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.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Father John Jenkins and the 50th Anniversary of the Land O’Lakes Statement: A Response

Land O'Lakes

In a recent article (here) in America Magazine, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, celebrates the Land O’Lakes Statement on the occasion of the document’s 50th anniversary.  Formally styled a “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” the Land O’Lakes Statement (LOL) is named for a retreat in northern Wisconsin where representatives from eleven Catholic universities (seven American, two Canadian, one from Puerto Rico, and one from Peru) and members of their sponsoring religious communities and two bishops met to discuss, clarify and articulate their understanding of the nature and purpose of a Catholic university.  In practice the statement served as a position paper for the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) of which Jenkins’ predecessor, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., served as chair.  In 1972, building on LOL, the IFCU published a more lengthy exposition of the same idea, The Catholic University in the Modern World (not available online but in American Catholic Higher Education: Essential Documents, 1967-1990 (Alice Gallin, O.S.U. ed. 1992)).

Both of these documents suffer from serious shortcomings which Fr. Jenkins, to his great credit, acknowledges, and about which I’ll have more to say below.

In the piece, Fr. Jenkins praises LOL as “proclaim[ing] a confident vision for Catholic higher education,” as “envision[ing], rather ambitiously . . . a university whose Catholicism is pervasively present at the heart of its central activities – inquiry, dialogue, teaching and human formation.”

And, in all fairness, the document is rightfully deserving of some praise.

Specifically, Jenkins attempts to set LOL in context – an earlier time when ecclesiastical authorities sometimes intervened in the academic affairs of Catholic universities and colleges. Jenkins refers briefly to the experience of Fr. Ted Hesburgh who led the gathering that resulted in the LOL statement. A fuller account of the incident appears in Hesburgh’s autobiography, God, Country, Notre Dame (pp. 209-213).  In 1954, in the early years of his presidency, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Rev. Christopher O’Toole, C.S.C., instructed Hesburgh not to publish a book of papers that had been presented at Note Dame, Catholic Church and World Affairs. The book contained a paper by Rev. John Courtney Murray, S.J., commenting on church-state relations, that Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office, wished to suppress.  Hesburgh refused to comply, offering instead his resignation.  He feared that if he followed Ottaviani’s order “Notre Dame would lose all its credibility in the United States, and so would I, if an official in Rome could abrogate our academic freedom with the snap of his fingers” (p. 211).  A compromise of sorts was worked out whereby Notre Dame simply sold the copies of the book already in print and the University did not run a second printing.  Fr. Hesburgh did not resign and as he notes, Fr. Murray’s views were “fully vindicated several years later at Vatican Council II” (p. 212).

In providing this context, Jenkins is, I think, correct to say that such an “egregious intrusion” in the academic life of a Catholic university was part of what Hesburgh and his colleagues had in mind when they met to draft the statement in Wisconsin. And in this respect, LOL is indeed something to celebrate. Ecclesial authorities should not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of running a university.  The local ordinary, let alone a curial prelate in Rome, should not be deciding what questions should be asked, what lines of inquiry are worth pursuing, or what points of view should be open to consideration at a Catholic university.  As Chicago’s late, beloved Cardinal-Archbishop Francis George, O.M.I. (a former university professor and a true scholar) said on many occasions, at a Catholic university no point-of-view is banned from consideration, even those that are inimical to the Catholic faith.  University education is a “great conversation,” and both students and faculty need to have the freedom to converse openly as they seek to discover the truth and understand it fully.

This is not to say that the bishops have no place in a Catholic university, or only a ceremonial relationship.   Still some, like late Rev. Richard McBrien were in favor of nothing more than a symbolic role for bishops: “Bishops should be welcome on a Catholic-university campus.  Give them tickets to ball games. Let them say Mass, bring them to graduation.  Let them sit on stage. But there should be nothing beyond that.”

