Our Dying Universities

universityThe last vestiges of the once impressive institution known as the “university” are disappearing as our culture continues to crumble. Perhaps it is poetic justice, since the universities themselves have been a central cause of the cultural collapse that is burying them.

The recent riots at the University of California at Berkeley and on other campuses are the result of a decades-long process that has increasingly sought to silence opinions or facts that are at odds with liberalism. Most universities have become indoctrination centers that tolerate little if any dissent. Ideas are not considered. Rather, the usual approach is that of excoriating dissent from liberal or progressive orthodoxy with ad hominem attacks, calling those who disagree bigoted, intolerant, hateful, or (fill-in-the-blank)-phobic.

The discussion and critique of different ideas is a proper notion in a university, but more often today, the person or group holding an opposing idea is attacked, stereotyped, or ridiculed. Protests are a long tradition on college campuses, but protests were once held to show opposition to a speech as it was actually happening or to the ideas that were being presented. Now, protests are aimed at preventing speeches from occurring or ideas from being articulated.

This, of course, is completely counter to what universities should be doing. Once upon a time, young people were sent off to college in order to expand their minds. Ideas from widely divergent positions would be presented and critiqued using principles of philosophy, theology, logic, history, and science. Even Catholic universities, which existed to hand on the faith, would ponder all sorts of views while also vigorously defending or critiquing them based on Catholic teaching. The point of a college education was to become aware of the wider world and to be trained in critical thinking.

Today, most college campuses are a witch’s brew of hypersensitivities, political correctness, language police, “safe zones,” and all sorts of intolerance masquerading as “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” Despite the talk, though, such settings are anything but diverse or inclusive, when one considers the increasing list of views and topics that are banished.

This problem has been growing for decades and it is evidence of what Pope Benedict XVI called the “tyranny of relativism.” When we can no longer point to a reality or a set of truths that all can agree upon as first principles, a struggle ensues that cannot be resolved with an appeal to reason. The one who prevails is not the one who is best able to appeal to reason or principles, but rather the one who has the most power, money, or influence, or the one who shouts the loudest or is better able to intimidate. In this way, relativism has led to the kind of tyranny we see on college campuses today.

Add to this a strangely opposite “daintiness,” such that people are offended by even the most modest rebuttals. “Safe zones” that proliferate on campuses presuppose some sort of deep psychological damage caused by being exposed to different or challenging ideas, and that there exists some sort of right not be offended or challenged. Not only is this fanciful, it is poor training for life.

This has been brewing for decades and has turned universities into exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to be.

In the world of Catholic universities, a line was crossed in 1967 at the Land O’ Lakes conference, at which the assembled leaders of Catholic institutions of higher learning concluded that Catholic identity and faith were inimical to “academic freedom.” As a result, the large majority of Catholic universities shifted to secular models that were not merely neutral to the faith, but often hostile to it.

Universities first began emerging during the high water mark of Christendom, in the 12th and 13th centuries. Perhaps the greatest example of what universities once were can be seen in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. It contains a pondering of the great questions of that time. A premise or idea is stated, objections are set forth, voices from antiquity are quoted, a response is presented, and then each objection is respectfully answered. As a genre, the “summa” is a kind of written summary of academic debates common among the students and teachers of the day. At the time, it was recognized that the quest for the truth is often facilitated by lively debate, interaction, and ongoing discussion. Even ideas that one opposed were helpful because they assisted in refining one’s own view and better articulating it.

Young people once emerged from universities acquainted with the great ideas, equipped with the skills to critique ideas and philosophies, and educated in both Latin and Greek. It was not a perfect system, but it edified and expanded the students; it gave them the tools to engage in critical thinking.

Such an atmosphere seems long gone on most college campuses today. Rather than expanding the students’ universe of ideas, it has narrowed them. Many young people emerge from their college experience less mature and less prepared for life than when they entered. In fact, many universities today do precisely the opposite of what they were founded to do. The horrifying moral atmosphere that exists on most campuses is another dagger to the life of the mind and to proper human formation and maturity. To be sure there are exceptions, Catholic and non-Catholic, but they are rare jewels among the rubble.

It is a very sad situation, with only a few exceptions that shine brightly in an otherwise bleak sky. Be sober, fellow Catholics. Search diligently for those universities that still fulfill their mission to raise up young adults to higher and better things.

