Guest Commentary: Concerned Catholics at Marquette Climate Study Forum
By John Hardon
POSTED BY JOHN MCADAMS
Marquette Warrior @ mu-warrior.blogspot.com
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2015
Last September I was surprised but gratified to see that the Marquette Climate Survey Final Report included concerns expressed by “conservative” or traditional Catholic faculty, staff and students about the state and direction of Marquette’s Catholic identity.
Then, in November, Drs. Lovell, Myers and Welburn sent an email to all Marquette faculty, staff and students inviting us to organize forums among our like-minded colleagues. Each forum would work with the university’s Climate Study Working Group (CSWG) to define three action items they recommend Marquette administration pursue in order to improve the climate on campus. I saw a few articles in the Marquette Tribune about some of these groups (here and here) and thought we could form one for traditional Catholics. I emailed some colleagues who I knew shared my concerns, they shared it with others they knew and soon we had a large group of faculty and staff very eager to participate. We reached out to student groups as well like Students for Life, The St. Robert Bellarmine Society and the Adoration Guardians but received no response.
Dr. Welburn was very supportive of the effort, and with his help we secured a meeting date of December 2. We had about 20 faculty and staff attend the meeting which, I’m told, was one of the largest among these special-constituency climate study forums.
Our discussion was open and frank. The most urgent issue concerned academic freedom and how the articulation of Catholic teaching, inside and outside of the classroom, particularly on issues of sexuality, is increasingly met with disapproval and even hostility. Most alarming is the fact that enhanced federal Title IX guidelines put the weight of federal law behind this disapproval. As one faculty member expressed,
“I have been intimidated by an explicit campus climate and Title IX training that seems to forbid me, on pain of discipline up to and including termination, from so much as presenting the teaching of the Catholic Church and the historic Orthodox Catholic tradition.”
Student intimidation was another area we discussed. Faculty revealed that when subject matter perceived as controversial is addressed in class, students are increasingly self-censoring in order to avoid accusations of harassment and discrimination by other students, the administration and now – because of Title IX – potentially the government. Stories were shared of traditional Catholic student groups that feel the need to meet and pray in secret and students being subjected to teachers who openly mock Catholic teaching (i.e. the virginity of the Blessed Mother) in the classroom. A teacher recalled how a presentation given a few years ago by retired theology professor Dr. Pat Carey called “Is Marquette Still Catholic?” was punctuated by the comment of a student in the question and answer portion of the talk when she said, “I’m afraid to affirm my Catholicism.” Also discussed was the lack of authentically Catholic formation opportunities for students amidst a plethora of formal and informal formation opportunities in secular, non-Catholic and anti-Catholic ideologies on and off campus.
Lastly, we discussed the lack of outward signs of Catholic identity on campus and in Marquette’s marketing. It was noted that ambiguous terms like “social justice” and “Ignatian spirituality” are increasingly used in place of “Catholic” to describe Marquette’s brand of education. A participant from the college of nursing revealed that “Catholic” was stripped from that college’s dean search criteria. Many agreed the idea of “hiring for mission” seems to have been rendered meaningless and is of no real consequence. University Advancement representatives told us that more and more donors and potential donors are challenging fundraisers as to what distinguishes Marquette from secular, less expensive, colleges and universities.
After our discussion we formulated our thoughts into three action items which we submitted to the CSWG.
Marquette senior leadership should specifically, formally and publicly state that its commitment to the protection of academic freedom includes the articulation and promotion of Catholic doctrine (as understood by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church) by faculty, students and staff, and that such speech or action will not be subject to penalties or retribution under Title IX or any other speech and/or harassment policies of the university, formal or informal.
Marquette should increase awareness of, and engagement in our Catholic tradition and identity through objective, tangible actions including:
Meaningful and prominent inclusion of the term “Catholic” in our branding (i.e. print materials, television and radio commercials, etc.) and strategic plan.
Expansion of the strategic plan to include demonstrable affirmation of and commitment to strengthening the university’s Catholic identity
Proactive implementation of a quantifiable process (see The Application For Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States, Part Two, Article 4) for “hiring for mission” that is applied to all levels of the university – from the Board of Directors to staff members.
A demonstrable and serious commitment to authentic Catholic identity by the Board of Trustees and university leadership
The implementation of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary Catholic Studies program (proposal in progress).
Implementation of a Catholic climate survey among faculty, students, staff, alumni and, in particular, parents.
An increase in physical manifestations and visibility of Catholic identity around campus:
Crucifixes (not just crosses) in classrooms
Statue of the Blessed Mother in a prominent location on campus
Nativity crèche in more places than just in front of Joan of Arc (i.e., inside or outside AMU)
Advent wreath candle lighting observance
Lenten observance of Stations of the Cross conducted across campus
Offering a weekly rosary service in Joan of Arc
Posting liturgical season banners in AMU public areas
Featuring excerpts from previous Sunday’s Gospel on closed-circuit monitors across campus
Better promotion of existing (and new) liturgical offerings: Rosaries, Adoration etc.
As a Catholic and Jesuit university, Marquette must at least offer to students clear and distinctly Catholic alternatives to the abundance of secular formation opportunities that are available on and off campus. Specifically we should:
Actively encourage and promote student groups that engage in specifically Catholic activities.
Students for Life
Make clearly available and accessible to students courses, retreats, devotions, and activities that are distinctly and authentically Catholic.
Programs could include Theology of the Body courses or lectures; courses on Catholic Marriage, Family and Human Sexuality; starting a chapter of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; supporting a Milwaukee chapter of Courage and Encourage (Catholic counseling for students with same sex attractions) etc.
Believing there may be others in the campus community – particularly students – who would be heartened to know such a forum took place, I contacted the Marquette Tribune and asked if they would like to write a piece about our forum as they have about others. After two attempts with no response, however, it appears they have no interest.
We sincerely hope and pray that Marquette administration will recognize the seriousness of the issues this forum has raised and take measures to address them. There are many who are ready and able to assist them in any way we can.