SOME of us have been asking ourselves whether on any long-range view there should be a Notre Dame, or a St. Olaf's, or an Iowa Wesleyan, or a Swarthmore. Our concern is for the particular way in which some colleges and universities are committed to religious development. No doubt all colleges, public or private, have some fairly clear commitment to values. And on most campuses there is likely to be some sort of religious worship and discussion. On certain campuses, however, the college itself stands within a faith tradition and explicitly undertakes to make religious development an eminent feature in the education it offers. We could not help asking why this ought really be so.
Financial pressures alone threaten to eliminate some church-related colleges. Those which survive fiscal extinction, however, must consider other risks to their commitment. History reminds us that Vanderbilt, Harvard, Chicago, and so many other prominent and religiously neutral schools were once confessional colleges. How inexorable is this trend towards secularization?
Numerous religious universities have made over their governance to new trustees, most of them laymen and some not members of the sponsoring communion. Other colleges may sever their church affiliation in order to qualify for the government funds they find necessary for survival.
There is much change within the schools, also. The prime guarantee of a college's religious formation has been control: control of governance, of administration, of teaching and of discipline. As this strong control recedes and gives way gradually to sponsorship rather than containment, will an explicitly religious commitment endure the wider exposure? In an environment where academic competition is accorded ultimate preference, can any privilege for religious conviction be retained? If a particular religious tradition can be understood freely and best within a context of pluralism, would a purposefully sought openness in the college population represent reform or disintegration?
Those universities and colleges which intend to face these uncertainties as stimulating challenges, rather than threats, need, first of all, an articulate self-understanding. Those who share in the work should ask how they can become more flexible yet effective, proud and explicit rather than bashful or devious about their religious commitment; more aggressive in their critique of an unquestioned American Way of Life.
It was our feeling that with the ground underfoot shifting so abruptly, many religiously committed colleges are apprehensive. They are tempted either to throw up their hands at the relentless pressures of secularization, or to impose more rigid and less effective restraints upon ever more restive students. Those to whom these alternatives are unacceptable are being forced back, step by step, without much vision of what they are backing into.
With these concerns in mind, the University of Notre Dame invited a company of distinguished men and women concerned about religiously committed higher education to spend some days together in conversation. From September 27 until October 1, 1968, they met at a lakeland lodge belonging to the University, near Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. At the close of the conference, with the strong feeling that there were some things to be said by way of encouragement and of challenge to Christian colleges and universities, they drew up and published the statement which follows.
Rev. James Burtchaell, C.S.C.
Chairman of the Conference
October 10, 1968
The University of Notre Dame
THE Christian college, if it is to survive in contemporary America, may no longer conceive itself as an enclave of orthodoxy to defend the faith of its students against the threats of the world. Rather its task is to develop a community of scholars through which Jesus Christ is witnessed to the world, by their persistent pursuit of further truth, no matter how discomfiting, by the spirit of comradeship they share among themselves, and by their resolution to offer whatever wisdom is theirs for the service of fellowman.
Precisely because of the Christian college's reverence for tradition, it can provide an excellent arena for confrontation between conventional and radical values within society and within the Church. The student tends to be actively sensitive to the needs of the present, but correspondingly uninterested in the past and its traditions. Of the latter he sees only the contemporary residue, often with justifiable distaste. The Christian teacher must not simply define or defend the past, but invite the student to stretch his experience beyond the confining limits of his own short lifetime. Honest scholarship may join a visionary faith in liberating the student, adding perspective to his restlessness, by persuading him at the sight of the past that he can make the future an improvement upon the present.
"Persistent pursuit of further truth"
Such faith and scholarship can bring innovation to the Church, too. In the past, the denominational school has been expected to produce men and women who would follow the Church. But exposure to the full Judaeo-Christian tradition, with its continual crises and disillusionments and surprising discoveries, should be a spur to reform. Colleges today should aim to educate men and women who will honestly criticize their churches and reform them in ways that will reflect not only the authentic traditions of the past, but the demands of the present, and hopes for the future.
Christian faith is no obstacle to the objectivity of academic scholarship. Indeed all men come to the college with a previously chosen complex of values. The more clearly these values and beliefs are articulated, the less likely it is that they will degenerate into unidentified and hidden prejudices, incapable of being discursively examined. It is on the Christian campus that ecumenism should most quickly come to full term. One profound tragedy the Christian college has inherited from its own past is sectarianism, that obsession which leads groups to define themselves by their stubbornly cultivated differences rather than by their congruence with Christ. The colleges must lead the way out of this. They possess broad historical perspective, strong immunities, and a diversity of generations and backgrounds. Theirs is an ideal environment for Christians of all churches to discover and embody their essential oneness. Students -- indeed, the entire academic community -- have little patience with sectarian Christianity. They sense how tiresome much of our denominational worship has become, and they should be able to create celebrations out of various traditions in which all can share. And it is in the departments of religion that a real ecumenical theology will be discovered. This does not imply abdication of principles or impoverishment of belief. It will not be achieved by negotiation or compromise. Yet, since some of the faith's most insurgent values have been kept alive in denominational formulas, reunion will come through a conjoining of various allegiances to parts of a faith that lost much clarity when it lost its wholeness. Paradoxically, ecumenism will engender a new Christianity that is much older than our present sectarian creeds.
