The new president of Catholic University of America, John Garvey, gave the keynote speech at the New York Encounter cultural festival, which opened last night at the Manhattan Center in New York. After a thirty-five year career as a lawyer, last year he took up reins at the Catholic university founded in 1887 by all the bishops of the U.S. to offer graduate degrees in the pontifical faculties of theology, philosophy and canon law.
One year after President Obama was offered an honorary degree at Notre Dame, Garvey dissected the issue which created a firestorm in the Church and the university community. To the accusation of the hierarchy limiting academic freedom in this case, Garvey drew the distinction between allowing debate and dialogue on one hand, and on the other conferring an honor or award as happened at Notre Dame. The U.S. bishops had offered clear guidelines that politicians who did not support the moral principle of life could not be offered a platform or an award. Because of the magnitude and seriousness of abortion, it could not be put on a par with other favorable stands such as on universal health care or ending the war in Iraq. The problem arises from the symbolic meaning of conferring the honorary degree which creates scandal. In any case, Garvey suggested that both sides still needed to "tone it down a bit".
Garvey also discussed lawsuits involving student groups in both public and private universities. In Gay Rights Coalition vs. Georgetown, the D.C. Court of Appeals decided that while not required to offer official recognition, the school did need to give the student group a variety of services. In Christian Legal Society vs. Hastings, the students lost official status due to a required statement of faith and morals for its officers. While claiming to be neutral, these decisions favor a particular dominant opinion, restricting the freedom of both colleges and student groups to offer a distinct intellectual and moral view.
As opposed to the modernist theory that the best way to find truth is through many voices, Garvey emphasized that academic freedom must offer the possibility of carving out a distinct culture. For examples, he gave institutions like the New York Times or Fox News, or movements like the Chicago School of Economics or the Oxford Movement. Universities can foster such intellectual ferment only through the freedom to selectively hire faculty, admit students and offer lectures and courses. For Garvey, this is the "essence of intellectual construction." Although it is little appreciated, in fact, universities are "first amendment actors creating public culture".
Fascinating interview with Catholic University of America's president on recent influx of Muslim students on Catholic campuses (NPR Dec 23, 2010)
Here's a snippet:
"Mr. GARVEY: We don't set aside prayer rooms, although we make our space available so that students who have daily prayer needs, Muslims who are observant pray five times a day, they can pray. We make classrooms available, or our chapels are places where they can pray. We don't offer Halal meat, although there are always meals that conform to Halal regulations, that allow students to do what they want."
(with apologies to Peter Maurin)
I'm for the liberated liberal arts not the monetized
and politicized liberal arts,
the virginal liberal arts, not the pandering liberal arts.
The humanities after all, belong to the humans and the humane.
Why should the university be the gatekeeper of the human?
In the university, students do not learn to connect
the particular to the whole, but instead
to regard each subject as the master of all the others
during class... and as an abstraction immediately afterward.
A bachelor of arts is a certified human;
a master of arts is a certified teacher;
a doctor of arts is a certified teacher of teachers;
but certification is not essential to the human.
What’s essential to the human person is
connection to the whole, establishing ties,
that is, religion.
Without religion, says Peter Maurin,
so-called education is:
“plenty of facts
but no understanding.”
universities are no longer the wardens of merit, but
the gatekeepers of mammon and power.
In their book Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith advocate
gatejumping for the sake of the human.
A gatejumper builds credibility
man to man — without the approval of gatekeepers.
Gatejumpers are not automatically worthy of trust
but at least they don’t rely on credentials
purchased with borrowed funds.
Is it just for students to complain
that the liberal arts are too pricey when they borrow
with the expectation of earning many times the amount?
Is it just for the university to train adjunct professors at costs
beyond what can be recovered?
If you want to be human,
learn the liberal arts at personal cost.
Read The Quiet Light as background to The
Divine Comedy. Read Christopher Dawson
for a non-sanitized history. Fr. Giussani gave books
to his friend, Enzo Piccinini.
These books became Books of the Christian Spirit.
And Spirito Gentil is a classical music series
with notes from Fr. Giussani.
So on vacation, on lunch break, in the evenings,
and weekends, get together with friends to
learn appreciation for music and drama;
learn politics and philosophy and economics and
For Christ’s sake,
for humanity’s sake,
for yourself and your children,
and their children.
