Saturday, December 31, 2016
Boston Magazine joins the post-election introspection with this cover article in its January issue, "How Liberal Professors Are Ruining College." (I was especially happy to see the cover centrally displayed while buying local honey in Whole Foods, not a grocer I visit frequently but that is always humming when I do.) From the article:
Long known as bastions of progressive thought, and home to the likes of Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, our region’s schools have always been suspected of putting the “liberal” in liberal arts college. Until recently, though, no one had quantified just how far left higher ed here had drifted. [EB: See note below re this muddled use of the term "liberal."]
Last spring, Samuel Abrams, a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, in New York, decided to run the numbers. From the start, he certainly expected liberal professors to outnumber conservatives, but his data—25 years’ worth of statistics from the Higher Education Research Institute—told a far more startling tale: In the South and throughout the Great Plains, the ratio of liberal to conservative professors hovered around 3 to 1. On the liberal left coast, the ratio was 6 to 1. And then there was New England—which looked like William F. Buckley’s worst nightmare—standing at 28 to 1. “It astonished me,” says Abrams, whose research revealed that conservative professors weren’t just rare; they were being pushed to the edge of extinction.
A key trouble for the article's author seems to be the potential radicalization of conservatives if they are pushed further and further underground while at college. (Conservatism is treated as yet another potential personal identity more than a philosophy of education or even of government.) But he is also (somewhat) attentive to the more essential trouble: that in becoming so ideologically monolithic, colleges have abandoned their raison d'etre. Quoting Abrams: “The goal of college is to give you multiple viewpoints and to grow your mind, not to just be comfortable in your own bubble. The real world is not full of progressives.”
The article hardly provides the sort of introspection offered by Columbia's Mark Lilla in the New York Times just after the election [interesting post-article interview with Villa here], but it does present research and anecdotes that are worth the quick read. Readers are of course offered an easy out in the form of a response provided by the NYT's Paul Krugman: "professors actually haven’t become more liberal, but rather that the meaning of conservatism has changed and the Fox-ification and now Trump-ification of the Republican Party has pushed highly educated members of the right over to the left." Still, it is something that Boston Magazine is trying to make sense of it all.
NB: For an excellent essay exploring the distinctive classical and progressive/revisionist understandings of how liberal arts education ought to "liberate," see "Liberalism, Liberation, and the Liberal Arts" in Robbie George's masterful Conscience and Its Enemies. Just a taste of what I think is the book's most important chapter, offering essential insight into the current troubles in the ivory tower:
Formally, the classical and revisionist conceptions are similar. Both propose the liberal arts as liberating. Both promise to enable the learner to achieve a greater measure of personal authenticity. But in substance they are polar opposites. Personal authenticity, in the classical understanding of liberal arts education, consists in self-mastery--in placing reason in control of desire. According to the classic liberal-arts ideal, learning promises liberation, but it is not liberation from demanding moral ideals and social norms, or liberation to act on our desires--it is, rather, liberation from slavery to those desires, slavery to self...
According to the classical liberal-arts ideal, our critical engagement with great thinkers enriches our understanding and enables us to grasp, or grasp more fully, great truths--truths that, when we appropriate them and integrate them into our lives, liberate us from what is merely vulgar, course, or base. These are soul-shaping, humanizing truths--truths whose appreciation and secure possession elevate reason above passion or appetite, enabling us to direct our desires and our wills to what is truly good, truly beautiful, truly worthy of human beings as possessors of a profound and inherent dignity. The classic liberal-arts proposition is that intellectual knowledge has a role to play in making self-transcendence possible. It can help us to understand what is good and to love the good above whatever it is we happen to desire; it can teach us to desire what is good because it is good, thus making us truly masters of ourselves.
Friday, December 30, 2016
This interview with Michael Wear (a former staffer for President Obama), over at The Atlantic, has been getting a lot of attention -- in particular, this anecdote:
Some of his colleagues also didn’t understand his work, he writes. He once drafted a faith-outreach fact sheet describing Obama’s views on poverty, titling it “Economic Fairness and the Least of These,” a reference to a famous teaching from Jesus in the Bible. Another staffer repeatedly deleted “the least of these,” commenting, “Is this a typo? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Who/what are ‘these’?”
