Catholic universities, Pius XII

PRESCIENT & PROPHETIC

I applaud James L. Heft’s thorough analysis of the situation of Catholic universities (“Distinctively Catholic,” March 26), as well as his call for greater “boldness” and freedom on the part of administrators, scholars, and professors.

I would like to add two observations. As Heft suggests, Catholic universities and colleges have been overly receptive to market models of operation, creating environments in which students assume the role of consumers, and professors the role of strategic suppliers. Faculty are encouraged to see the syllabus as a “contract” with students, and are rewarded for articulating on their syllabi effective “outcomes”—an effective outcome being one that can be observed and accurately measured at the end of the semester. To be sure, all teachers desire their students to have gained certain knowledge and skills that may be objectively measured at the conclusion of a course; still, the most significant learning is often neither readily observable nor quantifiable. In fact, the vocation of teaching is notoriously slow in “showing” results: teachers cast seeds that may take a long time to emerge on the surface, to come to fruition. The vocation nibbles upon risk and trust, not the solid food of bottom-line assurances.

What if a professor (in any department) at a Catholic university were bold enough to include...

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