paper by Father Miscamble that he has given us permission to distribute.

In combination, these articles disclose why Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is at risk, how this risk materialized, and how difficult it will be to turn it aside. We offer the following comments that we hope will be helpful.

All students of the secularization of colleges and universities concur with Father Miscamble’s thesis that the fundamental cause is the loss of religious identity of the faculty. Dr. McGreevy does not disagree, nor does he deny that Catholics are close to becoming a minority on the Notre Dame faculty. (He does note that more than 50% of those hired last year were Catholics; but he does not dispute Father Miscamble’s estimate that, in view of the heavily Catholic proportion of retirees, the rate must be well over 60% to arrest the decline.)

Their fundamental disagreement seems clearly to be over the Mission Statement’s declaration that Notre Dame’s Catholic identity “depends upon” the “continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals” on the faculty – a requirement that has always been taken to mean a solid majority. For Father Miscamble, this is the starting point for analysis. For Professor McGreevy, it is not worth mentioning.

Professor McGreevy’s silence is perhaps not surprising. As Father Miscamble observed in his initial article:

“There are now 32 members of the history department, only 12 are Catholic. This past year we hired three additional faculty members, only one of whom is Catholic. This is hardly the way to maintain a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals. In fact, we hired in exactly the reverse proportion needed.”

What, then, does Professor McGreevy say? First, that it’s hard to find enough Catholic scholars, and, second, that things are fine as they are.

As the title of Father Miscamble response implies – “Are There Any (Really Good) Catholic Scholars Out There” — he addresses this contention directly. We add that it is useful to think of this problem in terms of actual numbers. With a faculty of about 1,000 and assuming a generous turnover of 10%, increasing Catholic hires by 10% would require finding a mere ten additional qualified Catholic scholars a year. To suggest that this is beyond reach for the pre-eminent Catholic university in the country seems questionable, to put it conservatively. Other factors must be in play.

One of them — enthusiasm for the status quo — is evident from the principal parts of Professor McGreevy’s article. He not only ignores the Mission Statement but also makes a mere passing reference to the value of students’ having the “witness of Catholic intellectuals.” It is the contribution made by “Protestants, Muslins, Jews, [and] unbelievers” that he values and that he faults Father Miscamble for ignoring – a criticism Father Miscamble answers in his concluding essay.

Perhaps the most telling part of Professor McGreevy’s article is his detailed description of courses that, in his view, provide “an education built upon the university’s Catholic identity.” The reader might suppose that, notwithstanding the reduction in Catholic faculty, this is a core body of courses taught by Catholic scholars reflecting the Catholic intellectual tradition. The reader would be wrong. The majority are taught by non- Catholics. That is not to suggest, of course, that these scholars and their courses are not as worthy as Professor McGreevy says. It is to suggest that for Professor McGreevy, in terms of the school’s Catholic mission, a majority of non-Catholics serves quite well.

Professor McGreevy is one of the most respected Catholic scholars at the University. If he discounts either the importance or the practicability, or both, of having a predominantly Catholic faculty, what of the nominal and dissident Catholics and the non- Catholics not committed to the school’s mission? In both of his illuminating articles, Father Miscamble provides the worrisome answers.

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