Few people would consider Caldwell Hall, the formidable Romanesque home of Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, a playground. Yet for me and my four younger siblings it was.
Our mother, Robin Darling Young, a professor of theology, brought us there on days when we didn’t have school and she couldn’t find a sitter. We loved every minute of it. We made the place our own, tiptoeing into the building’s serene chapel, chatting with the school’s friendly secretary, running up the beautiful curved wooden staircase, and sending scraps of paper fluttering down to the basement. We visited with her colleagues and graduate students. We even (once or twice) sat (mostly) quietly in the back of our mother’s classrooms.
Little did I know then that, thirty years later, I would be giving lectures at the front of those same classrooms.
I am delighted to be an associate professor of History at The Catholic University of America, where I teach graduate and undergraduate classes about Latin America, migration, and Latino Catholicism, and where I write books and articles about Mexican migration to the United States. These days, I occasionally bring my own three children to campus when they don’t have school and I can’t find a sitter. They tiptoe around the corridors of O’Boyle Hall, binge-watch YouTube cartoons in my office (if only YouTube had existed in 1988…), and receive benevolent greetings from my kind colleagues and students.
So, my earliest connections with The Catholic University of America have brought me full circle: the campus where I played as a child is now a place that my own children love to play. Even better, my mother—after a decade teaching at another institution—has returned to teach here, which means that my children get to visit their grandmother on campus as well.
But this is also a bittersweet story. For years now, enrollment has been hit-or-miss, a fact that wreaks havoc on the finances of tuition-dependent institutions such as ours. Accordingly, research and departmental budgets have dwindled dramatically, particularly in the Arts and Humanities. And as any visitor can see, our campus has fallen on hard times: the classrooms are outdated, and students complain about the age of their dorms and the quality of the dining hall food. One building, the venerable Marist Hall (built in 1899), has been condemned, and now sits closed and dark on the northern end of campus. There are simply no funds to repair it.
Even more heartbreaking is the turmoil that the budget crisis has created. As the public has recently learned, the community at The Catholic University of America is currently confronting the administration’s “Proposal for Academic Renewal,” a plan that aims to address the budgetary gaps by laying off full-time faculty (including some who are tenured), by reorganizing academic units into new schools and programs without sufficient consultation with the heads of those units, and by redistributing teaching loads across the university in a way that divides departments into “winners” and “losers,” without regard to research productivity or student demand for classes.