Recently, advocates of higher education have been defending themselves against the charge that the price of college no longer offers the payoff that was promised. Particularly in regard to the liberal arts, it's not about the money, or it shouldn't be.
Carlos J. Alonso, acting dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University, argues
in "Paradise Lost: the Academy Becomes a Commodity that the academy should be above crass calculations:
Culture, education, and the university have become commodities and purveyors of commodities; they must answer to the logic of accountability—and there is no space outside that logic. There is no particular location inhabited by graduate education, because commodification now extends its reach into every aspect of our social reality. There was a time when the social understanding of the university and of the work performed therein was defined precisely in opposition to the logic of accountability and instrumentality, but that situation no longer obtains.
In an article collected in What Counts is the Wonder, Gianni Valente makes this comment about Péguy: "He has nothing to do with the restoration-minded lobby who propose that the way out of the modern disaster is to go back to a utopian regime of Christianity" ("Péguy on the Threshold"). Valente says in another article that "it was this experience, real and physical, of the action of grace as the sole source of the Christian life [...] that made Péguy a Christian who would be foreign to the Christendom constituted by his time and ours ("Péguy, Poet of Wonder").
A Christian foreign to the Christendom of our time – this is an extraordinary position for a modern Catholic. For Protestants, however, wariness toward Christendom is more common. For example, here's a response from Peter Leithart to John Nugent, a defender of John Howard Yoder's anti-Constantinism. Christopher Dawson, in his concise book, The Historical Reality of Christian Culture quotes one of the great Protestant voices against Christendom, Kierkegaard: "Christendom has mocked God and continues to mock Him — just as if to a man who is a lover of nuts, instead of bringing him one nut with a kernel, we were to bring him tons and millions of empty nut-shells." Dawson comments that "what Kierkegard attacked with such passion, however, was not Christendom but the secularization of Christendom, and especially that particular form of secularization which he found in the Danish State Church of the mid-nineteenth century" (p 69-70). For Dawson, the student of history, Christendom was not a single historical synthesis brokered by Constantine, but instead "a historical reality which had actually come into the world and had transformed the societies with which it had come into contact" (70). In short, Christendom is not a historic relic, but in fact a dynamism of Christian existence. And it happened not only once, but as Dawson delineates it six times so far (being, as he reckons it, in the sixth age of the Church).
Christendom, as Dawson defines it, is the impact of the unique event of Jesus Christ on the totality of human culture. Such a Christendom, such a new humanity, is not satisfied with family values, Christian values, tradition, cultural victories, or brightening the patina of Christianity on once-Christian institutions. Such a Christendom looks to renew the person, the human being, and from that point the rest will follow – in whatever form it may take. For the ages of the Church demonstrate differences with regard to particular challenges, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments.
Christopher Dawson knows the formative influence that education has on society, so he does indicate some ways forward in confronting "the Leviathan" of secularism:
"The modern Leviathan is such a formidable monster that it can swallow the religious school system whole without suffering from indigestion.
But this is not the case with higher education. The only part of Leviathan that is vulnerable is its brain, which is small in comparison with its vast and armored bulk. If we could develop Christian higher education to a point at which it meets the attention of the average educated man in every field of thought and life, the situation would be radically changed" (88-89).
Well, almost. Dawson underestimated the Leviathan's ability to even swallow up higher education. The university has abandoned its pretense of forming persons toward totality. The humanities are no longer even of much scientific interest to the university, which is now concerned with driving revenue and 'vocational' training. Dawson is essentially right however, in seeing in the sleeping intelligence of modern man a chink in the scales of the secularist beast. The new humanity, the new Christendom, has no universities of its own, almost no schools of its own. For now, the new Christendom is a diaspora which can be found in any of the institutions of the old Christendom, or the aging and tired secularism. What forms it will take is not so much our concern. It could be a salesman who attends a play and judges it afterward, gets up in the dead of night to see the moon turn red, or spends his lunch studying more diligently than most college students. Or it could be an entrepreneur, a college professor, a biologist, a parent, who knows? What's essential to authentic Christendom is not power, not institutions, not formal education — but humanity, an affection generated by the gaze of One who loved us so much He came to share our condition. He's still here. Look for the green buds on the leafless trees. Or come to New York City in January.