This observation, by Wear, strikes me as accurate:
[T]here’s a religious illiteracy problem in the Democratic Party. It’s tied to the demographics of the country: More 20- and 30-year-olds are taking positions of power in the Democratic Party. They grew up in parts of the country where navigating religion was not important socially and not important to their political careers. This is very different from, like, James Carville in Louisiana in the ’80s. James Carville is not the most religious guy, but he gets religious people—if you didn’t get religious people running Democratic campaigns in the South in the ’80s, you wouldn’t win.
Another reason why they haven’t reached out to evangelicals in 2016 is that, no matter Clinton’s slogan of “Stronger Together,” we have a politics right now that is based on making enemies, and making people afraid. I think we’re seeing this with the Betsy DeVos nomination: It’s much easier to make people scared of evangelicals, and to make evangelicals the enemy, than trying to make an appeal to them. . . .
Thursday, December 29, 2016
In a recent opinion piece, Michael Gerson noted:
[C]onservatives believe that a just society depends on the moral striving of finite and fallen creatures who treat each other with a respect and decency that laws can encourage but not enforce. Such virtues, often rooted in faith, are what turn families and communities into the nurseries of citizenship. These institutions not only shape good people, they inculcate the belief that humans have a dignity that, while often dishonored, can never be effaced. In the midst of all our justified skepticism, we can never be skeptical of this: that the reason for politics is to honor the equal value of every life, beginning with the weakest and most vulnerable. No bad goal — say, racial purity or communist ideology — outweighs this commitment. And no good goal — the efficiency of markets or the pursuit of greater equality — does either.
I'm reposting a nice entry from Michael Moreland, from two years ago:
Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, murdered on this date in 1170. I've reposted below a post from 2012 with an excerpt from John Guy's fine biography of Becket.
And for those looking to learn more about medieval English law and its legacy, I commend the exhibit on Magna Carta now on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, including a rare viewing of the Lincoln Cathedral original of Magna Carta. It was Henry II's feckless youngest son John, of course, who was forced to issue Magna Carta in 1215. And the (likely) principal author of Magna Carta was Becket's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, who, like Becket, was forced into exile in France by the King but returned to England to lead the struggle against an overweening monarch. Recall that the first clause of Magna Carta is: "That We have granted to God, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired." ("In primis concessisse Deo et hac presenti carta nostra confirmasse, pro nobis et heredibus nostris in perpetuum quod Anglicana ecclesia libera sit, et habeat jura sua integra, et libertates suas illesas.")
From December 29, 2012:
A blog devoted to Catholic legal theory can hardly let pass today's Feast of St. Thomas Becket (c.1181-1170). Peter Glenville's 1964 film with Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O'Toole as Henry II is a classic. More recently, the eminent Tudor historian John Guy (author of a number of fine books on Thomas More) has written a splendid biography of Becket--a taste here:
For his attack on the church's claim of immunity from secular jurisdiction, Anglo-American lawyers and constitutional historians in the nineteenth century would put on rose-colored spectacles and reinvent Henry as a legal reformer avant la lettre, a pioneer of fair trials and equality before the law who paved the way for some of the most important clauses later incorporated into Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In reality, however, his actions showed that the rights of the accused could always be overridden by political considerations and the king's will. Far from remodeling the legal system and the courts in the interests of justice and the common good, Henry sought to strengthen his own power. And far from being a pioneer of "equitable" or "impartial" justice, he happily presided over his own court in the Battle Abbey case and at Becket's trial for embezzlement and false accounting at Northampton, acting simultaneously as chief counsel for the prosecution, judge, and jury. In response, Thomas would prove that a middle-class Londoner could transcend his social origins and challenge a ruler who he believed was degenerating into a tyrant, but it would cost him his life. Thomas More would take a similar path in Henry VIII's reign, and it may be no coincidence that More's working library contained many of the same books as Becket's.
John Guy, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (Random House, 2012), p. 338.
Charlie Camosy’s Interview with Holly Taylor Coolman and the Controversy Over Diversity and Mission at Providence College
Fordham theology professor Charlie Camosy recently posted an interview (here) on the Crux website with fellow theologian and Providence College faculty member Holly Taylor Coolman. The interview addresses the recent controversy swirling at Providence College concerning Catholic identity, mission, and diversity.
