National Catholic Reporter
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Kansas City, MO 64141
In order to understand the disagreement between Fr. Edward Malloy and the theology department at Notre Dame, readers should know a few things that were not mentioned in your article of December 13, 1996.
What's the rap against Michael Baxter, CSC? There are two main problems. First, Baxter has forcefully articulated the position that there is an inherent tension between the demands of Christian witness and the founding principles of the American polity, with the result that Christian witness in the American context will inevitably be countercultural in a way best embodied, as Baxter sees it, by the Catholic Worker movement. For this he is branded as 'sectarian'. Indeed, in a written report on Baxter's doctoral dissertation the chair of the theology department goes so far as to wonder how Baxter can "hope to be a member of a community which holds as its ideal: God, country, and Notre Dame." As far as I know, other departments in the university do not use nationalism as a criterion for employment.
Baxter's second problem is that there is an ongoing and nasty personal feud between his dissertation director, a former Notre Dame theologian, and several senior members of the theology department, one of whom presently serves as the chair of the Faculty Senate after having chaired the theology department for a number of years.
If you are puzzled by the fact that none of this seems relevant to Baxter's competence or promise as a teacher and scholar, then you are in the same position that Fr. Malloy was in when he appointed Baxter to his present position. Some of us familiar with Baxter's research believe that Malloy was motivated in part by a desire to prevent the theology department from embarrassing itself intellectually. In this he seems to have failed.
It's been a rough semester for Baxter. Fortunately, those students lucky enough to have him as a teacher in the classroom or a neighbor in the residence hall have not allowed all this foolishness to undermine their high regard and love for him.
Alfred J. Freddoso
Professor of Philosophy
University of Notre Dame