An alternate vision was offered by Francis George in an address he gave at Georgetown University, where he argued:

[C]larity about the Catholic university’s mission cannot be achieved without going behind university and Church and asking first about the claims of faith.  The normal understanding of faith, any revealed faith, is that it unites us to God. Examining the claims of faith on an academic community identifying itself as Catholic forces us, first of all, to confess what kind of God we believe in and worship.” The God of the Catholic faith is “the Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ” who is “an actor in human affairs who calls us to see the university and the world and all its works through the eyes of a crucified Savior.

George also noted that religion – like physics and other sciences – makes truth claims.

[B]ut its warrants and rules of evidence are different from those for physics. The truths are always self-referential, but, in Catholic faith, referential to the community and not to isolated individuals who just happen to be within it.  Christ, whom John portrays claiming to be himself the truth, left not a set of personal memoirs nor a training manual but a community with an embryonic governing and teaching and sanctifying structure which Vatican II describes as a hierarchical communion.  A university that worships the Catholic God cannot separate itself from the community of faith, both local and universal.  Therefore, squarely within the Catholic vision of things, central to the life and mission of the ecclesial faith community, is the office of bishop as head of a local or particular Church and teacher of the Catholic faith.  I would respectfully suggest, therefore, that the office of bishop is not a problem in understanding the Catholic mission in higher education; rather, the office of bishop is part of the solution.

In a later address, delivered at Loyola University Chicago, Cardinal George argued that in his Georgetown talk he had not invited himself and other bishops into Catholic universities.  Rather, “the question, I think, should be reversed: How are you in the church, rather than how am I in the university? The adjective Catholic is not a mere extrinsic denomination in any case nor is it the object of definition by any individual or group in a university or elsewhere.  It is rather the possession of the household of faith.”

Thus, contrary to LOL and a number of other documents purporting to define the Catholic university, the authenticity of Catholic identity cannot be brought about by the mere self-affirmation of that identity by a university.  As Cardinal George makes clear, “Catholic” is no mere label, but a substantive identity and lived reality, the content of which belongs to the Church, including the successors of the apostles whose special responsibility is to safeguard that substance in teaching, sanctifying, and governing their local churches.

In the article, Fr. Jenkins makes a number of other points worthy of response.

First, Fr. Jenkins faults the critics of LOL for their “narrowly focused” reading of the document – for focusing on only one sentence and “fail[ing] to read the statement beyond this line.”  The sentence to which he refers appears in the opening paragraph of LOL: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university 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.”  Jenkins adds that it was wrong for critics of LOL to read this statement as “declar[ing] absolute independence from all external authority . . . [an] exemption from all civil as well as ecclesiastical law.”

On the contrary, it is perfectly reasonable to take the authors’ sweeping language at their word. Autonomy “in the face of authority of whatever kind” is an explicit claim to institutional freedom from all kinds of constraints, whether civil or ecclesial.  In practice, of course, Catholic colleges and universities have been rather inconsistent in upholding this purported absolute standard.  The concessions these institutions have made to outside authorities have been decidedly one-sided, welcoming governmental authorities of many stripes and keeping church authorities at arms length.

Rev. James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C. demonstrated the absurdity of the claim to immunity to external authority in devastating fashion.  In an essay in Crisis Magazine (here), following on the heels of his great book, The Dying of the Light, Burtchaell composed a partial list of the myriad federal agencies to which universities (Catholic and otherwise) submit.  These include the Departments of “State, Justice, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; also the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Library of Congress, the U.S. Patent Office, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.”  Furthermore, the NCAA “feigns to regulate the amount of practice time before the beginning of the academic year, all financial adhesions of varsity athletes, the authenticity of their academic progress, and variances in their class attendance due to events away from campus.”  And the U.S. military “decides what facilities are required by its ROTC programs on campus.”

On the local level “[t]he county health department has regulations governing burials on campus and inspects the dining facilities. The fire inspector regularly prowls the physical plant and growls at code violations.  The building inspectors have to sign off on all construction projects, and the zoning people will claim a say if the campus begins to creep in any direction.  The county prosecutor decides which student misbehavior will be dealt with officially, which unofficially, and which not at all.”