20 Replies to “Our Dying Universities”

  1. A very important commentary indeed as it doesn’t bode well for the future of the country. Our family really became aware of this situation about ten years ago when our daughter, a 4.0 student at a prominent Catholic college in the Northeast, received a “D” for writing a paper challenging her professor’s position on the oppression of women. In her paper, she refused to agree that certain curtsies like a man holding a door open for a woman constituted oppression. She took the graded paper to the dean and was met with deaf ears. Now, looking at the situation at Providence College between Prof. Esolen and that school’s take on “diversity,” it’s easy to become disheartened. It is my hope that the case that has now reached the Vatican against Georgetown by the late William Blatty will provide the spark needed to put our Catholic universities back on course. However, I’m not holding my breath. I believe that where Catholic universities are concerned, the Lord’s current pruning of the Church doesn’t exclude our schools. In the mean time, there seems to be a strong undercurrent of successful, faithful schools like Franciscan University, the University of Dallas, and others that are there to fill the void for those that want a truly Catholic education and academic excellence.

      1. Don’t slam the Holy Father. That was was ad hominem ….Neither St. John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were able to get the colleges to yield to doctrine or Magisterial authority.

  2. As a Catholic homeschool mom of many, I’m grateful for the few bright spots out there diligently defending and promoting the faith. I beg these institutions, please, in mercy, do all you can to drive costs down. The potential debt load is intimidating and depressing. We’re doing all we can on our end, please do all you can on yours.
    Thank you!

  3. “Today, most college campuses are a witch’s brew of hypersensitivities, political correctness, language police, ‘safe zones,’ and all sorts of intolerance masquerading as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness.'”

    I suggest this is true not only of college campuses, but of much of western culture as a whole. What happens on campus also happened on street corners, in shopping malls, and in grocery stores. It is a cultural problem, not a campus problem.

    And it is symptomatic of all sides of the political and/or religious spectrum, not limited to opinions or facts that are at odds with “liberalism.” “Rebut” a dangerous driver – one with a Trump/Pence bumper sticker on the car – with a toot of the car horn and you may well be cussed at, brake-checked, or worse. Or, if you really want to take your life in your hands, correct the dangerous misbehavior of a child not your own running around a swimming pool.

    The problem has been growing for decades, even centuries. Based on Enlightenment ideas of individualism, western culture, and American culture in particular, ran with this idea to extremes. Robert Bellah’s fine study “Habits of the Heart” (1985) offers a thorough and challenging view of how the “rugged individualist” notion has diminished our capacity for empathy and, therefore, undercut national cohesion.

  4. Increasingly, I’ve noticed, parents in faithful Catholic families are actively discouraging their kids from seeking an on-campus college education. And the situation in Protestant circles isn’t any better. I know one girl from a Protestant family who started at a Protestant university, and dropped out after one semester because it was so liberal it was almost completely secular. So the problem isn’t confined to the Catholic church. (She completed her degree through an online college.)

    To give a historical perspective, you had all those hippies and draft-dodgers in the 1960s who attended college and took the classical liberal arts courses just so they could claim the student exemption from the draft. They spent their spare time in student organizations like SDS and similar (then) far-left organizations, many of them run by literal card-carrying Communists. A high percentage of those hippies, formed by infiltrating Communists, grew up to become teachers and professors. That’s why our schools now are not true schools, but indoctrination centers. From the beginning, that was the plan. Get the kids, teach them so that they don’t know any other way, and they’ll fall right in line.
    They’re all about making noise, enough noise so everyone thinks they’re in the majority. The thing is, they aren’t. If they were, Trump never would have been elected.
    They need to become aware of a saying that my first-grade teacher used to use all the time: “Empty barrels make the loudest noise.”

  5. “[H]orrifying moral” is well said.

    I take this opportunity to apologize for any comments, right or wrong, on this blog, or your other blog, that were severe to the point of obscuring the reason for being truthful. Sorry.

    “(F)alse judgments in the area of intellectual operations are like monsters among natural things(.)”–St. Thomas Aquinas “[H]orrifyingly moral” captures the sense of that statement.

  6. Bravo Msgr Pope. Third Level Institution have become cesspits not only in US but right across Europe. But it is a problem that has been with us for at least one hundred years. The only difference between then and now is that one hundred years ago the education system was aimed at producing zombies to satisfy the empire’s needs – today it is aimed at producing zombies to consume global brands. The modern education system has nothing to do with the formation of character or the promotion of noble ideals or the awakening of imagination or mystery: It knows nothing about producing inquisitive universal minds capable of wonder and awe. It is not aimed at helping students acquire knowledge about truth and the relationship of faith and reason. Consequently, it is nothing more than an educational provider, ‘trapped in a hall of mirrors of endless choices’ without focus or purpose.’

