Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Disruption and hiring

The questions that Fr. Miscamble, Peter Steinfels, John McGreevy, and others are working through are hard, and I admire all concerned for their clear acknowledgment that something -- but what? -- needs to be done to reverse the trend according to which formerly "Catholic" universities no longer deserve that predicate. 

Approaching the issue from a slightly different angle than any I've seen in the recent discussions, I'll take Villanova, where I am privileged to work, as an example.  Villanova University is, as it has been from its founding, an aposolate of the Order of St. Augustine.  The Augustinians have chosen to allow lay men and women (along with other religious and clerics) to join with them in that apostolate at Villanova.  It would be self-defeating, indeed perverse, for those charged with this apostolate to attract to Villanova those who either don't support or are hostile to the apostolate.  Obviously, those doing the hiring at Villanova will and must look for qualities in addition to ones bearing directly on support of and contribution to the apostolate, but it's hard to see how one can justify adding folks who do not in some way further the apostolate as such -- unless by outright denying that the University should be engaged in its declared apostolate (a point to which I return below).

As a matter of fact, however, most "Catholic" colleges and universities, including Villanova, do most of their hiring without regard for apostolate or mission.  It would seem to me, therefore, that the first necessary step is to try to get agreement that support of apostolate/mission is as imporant in potential faculty hires as are intelligence, education, collegiality, and the like.  With most people in most Catholic places of higher education not even granting the legitimacy of hiring for apostolate/mission (let alone its desirability or exigence), it's no wonder we cannot begin to reach consensus on whether hiring Catholics (with a numerical goal in mind) is the way to go or hiring "for mission" is the preferred path.  In each of the several Catholic law schools I know, non-Catholics are among the biggest supporters of mission, but in most Catholic universities, including their law schools, controversy rages over whether or not to hire "for mission." 

I think it's virtually beyond serious question that, whatever has been going on over the last generation has delivered a raft of Catholic places of higher learning that are no longer meaningfully Catholic.  In my judgment, the sponsors of those institutions with charismatic and canoncial apostolates should either acknowledge as much and stop pretending the contrary or take the necessary action to renew the religiosity of their institutions.  What that action would be, I'm not entirely sure, and obviously it would to some extent vary from place to place.  It's worth bearing in mind, though, that (as Bernard Lonergan observed) extraordinary action may be required to reverse a cycle of decline.  I can understand why some people are uncomfortable, for example, with numerical goals for hiring engaged *Catholics* (rather than hiring "for mission"), but it would seem to me that the burden is on those who oppose such numerical goals to demonstrate an alternative that will likely do better.  Personnel are policy, and engaged Catholics are at least prima facie on the side of the sponsoring Catholic religious order's apostolate. 

Peter Steinels worries about a "top-down fiat [that will be] disruptive of the university community."  In my judgment, such disruption may be exactly what is needed to reverse the unhappy trend that seems to move forward with inexorable force.  But, granting Steinfels's concern, what about the "disruption of the university community" that occurs when colleagues deny that hiring for mission is even legitimate, claim that the Catholic quota is filled, or openly mock and actively subvert the religious identity of the institution?  What about this disruption that quietly but insatiably eats away at the core season after season, day after day?  I don't disagree with Steinfels that "hiring for mission" has promise, but it has to be done.  How many pro-mission faculty can one find at such "Catholic" schools as Georgetown, Fordham, Boston College, Santa Clara, and the rest?  I suspect that if the incumbents were pro-mission, hiring "for mission" wouldn't be so controversial as to be the exception rather than the rule.

Let me be clear:  In my judgment, Catholic places of higher education should  be inclusive, both at the faculty level and at the student level.  But there is no inconsistency between being authentically Catholic and genuinely inclusive.  The arms of the Church are wide.   



Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Disruption and hiring :