As the editor’s note to the interview explains, Anthony Esolen, a professor of literature at Providence College, recently published a pair of essays in Crisis Magazine (here and here), in which he argued:
that the college’s understanding of “diversity”’ is more rooted in secular political ideology and contemporary gender theory than in a distinctly Catholic worldview. A faculty petition described his position as based on “racist, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinist statements,” and an email from Providence College President Father Brian Shanley disassociated the administration from Esolen’s views.
In the interview, Professor Coolman says that the current controversy on campus represents the inevitable collision of two groups.
One group is composed of Catholic faculty members who believe that Providence College’s “Catholic identity should be at the center of everything we do, and they look to the long history of Catholic tradition, including recent documents like Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, as crucial.” They seek to avoid the fate of many American colleges and universities, once founded under Protestant auspices, but that are now thoroughly secular. This first group supports diversity, but they believe that it should be understood and rooted in the College’s Catholic identity.
The second group is made up of “people who tend to fall on the margins in our community, and also those supporting them.” They see “systemic forms of exclusion” in the wider society, and in Providence College, in particular, whose 100 year history “includes almost nothing of the African-American experience, or of Hispanic culture and tradition.” They support Providence College’s efforts to “recruit more students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups.” Coolman says, however, that this group is not composed of secularists as “some of these folks would also note that their concerns [about diversity] are prompted by Catholic commitments, beginning with a recognition of the dignity of every human being.”
Let me offer two observations with respect to the two groups that Coolman describes, some version of which can be found on the campus of virtually every Catholic college and university in the United States.
With respect to the second group that Coolman identifies (and here I speak of Catholic campuses in general, though I suspect it may also be true of Providence College ), it should be admitted that there is substantial contingent who are in fact hostile to any meaningful expression Catholic identity and mission. Sometimes this hostility is on display for all to see. Sometimes faculty are genuinely embarrassed to be affiliated with an institution that identifies with being “Catholic” because they associate this identity with being misogynist, patriarchal, homophobic, and anti-choice. Although Pope Francis’s popularity and his championing of certain acceptable causes (immigration, the environment, chief among them) may have made this affiliation slightly more palatable, this contingent would happily jettison the unwelcome baggage of Catholic identity if given the opportunity. As one Loyola colleague remarked upon learning that the University can make use of Loyola’s Catholic and Jesuit identity in reviewing proposed faculty hires, “Let’s secede!”
More often than not, however, opposition to Catholic mission and identity is not overt. On the contrary, those hostile to this mission and identity are happy to appropriate its language. They cloak themselves in the words of the institution’s mission statement – the pursuit of “social justice,” being “a man or woman for others,” “care for the whole person,” and of “finding God in all things.” Regardless of whether they are Catholic, practitioners of another faith, or are non-religious, they openly profess their enthusiasm for the school’s mission. And they can do so in good faith because “social justice” is what they define it to be, and not as the term is used and understood by the Church’s magisterium and in the wider Catholic intellectual tradition. That is to say, they can support a mission dedicated to “social justice” because the “social justice” they have in mind exactly coincides with how the term is understood in the wider, secular academy.
It must be admitted, that many of these individuals came to the Catholic college or university where they now teach or study not knowing much about the school’s professed identity. And what they did observe upon their arrival, they were told was “nothing to worry about. ” These telltale signs of Catholic identity could be safely ignored. The signs of a Catholic presence on campus – the crucifixes on the wall, the grotto dedicated to Mary, the picture of Pedro Arrupe or Vincent DePaul, and the talk of Dominican, Jesuit, Franciscan, Benedictine or some other “charism” – were all for private consumption by willing customers. After all, religion and spirituality in American life in general is thought to be a purely private affair that can be taken up or put down as one chooses. Thus, these students and faculty often inferred (and sometimes were expressly told) that these signs of identity were merely ornamental or ceremonial – that they did not reflect a genuine commitment meant to influence the intellectual life of the school. Thus, any move by the school to realize a more robust identity gives rise to a sense of betrayal – the rules of the game have been changed in mid-contest. These students and faculty thought they were a part of a secular university that enjoyed the trappings of religiosity as a matter of nostalgia, or to please older and more wealthy alumni. But the quixotic pursuit of Catholic identity in the academic work of the institution is, at worst, offensive, and at best a serious impediment to the achievement of genuine excellence, and the recognition of that achievement by secular peers. As such, it is something to be opposed, albeit often under the pretense of upholding the mission.