"Comradeship shared among themselves"
If the religiously committed college professes to put its students into provocative contact with ancient wisdom, and to urge the need for brotherhood among men, then it had better find ways to create a community of friendship and understanding between faculty and students and administration at the college itself. The campus of all places should be able to bridge the generation gap. Students arrive in hope of finding some stimulating adult companionship. Yet far too few teachers make overtures of friendship. Often they surround themselves with a forbidding aloofness and formality. Students are housed in surroundings hardly conducive to the development of a genuine human community, often isolated from even a visit with the family and friends of their teachers in their homes. Administrators, too, can be understandably preoccupied with disciplinary rules to the neglect of the problem that frequently underlies disorder on campus: lack of community.
We regard it as an urgent priority for colleges which claim the name "Christian" to provide for more personal comradeship among their scholars, including the older and younger, the isolated and the accepted. When faculty are engaged, it will have to be understood that they are being invited into a more demanding -- yet more fulfilling -- task than simply classroom teaching and research. Students expect more from their professors than professional competence. They expect of them some shared vision of what is worthy of attention in their personal search for ultimate commitment. Here a remark should be made about the discouragingly narrow norms of preferment and promotion that favor scholars who produce copious yet sometimes pedantic publications. Christian colleges must be secure enough in their own commitment to untiring, honest scholarship that they can offer incentives to professors who can teach: scholars energetic in their discipline, witnesses to the priorities of Christ, and friends who are not afraid to confront students with a model of what it means to be truly educated. This is asking a great deal of any man. It is perhaps the task of any good teacher. The Christian college above all must demand it.
"Wisdom at the service of fellowman"
If a college gathers together men and women who wish to explore their shared Christian commitments, then its witness to Christ has to be more than a paper witness. When the total learning enterprise is driven forward by a compelling belief in man's need for the radical love of the crucified Christ, then it must turn this love to use in active assaults upon human misery. War, racism, poverty, ignorance, disease, hatred -- these are all so many claims upon the college's scholarly and moral resources. Students in our time display a heightened social concern that deserves both congratulation and encouragement. Yet if faculty and administration contribute only their good wishes, then the college is less than Christian. Social service, no less than scholarly study, should be a joint work of the entire collegiate community.
All this in freedom
Every college must be profoundly dedicated to the pursuit, communication, and enjoyment of all manner of truth. To be Christian it must further possess faith as a dominant force within its scholarly community. For this it needs freedom. In the face of all authority outside the academic community, the Christian college must assert its autonomy and academic freedom. On the campus itself freedom is likewise necessary and likewise delicate. This is so, not only because all members of the academic community are instinctively apprehensive of any move that might seem to intrude upon personal freedom, but because the Christian community itself has come to recognize that it has neither the responsibility nor the right to impose moral or religious values on its members, either by institutional authority, courses of indoctrination, or disciplinary strictures. Indeed, by its very nature commitment cannot be imposed at all.
EDUCATORS must have a delicate respect for each student's individual autonomy. He is emerging from a position of dependence within his family, and even if the campus should provide him with an intimate community, it must also invite him to become himself, to find his own way, to withdraw into quiet, to let his own talents flourish. For one cannot fully or responsibly participate in, and contribute to a community until he has found himself and achieved his own individuality. The developmental tasks when completed bring one from a state of dependence through one of independence into a full and satisfying sense of one's interdependence in community. This growth into personal individuality will at times seem impetuous to the student's elders. But Christians, who believe that in the end all men must stand alone before judgment, should be particularly anxious that men be encouraged to grow to the full. Faith brings hope, and hope is our mood. The turbulence of our time will be but the birth pains of a new culture, if the conflict is creative. Given boldness, imagination, and courage, the Christian colleges can use their heritage and resources to fulfill radically new responsibilities in this time of new creation.
SIGNED BY THE CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS:
Rev. Daniel Boland, C.S.C.|
Staff Member: Counseling Center
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Francis L. Broderick
Rev. James Burtchaell, C.S.C.
Miss Priscilla Cogan
Dr. Francis C. Gamelin
Rev. William Paul Haas, O.P.
Dr. Robert Hassenger
Dr. David R. Hauser
Dr. Henry L. Isaksen
Sister Patricia Jean Manion
Dr. Sheridan P. McCabe|
Director: Counseling Center
University of Notre Dame
Rev. Neil McCluskey, S.J.
Rev. Frank McQuilkin, O.Praem.
Dr. Bruce Meador
Mrs. Nancy Ortloff
Mr. Calvin Pierson
Mr. Stephen Ponto
Dr. Robert Rankin
Rev. Bruce Ritter, O.F.M. Conv.
Dr. Timothy L. Smith
Rev. Michael P. Walsh, S.J.