Land O’Lakes 50 Years Later: How the Statement Affected Academia

Land O’Lakes 50 Years Later: How the Statement Affected Academia

Stephen Beale
7/17/17

It was meant to modernize universities and carry out the vision of the Second Vatican Council, but the “Land O’Lakes Statement,” released 50 years ago July 23, has instead contributed to a range of unintended consequences, including a loss of their distinctive identity for many of the top institutions of Catholic higher education.

“On the one hand, in many respects, Catholic universities are better than ever in terms of financial resources, scholarly productivity and the beauty of campuses. On the other hand, Catholic identity in terms of faculty, students and commitment to the liberal arts continues to weaken,” said Christopher Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University.

The often-criticized statement was formulated during a period when many Catholic academics were bridling against the conception that Catholic universities must serve as beacons of fidelity.

They argued that this commitment to Catholic identity compromised their academic freedom and injured the capacity of Catholic institutions to compete with their secular counterparts.

So in 1967, a sampling of college presidents and other leaders in Catholic higher education assembled at a retreat center in the town of Land O’Lakes in northern Wisconsin. Their mission: to apply their understanding of the principles of the Second Vatican Council — in particular, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes — to Catholic universities in the United States.

The gathering, which was hosted by Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, was part of a series of regional meetings in advance of a summit of the International Federation of Catholic Universities the following year.

Father Hesburgh invited representatives from only six U.S. Catholic universities: Boston College, The Catholic University of America, Fordham, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Saint Louis. Four other non-American universities also sent representatives, but the large majority of U.S. Catholic colleges were excluded from the discussion.

The outcome was a six-page document known as the “Land O’Lakes Statement,” which critics say sparked an unintended revolution at many of the most prestigious institutions of Catholic higher education, such as Notre Dame, Georgetown and Boston College, leading to a disastrous decline in Catholic identity and mission and even outright rejection of the teaching authority of the Church.

The 26 signers of the statement included Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, who was a member of CUA’s board of trustees, and Bishop John Daugherty, who participated as the chairman of the Episcopal Committee for Catholic Higher Education. Father Theodore McCarrick, who was then president of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico and who later became the cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C., also signed the document.

Freedom to Dissent

The opening paragraph of the statement — which was formally titled “Land O’Lakes Statement: The Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University” — articulates the document’s central objective. “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself,” the statement declared.

The statement’s spirit was on prominent display by the following year, when several U.S. theologians took a lead role in dissenting publicly against Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical affirming the Church’s teaching regarding the immorality of artificial contraception.

Jesuit Father Charles Curran — who had been dismissed from CUA’s theology department in April 1967 for advocating dissenting views on contraception and then rehired shortly afterward following protests that his dismissal contravened the tenets of academic freedom — was in the forefront of this theological dissent.

In subsequent decades, public actions similarly challenging or contradicting Church teachings, particularly in the area of sexuality and the sanctity of human life, became commonplace on many Catholic campuses.

Among the most egregious examples in recent years have been annual performances of the pornographic play The Vagina Monologues and high-profile events providing platforms for abortion advocates like the April 2016 speech at Georgetown by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

Other adverse consequences, according to critics, include a steep decline in the percentage of Catholic faculty at many colleges; the adoption of secular models of curricula; the reassignment of authority over many colleges from Catholic entities to independent boards of trustees; and the removal of crucifixes and other Catholic symbols from classrooms and other campus spaces. (See page one commentary by Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly.)

Speaking to the Register in February 2008, the late Cardinal Francis George discussed the effects of the statement.

“The sense of academic freedom that came in with the ‘Land O’Lakes Statement’ is just like the sense of academic freedom in the secular universities,” he said. “Namely, it’s a way to protect the independence and the autonomy of an individual professor, not as a way formally to protect the search for truth, as it is in the Catholic understanding of freedom: Freedom is for the purpose of discovering truth, not just to protect somebody’s privileged position.

“So those are tensions that are ongoing that haven’t been resolved, and I’m not sure we have the means to see our way out of those problems now.”

Unintended Impact?

But the impact, critics say, was largely unforeseen and unintended.

“A movement was unleashed by Land O’Lakes. It was an unintended movement, and that unintended movement has really borne fruit in terms of increasing secularization,” said Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, the former president of Gonzaga University and current president of the Magis Center, a California think tank that seeks “to provide a comprehensive and rational response to today’s secular myths.”