The second observation relates to the first. Prof. Coolman says that many in the second group she identifies cite to Catholic premises as a basis for their support for diversity on college campuses, “beginning with a recognition of the dignity of every human being.” No doubt many who oppose the “longstanding exclusion and unjust mistreatment of marginalized people” are sincere in their opposition. And they are correct in pointing to the Catholic tradition as sharing in the condemnation of such mistreatment. But their invocation of the specifically Catholic premise of human dignity is often incomplete and sometimes incoherent.
Thus, for example, the Catholic concept of human dignity (like any number of its secular counterparts) insists that gays and lesbians “must be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that “[e]very sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catchism §2358). But the Catholic concept of human dignity does not require the state to grant legal recognition to gay and lesbian couples in the form of civil unions or same-sex marriage. Similarly, some of the same people who argue for inclusion of the “marginalized” (meaning, among others, racial minorities, members of the LGBT community, and adherents of religions other than Christianity) would exclude unborn children from their rightful place in the human family and under the protection of the law. While, one might argue for the right to abortion based on some secular notion of human dignity, faithful recourse to the Catholic understanding of human dignity precludes such a move.
A third and final comment on Prof. Coolman’s interview. She says that what has been lacking at Providence College is leadership that sufficiently nourishes the College’s mission through a “clear articulation of things like the college’s history, the Catholic tradition, and the Dominican tradition” as well as “an invitation across campus to collaborate to share in working out that mission on campus.” She says that Providence College lacks “both of these elements, but especially the second.”
I believe that what Coolman says of PC is true of many Catholic colleges and universities.
Of course the invitation to collaborate – to share in the work of a common mission – will be an empty one if the substance of what one is being invited to share in isn’t clearly set forth. While the main problem at Providence College may be the absence of an invitation to collaborate and live out the College’s mission, I believe that the bigger problem at most Catholic institutions is a clear articulation of the institution’s identity. This failure is not due to a lack of time and effort spent word-smithing mission statements. Rather, it is due to a lack of courage in having the willingness to plainly say what needs to be said, to draw boundaries, to acknowledge that not everyone will find this vision of education attractive, to explain in concrete terms what this identity affirmatively demands and what it precludes. Coolman notes that at Providence College “engagement with the mission in faculty hiring processes has also been seriously inadequate.” It is no exaggeration to say that faculty hiring is the most important way in which a school’s mission is operationalized. As such, a clear articulation of the criteria to be used in “hiring for mission” is indispensable if Catholic colleges and universities are to have any hope of maintaining their identity and genuinely offering the distinctive kind of education they now claim to provide.
December 29, 2016 | Permalink
Thursday, December 22, 2016
I don't agree with everything in this piece by Victor Tan Chen, but I think it makes a number of good, challenging claims -- echoing, in places, things that Rusty Reno has been saying at First Things or that Murray, Putnam, and Vance have highlighted in their recent books (and that our own Paul Horwitz has blogged about). It is particularly worth a read, maybe -- as we're grading law-school exams, writing recommendation letters, etc. -- by those of us who are privileged/blessed to work in institutions that play such a large role in driving the competitive, exhausting meritocracy and in providing the credentials, merit-badges, and networks that are increasingly required for access to the upward mobility, social status, and the cognitive and other elites. Here's just a bit:
One possible answer . . . is the notion of grace—a stance that puts forward values that go beyond the “negatives” of the narrow secular creed and connect with individuals of diverse political viewpoints, including those hungry for more in the way of meaning than the meritocratic race affords. . . .
The concept of grace comes from the Christian teaching that everyone, not just the deserving, is saved by God’s grace. Grace in the broader sense that I (an agnostic) am using, however, can be both secular and religious. In the simplest terms, it is about refusing to divide the world into camps of deserving and undeserving, as those on both the right and left are wont to do. It rejects an obsession with excusing nothing, with measuring and judging the worth of people based on everything from a spotty résumé to an offensive comment.