    Padraig Pearse and six other signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Freedom were executed in Kilmainham Prison, in Dublin, in 1916, for their part in the Easter Rising.

    What drove the gentle Poet and teacher, Padraig Pearse, to revolution more than anything else was the fact that the British education system in Ireland instead of producing boys and girls noble in character and able to develop their own native genius was aimed primarily at producing feckless zombies – unthinking loyal subjects at the service of an expanding empire. Pearse believed that: “What the British called an education system in Ireland was not an education system but a ‘murder machine’ aimed at producing people who were “meek and sleek and obsequious.”

    For Pearse, after the home, the school was the most important institution in civic society – and the teacher was “a priest-like” figure. “The central purpose of the school is not so much the mere imparting of knowledge … as the formation of its pupils’ characters, eliciting the development of the individual bents and traits of each, the kindling of their imaginations, the placing before them of a high standard of conduct and duty, in a word, the training up of those entrusted to its care to be strong and noble and useful men and women.”

    One suspects that were Padraig Pearse around today he would have an equally critical evaluation of the Irish education system – particularly the Higher Education sector. The modern education system has nothing to do with the formation of character or the promotion of noble ideals or the awakening of imagination or mystery: It knows nothing about producing inquisitive universal minds capable of wonder and awe. It is not aimed at helping students acquire knowledge about truth and the relationship of faith and reason. Consequently, it is nothing more than an educational provider, ‘trapped in a hall of mirrors of endless choices’ without focus or purpose. In short the modern education system exists merely as a conveyor belt system aimed at producing ‘consumers’ and tunnelled-visioned, feckless zombies mostly for the IT and pharmaceutical industries in Ireland and beyond.

    This hyper-specialized focus is incapable of fostering the kind of moral purpose in young people that leads to leadership and social responsibility in adult life and human flourishing. Indeed, it retards that progression. Tragically, both for the young people themselves and for the Irish nation, a new breed emerges whose years in university are marred by squander and ruin. A University that denies that its young people are capable of greatness and self-restraint but instead throws subsidized alcohol, free condoms and hypodermic needles at them is unworthy of its name: A ‘Higher Institute of Learning’ that allows its young people create ‘ghettos of fear’ for its nearby residents reduces itself to an asylum: An Institution that permits ‘madness’ and destruction on campus during ‘rag-week’ betrays the noble ideals of those who fought and died in 1916.

    What outraged Pearse at the education system of his time was that it was incapable of inspiring ‘greatness’. “There are no ideas there, no love of beauty, no love of books, no love of knowledge, no heroic inspiration… In a true education system, religion, patriotism, literature, arts and science would be brought in such a way into the daily lives of boys and girls as to affect their character and conduct.”

    During the recent General election campaign there was much spoken regarding opening new prisons, providing new A+E hospital spaces to cater for the ‘excesses’ of Friday/Saturday night drinking; new detox units for drug abuse; new units to house women and children fleeing from domestic violence; and extra Gardaí to curb violence on the streets.

    Not a word was said by any political party about curbing the menace of pornography, addressing the issue of under-age and harmful drinking; introducing a zero tolerance policy for anti-social behaviour by university students: The provision of local centres where culture/art can be kept alive, the promotion of the scouting movement – or where serious consideration is given, at the end of university education, for graduates to under-go a compulsory National Youth Corp experience – where graduating students would be assigned, for a period of one calendar year, to assisting the many voluntary agencies who daily pick up the human wreckage left behind by those who promote a hedonistic society.

    Pearse and those who were executed with him for their part in the Easter Rising were men of generous and noble character trained in the school of self-denial. They were up for the big tasks because they daily mastered the little ones. Pearse remarked that: “Good and holy causes are best served by men/women who are themselves good and holy”.

    After his execution the President of the Courts Martial which had condemned Pearse to death said: “I have just done one of the hardest tasks I have ever had to do. I have had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like that a rebel. I don’t wonder that his pupils adored him.”

    In this centenary of the Rising the greatest honour we can pay our patriot dead is to create a higher education system that inspires, moulds and keeps faith with the past. Or in Pearse’s own words: “What the modern world wants more than anything else, what Ireland wants … is a new birth of the heroic spirit. If our schools would set themselves that task, the task of fostering once again knightly courage and strength and truth we should have at least the beginning of an educational system. And what an appeal it would have!”
    Pearse’s reflections on a true education system are well worth reading and applicable to every culture.

  7. 1. “The recent riots at the University of California at Berkeley and on other campuses are the result of a decades-long process that has increasingly sought to silence opinions or facts that are at odds with liberalism.”