In sum, Burtchaell says, “[t]he vast network of authorities, standards, and policies, of which this cloud of outside entities and personages is only a part, puts into necessary perspective the distracted imagination of the Land O’Lakes claim by the presidents to ‘true autonomy in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academy itself.’”

One might, of course, distinguish different kinds of external authority – on the one hand, the coercive power of the state exercised through law that applies uniformly to all engaged in a given activity, and, on the other hand, external authority that is invited into the university by a voluntary decision.  If a university maintains facilities or engages in building construction, it is and should be subject to local fire inspection ordinances and building safety codes.  But even given this distinction, the Catholic university that subscribes to LOL’s language does not fare well.  No one forces Catholic universities to belong to the NCAA, or to host ROTC programs, or to accept federal grants of money with conditions attached that are “external to the academic community itself.”  There may be strong, even compelling reasons to engage in these kinds of programs and activities.  But unlike the law, in doing so a Catholic university welcomes some outside non-academic authority into the life of the institution.

Thus, contrary to Fr. Jenkins, the critics of LOL have not misread the document.  They have simply pointed out the inconsistency – the gross hypocrisy – of Catholic colleges and universities in claiming freedom from all outside authority.

Second, according to Fr. Jenkins, the critics’ narrow focus on the LOL passage declaring freedom from external authority results in a “failure to recognize the statement’s broad, positive vision” – a vision which he says appears in the second paragraph describing a Catholic university as “a community of learners or a community of scholars, in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative.”  Indeed, Fr. Jenkins says that because the authors of LOL were attempting to respond to Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, and intended eventually to submit a document for review by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, the document is not “a unilateral declaration of independence from all ecclesial authority.”

Here Fr. Jenkins dismisses longtime Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason who, in his book, Contending With Modernity, described LOL as a “declaration of independence from the hierarchy” (p. 317).  This dismissal is odd, not only because Fr. Jenkins acknowledges Gleason as an “esteemed scholar of American higher education,” but because Gleason was both a product of and contributor to Catholic higher education.  He received his B.A. from the University of Dayton in 1951 and his masters and doctorate from Notre Dame in 1955 and 1960.  He served as a member of the Notre Dame faculty from 1959 until his retirement in 1996.  He experienced Catholic higher education first hand both prior to and following LOL.  Thus, his description of LOL as “a declaration of independence” reflects not only his reading of the text, but this lived experience.

Furthermore, in the passage where Gleason describes LOL as a “declaration of independence” from the Catholic hierarchy, he also answers Fr. Jenkins’ claim that LOL is outstanding for its ringing affirmation of Catholic identity.  As Gleason notes, “[t]he statement would have attracted no notice whatsoever had it done no more than reaffirm those points.  What made Land O’Lakes statement news were its radically novel claims for ‘institutional autonomy and academic freedom.’  Issued against the background of academic crises, theological dissent, student unrest, and change to lay boards of trustees – and coming as it did from a group of prestigious Catholic educators – the Land O’Lakes statement was indeed a declaration of independence from the hierarchy and a symbolic turning point” (p. 317).

Although Fr. Jenkins says that the intention of the LOL signatories was to eventually submit a document for review by the Congregation for Catholic Education, one might note that neither LOL nor The Catholic University in the Modern World received approval from Rome.  One might also note that no one suggests that the authors of LOL sought to expel Catholicism from Catholic campuses, or repudiate Catholic identity.  Rather, LOL should be read as the presidents’ affirmation that they wanted their institutions to be -- and to be recognized as -- Catholic – but Catholic on their own terms.  The document regards a university’s affirmation of its own Catholic character as sufficient. (Francis George points out the glaring inadequacy of this view in the passages quoted above).  Tellingly, the document does not set forth any instrument, procedure or institution (juridical or otherwise) that would serve as a standard and guarantee of communion between the university and the wider Church.