. . . At the same time, grace reminds the well-educated and well-off to be less self-righteous and less hostile toward other people’s values. Without a doubt, opposing racism and other forms of bigotry is imperative. There are different ways to go about it, though, and ignorance shouldn’t be considered an irremediable sin. Yet many of the liberal, affluent, and college-educated too often reduce the beliefs of a significant segment of the population to a mash of evil and delusion. . . .
Really, though, the people who could learn from grace are the prosperous and college-educated, who often find it hard to empathize with those—both white and nonwhite—who live outside their sunny, well-ordered worlds. When people are not so intent on blaming others for their sins—cultural and economic—they can deal more kindly with one another. Grace is a forgiving god.
For one reason or another, a number of people in the blogosphere have been writing culture war posts in the last few days. Perhaps it's the end of the year, or the looming political changes, or exam avoidance, or just the holiday cheer. For those who are interested, have a look at Mark Tushnet's recent post, Paul Horwitz's response, and this rather grim comment by R.J. Snell--all of them culture war related.
But the piece I really want to highlight is alluded to in the Snell post--Philip Rieff's "The Newer Noises of War in the Second Culture Camp: Notes on Professor Burt's Legal Fictions," published in 1991 and in response to Robert Burt's then-recent book, "Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land." I cannot do justice to the entire piece, but here is a fragment that is, in its way, responsive to each of the three posts above:
Let there be fight? And there was. And there is. James Joyce's pun, on the words of Jewish second world creation, Genesis 1:3, is more than mildly amusing; it gives readers the most exact and concise account I know of the sociological form of culture. Culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins. Every culture declares peace on its own inevitably political terms. Unless a culture is defeated politically, as the Jewish was from the Roman conquest to the founding of Israel, it will assert itself politically. A living culture, even one that imitates life by politicizing its cultural impoverishment, works for itself. That cultural work is the matter and manner of disarming competing cultures, inside and outside its previously bounded self. In its disarming manner, a culture makes the ultimate political means of enforcement, armed force, unnecessary....
12) Kulturkampf. The German compound word for the disarming force/form of culture has an awkward English equivalent: culture/struggle. As I remarked in the first note, the punning polemical genius of Joyce brought him closer than any sociologist I know to both the formal fighting sense of culture and its superordinate creative sense. It is in that both/and that the historical task of culture is always and everywhere the same: the creation of a world in which its inhabitants may find themselves at home and yet accommodate the stranger without yielding their habitus to him. Here and now, pluralism has its price: a united front of second against third world assaults [for Rieff's discussion of first, second, and third worlds, see earlier in the piece], which are often mounted in the name of pluralism.
13) Origins of kulturkampf. Law is the ultimate weapon, before any turn to harder ware, in a kulturkampf. That word first appeared in common German use in the early 1870's during the struggle of the National Liberal political party to disarm by law the moral/educational authority, and political pulpitry, of a triumphalist Roman Catholic hierarchy, revitalized as it then was by its dogma of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The aim of the National Liberals was to shift the German Catholic imagination away from the church to the state. The Pope responded to newly restrictive laws by forbidding clerical conformity to them. In turn, the state dismissed clerical resisters from their duties and, moreover, suspended their state salaries. Elites of the kulturstaat, both Catholic and Protestant, then learned a fatally rational and enduring lesson: the high price of being other than indifferent to the temptation of opposing the machtstaat.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Prof. Stephen Schneck passed on to me a notice about an upcoming conference ("Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work") at Catholic University of America that might be of interest to MOJ readers. Michael Sean Winters blogs about the event here.
The event is co-sponsored, it appears, by the AFL-CIO and that union's President, Richard Trumka, is one of the speakers. (I'm afraid I was not invited to explain that and why the Church's social teachings regarding the dignity of work and the freedom of association do not, contrary to the suggestions of some, provide support for public-employee unionism as it exists and is practiced in the United States. Maybe next time.)
I continue to suspect that the anti-libertarianism campaign of some Catholics who are political progressives often sets up straw men (i.e., attacks as "libertarian" or "Randian" positions that do not depend on or reflect the unsound anthropological premises of philosophical libertarianism). Here's a post I did a little while ago (on the occasion of an earlier CUA conference in this series), that tries to develop this concern.