    The rioters are not all liberals, they’re people against freedom of expression – despite freely (yet wrongfully) expressing themselves by rioting. Calling this “liberalism” is the hasty generalization fallacy.

    Don’t put a political spin on everything by calling evil “liberal”, for than you forget (just as I once did) what the Scripture says: rioting is a work of the flesh, everyone must combat the flesh and has wheat and weeds in their hearts, and the world and the Church are full of wheat and weeds.

    We don’t fight liberals or liberalism, for our enemies are not flesh and blood, but our vices (the flesh), our worldly attachments (the world), and the instigator of our sins (the Devil). We are our worst enemies, not people without the Church or those in mortal sin, for we too have been without the Church before Baptism and have been in sin before Confession; the world is not “us versus them” but centered on Christ.

    That’s why some – not all – Catholic universities are full of people decrying Catholic art as “religious privilege,” wanting safe spaces, censoring Catholic doctrines in the name of inclusion, and otherwise harming staff and students. It’s the works of the flesh, not works of liberalism.

    2. “Young people once emerged from universities acquainted with the great ideas, equipped with the skills to critique ideas and philosophies, and educated in both Latin and Greek.”

    Universities aren’t the source of graces – great ideas, skills, etc. – but are secondary causes. Nothing good or evil lasts forever, so don’t expect Catholic things to last alongside the Church, nor expect evil to last forever, because the Body of Christ that is the Church is in Heaven.

    If you want Catholic universities to reform, than remind them of the flesh, the world and the Devil; the weeds and wheat; the fruit and works of the Spirit; Christ being the center of the world, the Church, Heaven, and the Christian life.

    If you want an end to works of the flesh, than douse sinners’ indignation with the Breath of God by praying for Him to renew their hearts. We live in the Age of the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Who continuously comes upon the Church, so take advantage of His Mercy by praying to and for Him.

    Remember that universities did not exist in the time of Jesus, Who grew in wisdom and grace. But universities are a grace, like every other good thing.

    1. “The rioters are not all liberals, they’re people against freedom of expression – despite freely (yet wrongfully) expressing themselves by rioting. Calling this “liberalism” is the hasty generalization fallacy”

      This is both a cavil and a No True Scotsman fallacy.

  8. The majority rules is a saying we’re all familiar with in public discourse. The majority of Catholic young adults will attend a state or secular university. Increasingly a state university with a great campus ministry program to include a Newman Center, FOCUS, and adequate funding demonstrate the most effective means for generating Catholic leaders for the Church and state. The most effective and efficient means of leadership generation today is campus ministry. An orthodox presentation of the faith at a time when young adults decide for themselves what values will lead guide and direct them is the shepherd’s staff of the Gospel’s heritage. As a Church its time to recognize the importance of a proven model of success within the broader context of the Church’s mission to educate. We ignore the importance of this model to our peril since over 80% of our faithful will leave the Christian faith for the future confusion of being a “none” during the college experience. University life is descending into neurotic madness: our faith is the answer.

    1. While organizations like a campus ministry are crucial, I think we need to keep in mind that they are generally marginal in the life of most students, even Catholic Students. If we are lucky, most Catholic students will go to mass on Sunday and on Holy Days and that is about it. Sure, there will be some who will gain real benefits from Campus Ministry because they will be actively involved in it. For most, however, I fear it is marginal to what they do. Many alas, view University as a 4 year period to postpone adult responsibility, others will be swept along in a torrent of relativism and/or nihilism.

      In this environment, we don’t simply need the Church to bring new leaders out of secular Universities, we must find a way to reach those who are on the cusp of becoming lost sheep.

  9. Greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark!
    In Denmark the Theological Faculty of Aarhus University existed from 1942-2011. It was academic home amongst others to the great lutheran metaphysicist K. E. Logstrup who insisted on the unique ethical challenge in the gospel by Jesus of Nazareth and the controversial Johannes Aagard who insisted on the truth of Christianity compared with new age ideas (gnosticism). But among many Christian lay people Aarhus University had a bad rumour of unbelief, and a competing theological faculty: Congregation Faculty was founded to educate lutheran-orthodox priests. The latter still exists, but the University Theological Faculty was joined with the University Humanities Faculty in 2011. Consequentially theology is now but a branch of the humanities in Aarhus. A debater commented on this, saying that if the professors in Aarhus had believed even a little bit in the book they were supposed to study, maybe their faculty would still be in existence. The other Theological Faculty in Denmark at Copenhagen University still exists. It was founded in 1479 by King Christian I with permission from Pope Sixtus IV and reformed to lutheranism in 1536. There exists also one catholic priest’s seminar and one catholic university library
    but without a catholic university the library is struggling for survival and is due to be closed by ultimo 2017 unless money can be raised from the public. The general opinion in Denmark is liberalism and ignorance of metaphysics. Most Danes profess themselves as culturally Christians. Thus about three quarter of the population remain members of the lutheran Church (they pay a substantial 1% Church tax). About one quarter of the population belive in God. Church attendance on Sundays is one percent. There are five percent muslims and two percent catholics.

