The Drive for Secular Prestige
By CHARLES RICE
Suppose an aggressive lawyer uncovered a descendant of Clashmore Mike. Years ago, Mike, an Irish terrier, was the mascot of the Notre Dame football team. His replacement by a series of capering leprechauns was unfair. Mike was treated like a dog. But he could do nothing about it. The last Mike has long since gone to the big stadium in the sky. But now his heirs may be able to seek redress. They can claim that Mike was a person and that he was illegally fired because of speciesism B discrimination against persons of other species, as racism is discrimination against persons of other races. They could find support for that view at Harvard, Princeton and other "great" universities.
Harvard, Georgetown and Northwestern University law schools are offering courses on animal rights this fall. Adjunct professor Steven Wise, who will teach the Harvard course, has compared the "legal thinghood of chimpanzees" to "the abomination of human slavery." Citing "scientific evidence of the true nature of such nonhuman animals as chimpanzees," Wise argues that "it is arbitrary and a breach of the fundamental principle of equality to deny [chimpanzees] these rights merely because they are not human beings."
Princeton is further ahead. The new DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values is Peter Singer, the Australian critic of "speciesism" and father of the animal rights movement. Singer thinks that any "rational and self-conscious being" is a person. In his view chimpanzees are persons, as are apes, whales, dolphins, dogs, cats, pigs, seals and bears. Some human beings, however, including "newborn infants and some mental defectives," are not persons. "So it seems," concludes Singer, "that killing, say, a chimpanzee, is worse than the killing of a gravely defective human who is not a person." Singer thinks that chickens might be persons, in which case the greatest mass murderer in history was not Adolf Hitler but Colonel Sanders. "Six million people died in concentration camps," said Ingrid Newkirk of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 1986, "but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses." In his book, Practical Ethics, which he assigns for his Princeton course, Singer said, "Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all. When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second." Singer is featured at a prestigious Sept. 25 conference at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on "The Legal Status of Non-Human Animals."
According to Catholic teaching, man has a serious duty to God, but not to the animals, to make a right use of animals without being cruel or inflicting needless pain. The move to confer legal rights on animals themselves, however, is based on a denial of the special nature of the human person. Singer says that "we can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul." He treats "ethics as entirely independent of religion." The secularist and relativist premises on which he operates and which he carries to their logical conclusion, have decisively influenced American academics and jurisprudence for most of this century. That culture has lost sight of the human person as a unique creation of body and spirit in the image and likeness of God. "[W]hen the sense of God is lost," said John Paul II, "there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life." Singer is the poster boy of that pagan culture of death.
The intellectual and moral bankruptcy implicit in the advocacy of animal rights ought to cause our leaders to ponder the wisdom of using those "great" secular universities as models for Notre Dame. The traditional mission of Notre Dame was primarily undergraduate education in the Catholic tradition, with graduate studies and research playing an important but complementary role. In 1978, however, Notre Dame began to define itself as a "research university." The objective was admission to the club of the monied and prestigious universities.
"We think we're capable of operating in the same world as the Ivys, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Duke, Southern Cal and Northwestern," said Notre Dame's president, Father Malloy, at the 1993 meeting of the trustees at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Manalapan, Fla.
I do not intend to minimize the importance of research, especially in the sciences. And our leaders act entirely in what they see as the best interest of Notre Dame. But what results from their effort to, pardon the expression, "ape" the Ivy League, is the devaluation of undergraduate education and the imposition of unconscionable loan burdens on non-wealthy students to finance the drive for research prestige. In 1978-79, Notre Dame tuition, room and board totaled $5,180. Adjusted for the Consumer Price Index, that total for 1999-2000 would be $13,650. In 1999-2000, the figure increased 5.47 percent over the previous year, almost double the inflation rate, for a total of $27,600, more than twice, in real money, what students paid in 1978-79. In terms of teaching and of variety and accessibility of courses, no one can reasonably claim that the quality of undergraduate education at Notre Dame is more than twice what it was two decades ago. Notre Dame makes a commendable effort to provide financial aid. As estimated for 1999-2000, 2,500 students will receive University aid, with the average aid at $9,200, reducing their average bill to $18,400. But for non-wealthy students, the primary form of financial aid remains the student loan.
The drive for secular prestige has affected Notre Dame in various ways. The endowment has taken on a life of its own, with only marginal impact on student costs. And subject to release of this year's figure, 1986-87 was the last year in which a majority of newly hired faculty was Catholic. The campus, like the "great" universities, is now crowded with monuments to the ability of our striving leaders to raise and spend money. The renovated Main Building is one example. Another is the upscale new bookstore, which remains open for 11 hours on Sunday in testimony to the relative emphasis placed on the maximization of profit and the observance of the Lord's Day. In these and other ways, Notre Dame is paying a price for its drive to be counted among the "great" universities.
These comments are prompted by conversations with law students whose career and family options are constricted by loans in the $100-150,000 range. It is no consolation that this burden results from the effort of our leaders, perhaps in a working out of the old Catholic inferiority complex, to emulate institutions where it is seriously in question whether there is an intrinsic difference between a chicken and a philosophy professor. Clashmore Mike, who did not go to any of those places, knew the difference.
Professor Rice is on the law school faculty. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, September 24, 1999