Third, the “broad, positive vision” that Fr. Jenkins identifies in LOL is the document’s statement that the Catholic university be a place “in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative” and that this is “achieved first of all and distinctively by the presence of scholars in all branches of theology.”  LOL further says that “’[t]o carry out this primary task properly there must be a constant discussion within the university community in which theology confronts all the rest of modern culture and all the areas of intellectual study which it includes.”  For Fr. Jenkins “[t]he authors seem to be saying that what distinguishes Catholic universities and makes Catholicism operatively present in them is that, stirred by robust interdisciplinary conversations with theology and philosophy, the intellectual community is open to and engages with questions of ultimacy that eventually lead them to conversations about God and the good for human beings, individually and collectively.”

In some respects it is odd that the university presidents and other signatories to LOL would in 1967 offer such a central place for theology in the intellectual life of Catholic universities given the fact that they had just witnessed, in the decades immediately prior to the Council, the failed attempt to use Neo-Thomism as an integrating force across disciplines.  Perhaps, the LOL proposal reflects the exuberance and optimism of Catholics immediately following Vatican II (to which Fr. Jenkins elsewhere refers).  If so, although Fr. Jenkins seems to reject the claim that the LOL authors were “naïve,” this would appear to confirm that assessment.

Having said this, I know of no Catholic university – not even Notre Dame – that attempted to implement the vision that Fr. Jenkins describes.  On the contrary, rather than serve as a source of integration, in the years that followed LOL, theology receded back into its own niche within the academy, mimicking other disciplines with the multiplication of sub-specialties so much so that the lack of dialogue across disciplines (e.g. between chemistry and history, or more broadly, between the sciences and liberal arts) could be seen in microcosm in the lack of dialogue between biblical scholars, dogmatic theologians, scholars of ecumenism, and liberation theologians.

What is worse, in a number of institutions, the “Department of Theology” ceased to exist as such, and was renamed or reconstituted as the “Department of Religious Studies.”  In later years, the idea that theology could not serve as an integrating force in Catholic universities was confirmed by the creation of “Catholic Studies” programs. While these programs often served a vital purpose in preserving some Catholic intellectual presence on campus, they also constituted a tacit admission that engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition was anything but pervasive throughout the university.

Fr. Jenkins acknowledges that the expectation that theologians would “be intellectual leaders across the disciplines” placed “an enormous burden on theologians.”  In retrospect, this was a burden that they were not equipped to carry because, in the post-conciliar era, the content of Catholic theology itself became highly contested.  During this time, professors of theology in Catholic universities across the country openly questioned long-established church teachings on such firmly held beliefs as the triune nature of the Godhead, the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the bodily Resurrection, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the gravely sinful nature of abortion, pre-marital sex, adultery, masturbation, and homosexual acts.  Catholic theology was in disarray. Consequently, theology was hardly in a position to be a leader in Catholic identity when it had trouble knowing itself.

Fourth, although Fr. Jenkins highlights the concern over academic freedom, he fails to identify another, equally important aspect of the context that gave rise to LOL.  He ignores the larger of context in which Catholic colleges and universities were anxious to gain access to new sources of government funding recently made available.  To accomplish this objective, these institutions sought to avoid being labeled “pervasively sectarian.”  As Fr. Burtchaell makes clear in his article Out of the Heartburn of the Church, 25 J. College & Univ. L. 653, 655 (1999), in boldly claiming “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical,” the signatories to LOL “were assuring their prospective governmental benefactors that they now regarded their bishops and religious superiors as ‘outsiders’ to the work of Catholic education. The civil authorities, of course, were also ‘outsiders,’ but the presidents were thinking how nice it would be to invite them indoors.” Accordingly, the push to define the Catholic university in a new way, as represented by LOL derived not only from a respect for academic freedom and a desire to implement Vatican II, but as a reaction to the financial crisis then confronting Catholic and other private institutions of higher learning.

Fifth, and finally, Fr. Jenkins, to his credit, recognizes the shortcomings of LOL.  He identifies four: (1) the failure of LOL “to appreciate the difficulty of finding scholars to implement the vision”; (2) the “highly specialized” nature of the modern academy and the difficulty of truly interdisciplinary conversation “particularly those that go to the philosophical or theological dimensions of a discipline”; (3) the increasingly secular and even anti-religious outlook of academics; and (4) the failure of LOL “to make any positive suggestion about what the relationship might be between the Catholic university and ecclesiastical authority.”

There is something to be said for each of these. The fourth point has already been addressed in part in Francis George’s remarks quoted above. Here I wish to focus on Jenkins’ first point.

Even if one grants that the authors of LOL wanted Catholicism to be “perceptibly present and effectively operative” in Catholic universities, the document offers no practical strategy for realizing this goal.  It says nothing about the importance of recruiting not just nominal Catholics as faculty members, but genuine Catholic intellectuals who will be attracted to the mission of a Catholic university and seek to carry it forward.

By contrast, another document written at Notre Dame a few years later did.  In 1972 Fr. Hesburgh established a Committee on University Priorities (COUPS), chaired by Fr. Burtchaell (then Provost of Notre Dame) which studied all aspects of the University, and in 1973 issued its final report. (The COUPS Report is reprinted in the December 1973 issue of the Notre Dame Magazine).  The COUPS Report states that “[t]he University’s highest and also its most distinctive priority is to understand and to adhere to its evolving Catholic character.”  To fulfill this goal, the Committee recommended “[t]hat the University have a faculty and student affairs staff among whom Catholics predominate.”  Put another way, the report recognized the truth of the adage “Personnel is policy.”  An institution that identifies as both Catholic and intellectual cannot hope to succeed in its mission if it does not have Catholic intellectuals and other sympathetic to the Catholic intellectual tradition engaged in scholarship and teaching.

Some language similar to the COUPS Report – that the number of Catholic faculty at Notre Dame must “predominate” if the University is to sustain her Catholic identity and fulfill her Catholic mission – has been present in each of Notre Dame’s subsequent strategic reports: Priorities and Commitments for Excellence – the PACE Report (1983); Colloquy for the Year 2000 (1993); Notre Dame 2010: Fulfilling the Promise (2003); and A Legacy Expanded: A Strategic Plan for Notre Dame (2013) (available here).  It is worth noting that this language is even stronger than that contained in John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990) which says only that “the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the institution, which is and must remain Catholic” (Art. 4, ¶ 4).

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is not without blemish. (There is some tarnish on the Golden Dome). Nevertheless, today Notre Dame stands out among American Catholic universities as having maintained a robust sense of Catholic identity.  This is undoubtedly due to many factors, but the practical strategy of hiring Catholic academics to carry on the intellectual work of the school (first identified in the COUPS Report) must rank foremost among them.

The necessity of such a strategy is obvious to anyone who would give serious thought to the matter.  Yet it remains controversial.  It remains an uncomfortable truth, precisely because it calls upon the Catholic university to step out of the mainstream of American higher education, and to do so with more than mission statements and verbal nods to the school’s religious heritage.  It requires actions.   And those brave enough to raise this truth, like Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., have often been treated like a prophet in his hometown (Luke 4:24).

Preserving, nurturing, and enhancing Catholic mission requires intentional acts and deliberate strategies calculated to achieve that goal.  The Catholic mission of the university is not something that will simply take care of itself.  It must be tended to by Catholic intellectuals.  That LOL ignored this truth – and that this omission was repeated again and again in subsequent statements on Catholic higher education, and that it had a deleterious effect on the hiring practices at almost all the nation’s Catholic colleges and universities – is a one of many reasons why the 50th anniversary of the Land O’Lakes statement is not worth celebrating.


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