  10. I apology for some English language and spelling errors in my comments.
    In Sweden the spiritual climate is even worse than in Denmark, but in Norway it is probably a little better. In Sweden a selfrighteous socialist-liberalist dream of a socialdemocratic “people’s home” wellfare state is now being challenged by neonazism, islamism, and other organized crime. The intellectual elite has completely lost touch with human Nature. It was not enough for Sweden to build a “people’s home” for themselves, they just had to save the whole world from ignorance, poverty, and war. But Jesus is Lord.

    1. Nick said:
      … the world is not “us versus them” but centered on Christ.

      I am sorry for my comment on Sweden. Selfrighteousness is bad. A “peoples home” is not. Doing good in the world is not. But who am I to judge, says Pope Francis. If anybody reads this in a dying thread pray for the holy Father who visited lutheran Sweden last year.

      Saint Birgitta pray for us.

  11. Along with all this there’s a growing, “right to not be offended” How can education, and the advancement of knowledge, be done with offending – especially pre-conceived notions I ask?
    Just look at this. The child’s face seems so appropriate to this growing attitude;

  12. The Royal Danish Ministry of Education and Research enforces the following admission ceilings (maximum number of new students) on the nation’s two theological institutes:
    Copenhagen (2013): 138
    Copenhagen (2018): 125
    Aarhus (2013): 85
    Aarhus (2018): 53
    Complaining on the ministry’s reduction in the admission ceilings, Aarhus theology professor Peter Lodberg says: “What is the use of making young people interested in the priestly ministry if they cannot be admitted to study?” The Danish National Church is expecting a future shortage of priests.
    (Christian Daily Newspaper, Feb 8th 2017)

  13. Academentia is a feeding trough for those PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper) with bigoted ignorant MISANDRY – the Hatred of Men & Boys, Masculinity & Normal Heterosexuality – like the viciously Anti-Catholic bastion of radical gender feminist / homosex indoctrination at Santa Clara ‘university’

    Because Books and Professors were scarce, Colleges provided a relatively safe central repository of Knowledge (if not Wisdom) where students could share resource

    Quality Distance Learning via the net has changed that.

    Why pay to warm an expensive chair with student loans – just to enrich a pompous pedantic poseur PC Mafia entrenched in the faculty lounge, whose grading is based on regurgitating partisan political propaganda

  14. I am a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic elementary schools and public high school, graduating in 1962. After that I floundered for a few years before ending up at Dominican College of San Rafael, California (now Dominican University of California). I received my BA with a major in sociology in August 1968. At the time things were fairly mild on campus. The Sisters still wore the traditional Dominican habit. Now I hear that the school invites pro-choice speakers for graduations. I am ashamed to admit that I graduated from the school. In 1980 – twelve years after my graduation – I decided to return to school in order to pursue a Master of Arts in Religious Education. I enrolled at the University of San Francisco in the Fall of 1980. I took four theology courses – After a few weeks I began to think that I was somehow on the wrong campus, as what I was being taught was certainly not Catholic. In my Christology course we were told by the Prof, a Jesuit Priest, that someday Jesus’ bones will be discovered in the Holy Land, and that the Resurrection was just a mystical experience. In my course on Moral Theology Today, we were taught about “sacrificial adultery” and that in all situations we were to do the “loving thing.” We were being fed on Situation Ethics which has been condemned. In my course on the Old Testament, the Prof, a former nun, that there is no original sin, only personal sin and corporate sin. Finally, in my course on the Epistle of James, we were taught that James was the half brother of Jesus, and that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had a normal conjugal life and had other children. I went to the President of the University and told him about these courses and why I was leaving – that I wanted a traditional Catholic education. Fortunately I was able to meet with a priest of the Dominican Order who promptly suggested that I go to study in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum. Seven years later I returned to the States with an STB, STL, and JCL and never any course that was contrary to Catholic Doctrine. However, not all students are fortunate enough to have the time and the financial resources to spend seven years in Rome.

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