Monday, May 17, 2010

Marquette Dean Crisis

I don't wish to comment at length on the dust-up at MU over the offer and withdrawal of a contract to Jodi O'Brien for the position of Dean of Arts and Sciences. As you can expect, I can't even fathom how the offer could have been made in the first place.

Unless Marquette and other Catholic universities do something to revitalize the Catholic intellectual tradition on their campuses, they are doomed. Offering a high level position to academics such as Jodi O'Brien will undercut any effort to do so. If anyone wonders what the difference is between a place like Marquette and a place like Notre Dame, this is it. Notre Dame takes the public and explicit manifestation of its Catholic identity and the Catholic intellectual tradition. quite seriously (although clearly not perfectly!). Even if the facult as a whole isn't throroughly grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, places like Marquette need something like Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture, or Maritain Institute, or Medieval Institute, etc. .

One of the best sources of documentation of both sides of the controversy, albeit from a strongly anti-O'Brien perspective, is the blog of Political Science professor John McAdams, The Marquette Warrior. I am especially glad that Drs. Del Colle and Johnson of Theology and Drs. Ashmore and Ibáñez-Noé of Philosophy and made the statements they did.


Brian said...

Nice comments. I don't know if Notre Dame, which sold its soul to Barack Obama, is a good contrast, however.

In fact, I'd bet Marquette has more conservative professors than Notre Dame. Easily.

Robert Gotcher said...

Notre Dame is clearly showing signs of significant decay and stress as far as Catholic identity is concern. I think, though the residual capital and the current efforts to maintain and expand the Catholic identity are immensely greater than at MU, although it isn't inconsiderable even there (like it is as some Jesuit and other Catholic universities).

The specific contrast I made was an empirical one. ND has several institutional supports for the Catholic intellectual tradition. MU really doesn't.

I have very close associations with both campuses, having gone to both and having had children graduate and attend both. The difference between the two places is palpable.

I was at ND's commencement yesterday. Perhaps in response to last year's commencement, which I was also at in protest, perhaps not, but the Catholic banner was waiving high. Brian Williams, the commencement speaker, emphasized it, and the Laetare Medal recipient, Dana Gioia, emphasized it. It was altogether a wonderful celebration.

I did note, though, that the philosophy department is losing or has lost a large contingent of its most "Catholic" members in the past year. I hope they can figure out a way to turn towards the Catholic intellectual tradition to fill the shoes. I believe they may be getting a very good new faculty member in theology, if my guess is right.

Brian said...

I think, though the residual capital and the current efforts to maintain and expand the Catholic identity are immensely greater than at MU

I completely disagree. And I'm a guy who thinks I would have had a more religious experience at a Big 10 school, so I'm not exactly the biggest Marquette cheerleader.

I think you're seeing ND through rosy alum-colored glasses. I finished school less than two years ago, and I don't know anyone who regards ND as that much more Catholic than anywhere else anymore.

In terms of "intellectual supports," I really don't know what you're referring to. How Catholic can an institution be if it needs quasi-independent groups just to give a show of support for its Catholicity?

All in all, as long as ND sanctions atheists like Richard McBrien, it's hard to think of ND as more Catholic than an institution like Marquette with its Daniel Maguires and Simon Haraks.

Robert Gotcher said...

Both institutions have faculty (and administrators) whose teaching and works are inimical to the Catholic identity of the institution.

When I say "institutional support" I meant, although I didn't make clear, that there are significant scholarly institutions that contribute to the Catholic intellectual life that, though not always sponsored by the University, are allowed to be active on campus. The Jacques Maritain Center and the Medieval Institute have space in the library. The Center for Ethics and Culture has and uses space on campus for many activities throughout the year. There is nothing like these institutions at Marquette, except the Ciszek Collection and Lecture. The Catholic intellectuals at MU (most of whom I know personally) are institutionally isolated from each other.

Marquette's theology department is outstanding. The Notre Dame theology department has been significantly improved under the chairmanship of John Cavadini. The philosopher department at Notre Dame has had some of the heaviest hitters in Catholic philosophy. Marquette has a couple of excellent Catholic philosophers, but they tend to be marginalized by the rest of the department. My own major at ND, the Program of Liberal Studies, appears to have moved away from its former strong Catholic identity to a more secularized version of Great Books in the mold of St. Johns.

Catholic student life on the Notre Dame campus is much more robust and supported by campus ministry and Student Affairs than at MU, although things seem to be improving in a halting manner at MU recently. As far as I know there is no Campus Ministry sponsored Eucharistic Procession at Marquette.

There is no doubt that both institutions share the same disease. I just think that it is much more advanced at MU. You can certainly find comparable individuals and other symptoms of the illness at both (McBrien, Maguire). I think Jenkins has to this date made some significant errors in judgment, but I don't think he would have signed the contract with Dr. O'Brien. No way to tell at this point, of course.

My judgment is based on first hand knowledge of the present situation at both institutions, not any nostalgic look at my own experience there.