Statistics vs. Reality
BY: Sean Vinck
Study Notre Dame on a purely statistical level, and it appears to be an institution on the rise. The endowment is reaching levels never before seen. Enrollment remains steady. The University is holding the rate of increase in tuition to under five percent annually (seemingly a dubious boast, but in light of the massive inflation in college costs, certainly a reasonable number). Faculty salaries remain comparatively high, making Notre Dame a competitive place of employment in the world of academia. The aggregate scores and academic ratings of the incoming freshman class are high, with each year's class breaking the previous year's record.
Some professors are world-renowned in their fields of study. The theology department is known nationally. One theology department faculty member has a syndicated column, is sought routinely for commentary by "Time" and "Newsweek" and has written several best-selling books. Other professors are also accomplished authors, lecturers, teachers and thinkers.
On a statistical level, Notre Dame appears to be an institution on the rise.
But the problem has never been statistical.
On a given day, the Notre Dame student can wake up early to attend a class dedicated to the study of the latest material on "Gender Studies." Later that day, he might read columns in the newspaper denouncing "speciesism" or witness drunken debauchery among his neighbors. He could walk past a rally of malcontent self-described "progressives" protesting with their willing accomplices in the faculty. He might return to his room to read articles demanding ordination of women or arguing for the use of artificial contraception as an assignment for a class. He could then return to his bed and dream of Richard McBrien.
In its incarnation, Catholic education was conceived as a liberal education in the truest sense of the term — giving the student a universal, liberating education that would prepare him for a meaningful life in the world. This universal conception of education, once common to all institutions of higher learning, is united inseparably to religious piety in the unique context of the Catholic university. Yet the ideal of liberating, universal education coupled with religious formation seems to have been lost. Instead of viewing religious faith and academic inquiry as complementary endeavors, the prevailing opinion in the American academe, and, indeed, in some quarters at Notre Dame, is that the two stand in stark contrast to one another. This is, I suppose, why such intense philosophical and political battles now occur in our journals of opinion, in our daily discourse and in the conflicting public pronouncements of student groups ranging from the Progressive Student Alliance to Right Reason.
Indeed, ours is a spiritual conflict — waged between those who believe in the necessity of the orthodox exercise of the Catholic religion in Catholic higher education and those who do not. The philosophical underpinnings of Catholic doctrine must be the fundamental predisposition of the Catholic academics.
The mission of the of the Catholic university is beautifully enshrined in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, first issued in 1990. Let us pray for its faithful implementation in order that the University may achieve its divinely ordained mission. For, as Ex Corde says, "It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic university to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth."
Sean Vinck is a junior PLS major. His column appears every other Tuesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, August 31, 1999