Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Some quick thoughts on "Land O'Lakes" at 50

A few days ago, at Notre Dame, the Cushwa Center convened an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the "Land O'Lakes" statement.  Included in the event was a very thoughtful talk about the event, its context, and its implications by my friend and colleague, Dean John McGreevy (author of, among other things, this great book).  To simplify, Dean McGreevy described the statement as ambitious, not naive, and as reflecting a commitment to deepen Catholic institutions' Catholic character, not to secularize.

The address is not yet available online, but I expect it will be soon.  I enjoyed and appreciated the presentation and -- for the most part -- agreed with it.  Two quick thoughts:  First, I think that discussions of the effects of Land O'Lakes should not focus on the University of Notre Dame.  I agree with Dean McGreevy that Notre Dame is in most respects more meaningfully and interestingly Catholic than it was 50 years ago -- and, as the Statement's writers hoped, it 's certainly better and more important.  I also think that this is, at least in part, a product of the commitments and aspirations expressed in the Statement.  That said, the critics of the Statement, and of the state of Catholic higher education generally, seem to be on solid ground when they say that at many Catholic institutions, this deepening and improving has not happened, and there has been a tendency to secularization, a loss of distinctiveness, etc.  

Next, with respect to the Statement's famous and much discussed opening claim that Catholic universities must have "a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself":  My sense is that many of those who invoke and endorse the Statement frame this claim as being almost entirely about resisting clunky and ham-handed interventions by bishops in matters of university policy and governance.  Such interventions are, indeed, unhelpful.  However, in today's world, it seems pretty clear to me that the "external" interferences we should be more worried about come in the form of regulations, research-funding conditions, "Dear Colleague" letters, student-loan eligibility, employment law, NCAA policies, and -- increasingly corporate sponsorships.  It seems much more likely that the Department of Education, or the NCAA, or UnderArmour are much more likely to undermine a Catholic university's appropriate autonomy than is the local ordinary.  I see no pressing need for Catholic universities to shy away from healthy, constructive, deferential relationships with the "institutional Church"; I do have serious worries about the implications of our increasing entanglements with ideologically oriented corporations and with regulators.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink