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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Academic Freedom II

Academic freedom is not freedom to say what the censors want you to say; academic freedom includes the freedom to challenge orthodox thought. Is academic freedom consistent with the mission of a Catholic university? After Vatican II, it seems to me that a “Catholic university” that resorts to censorship steps away from the best understanding of Catholicism and the meaning of a university.

Richard McCormick points the way to a rich concept of a Catholic university: “A Catholic university needs to image itself as an ‘open circle’ -- sufficiently circumscribed to constitute a community of discourse but open enough to welcome others with different perspectives. . . there must be at the heart of the campus, an ‘open circle’, a community of scholars who are committed to the Catholic tradition, and others who are committed to engaging it, and the religious and moral issues raised by it and by modern society.”

The President of Seattle University, Stephen V. Sundberg, S.J., uses this quotation to great effect in his, “The Catholic Character of Seattle University’s Academic Mission: Convening a Conversation,” http://www.seattleu.edu/home/about_seattle_university/administration/speeches/2008_provost_convocation.pdf. The address is worth reading not only for its wise understanding of the community of discourse that should mark a Catholic university, but also for its beautiful (but frank) description of the multilayered Catholic tradition.

McCormick’s quotation also points the way to answering Susan’s question about academic freedom. Unlike secular universities, Catholic universities should be free to take religious views into account in their hiring decisions.  But they should not impose sanctions on those members of the community who question Catholic orthodoxy. Catholic universities need a critical mass of orthodox Catholics, but they need a diversity of non-orthodox Catholics, people from other faith traditions and non-believers to participate in the community of discourse that belongs at the heart of a Catholic university. Thus, President Sundberg calls for and is prepared to financially support a far-reaching “Catholic conversation” led by knowledgeable Catholics with the “voluntary engaged participation of faculty from all disciplines, faiths, and persuasions.”


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