Going! Going! ....?
Robert P. Imbelli August 31, 2007 - 4:57pm
For years, after Vatican II, the issue of the Catholic identity of colleges and universities, was, for the most part, avoided. Most institutions were, in effect, drawing upon previously accumulated capital.
John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae brought the issue to the center of attention once again, and a number of institutions belatedly responded with new mission statements that stressed not only "Jesuit" or "Vincentian" or "Augustinian," but their commitment to the "Catholic" tradition.
Some promising Catholic Studies Programs were initiated, as was, in some places, the attempt to begin serious conversation about the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
But still the crucial issue of "hiring" has not been seriously confronted (though, if I remember correctly, the Steinfels broached this subject more than 15 years ago).
Now, an article in the current America (available only to subscribers -- the August "grace period" having expired!) broaches the problem acutely.
The author, a faculty member at Notre Dame (no, not that faculty member) pulls no punches: he cites some fascinating details.
Here is his radical prescription for what he fears will be an otherwise terminal illness:
The matter of hiring Catholic faculty has been of concern at Notre Dame for
some time. The Rev. Robert Sullivan, of the history department and the
Erasmus Institute, now heads an effort to identify able Catholic scholars.
He also heads an ad hoc committee on recruiting outstanding Catholic faculty members, appointed by Provost Burish. One of the charges for this committeeis to identify "the best practices for hiring Catholic faculty members." One can only hope and pray for the success of these endeavors.
It must be understood, however, that this is not a matter that can be
massaged by minor measures. The temptation for administrators is to hope
that a little adjustment here and a bit of tinkering there might improve the
situation without stirring faculty opposition. Settling for minor measures
in the present circumstances, however, indicates a complicity in the
secularization process. A major change in the hiring process is required,
and the need for it must be approved at the level of the board of trustees
and implemented with courageous leadership, whatever faculty resistance it
If the seemingly inevitable downward trend in the Catholic percentage of the
faculty is to be arrested and reversed, a major board decision calling for
two-thirds of all future appointments to be committed Catholic scholars is
essential. This would require very different ways of hiring from the
department-based procedures of today. The university would need to engage in what might be termed strategic hiring or hiring for mission. A recognition
that this approach is crucial to its identity could drive the endeavor. It
would require Notre Dame (and other schools that want to preserve their
Catholic mission and character) to be truly different from their secular
"preferred peer" schools. Failure to take such action, however, will lead
schools like Notre Dame to merely replicate such secular institutions and to
surrender what remains of their distinctiveness. This is surely a sad
prospect for those who hoped, with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that a Catholic
university might constitute "an authentic human community animated by the
spirit of Christ."
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.