The statement’s priorities reflected a belief that the foundational principles of Catholic colleges should be largely the same as for secular universities; according to the statement, “institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.”

“So essentially what they are saying is university first; then you add on the Catholic dimension,” said Holy Cross Father Bill Miscamble, a historian at Notre Dame.

“My critique would be … that [regarding the words in the phrase] the ‘Catholic university’ — one informs the other. They’re sort of integral. You don’t separate out ‘Catholic’ from ‘university’ or say ‘university’ first, then we’ll add on ‘Catholic.’ No, ‘Catholic university’ helps define the kind of university you are.”

Catholic educators still wanted a Catholic presence on their college campuses — the statement asserts that Catholicism must be “perceptibly present and effectively operative.”

But Land O’Lakes adherents saddled theology departments — themselves in the midst of transformation and turmoil — with the task of carrying this out, according to Father Miscamble.

“In throwing the burden on theology, they gave little serious attention to fashioning a curriculum appropriate for a modern Catholic university, and they gave almost no consideration to the task of recruiting capable and committed faculty to teach in it,” he said.

The result, said Father Miscamble, is “a fraying of Catholic mission and identity at many Catholic universities.”

Problematic Reforms

The universities’ slide away from their solid Catholic identity is not only a case of neglect, however. Many of the reforms implemented as a result of Land O’Lakes are also deeply problematic, according to Father Spitzer.

One was a move to separate Catholic institutions from the religious communities that had founded and run them and put the governance of colleges in the hands of lay boards of trustees who were more interested in fundraising, competitiveness and how to manage a large organization than how to preserve Catholic identity, Father Spitzer said.

Some universities, however, formed boards of members from the religious orders that sponsored them. While trustees focused on more secular matters, the board members focused on Catholic mission. Those universities, he said, fared much better in the long run than those that only had lay trustees, according to Father Spitzer.

Independence from the Church was supposed to bring two things, according to Father Spitzer: One was additional funding — the farther away from the Church, the easier it is to get funding from the state and other secular sources.

The second purported benefit was academic prestige. “Once you let that out the door … how long do you have to wait before it starts taking over, almost like a cancer, where it becomes more important than the actual Catholic mission of the university?” Father Spitzer said.

Another troubling reform was academic freedom, which was interpreted far beyond what Land O’Lakes envisioned.

Father Spitzer said there is a difference between hosting a debate on atheism and having to hire an atheist to teach. The latter situation is an example of how academic freedom has, according to the Jesuit priest, gone “hog wild.”

“Theology courses became theological studies or religious studies courses taught no longer by a believing Catholic and focusing primarily on figures such Augustine and Aquinas. Instead, courses might be taught by an atheist about Hinduism,” Kaczor said.

As a result, the traditional vision of a Catholic university, in which individual disciplines were integrated into an overarching vision of the human person, his or her place in the world and the relationship to God faded away. “This idea of integration is not only pooh-poohed; it’s almost viewed as naïve,” Father Spitzer said.

Defending Land O’Lakes

But Land O’Lakes has its defenders. One is David O’Brien, a retired historian at the College of the Holy Cross. He says it’s important to not overlook the many real benefits of Land O’Lakes.

“Look at all those schools: their great work, the devotion of the alumni and friends, the spirit on their campuses,” O’Brien said.

“Do I wish they made a greater contribution to the life and work of our Church? Of course! But the shortcomings are on both sides, and Catholics, not just bishops, ought to think about that,” O’Brien added.

He also suggested that the rampant secularization on many Catholic college campuses today may not be the result of Land O’Lakes as much as the product of broader cultural and societal trends in the 1960s.

“I would want to look at the word ‘secularization’ and try to locate the discussion in the wider context of U.S. Catholic history — much of what one would say about the 50-year movement of Notre Dame and Holy Cross could be said about many, if not most, laypeople of my generation and since — less intimately linked to formal ‘church’; boundaries between us and others more permeable; loyalties more shared,” O’Brien said.

Father Spitzer doesn’t dispute that broader trends were a factor — in particular, he notes a real dissent movement in higher education that took shape from the 1940s to the 1960s and was led by figures such as Catholic University of America historian John Tracy Ellis.

But it was Land O’Lakes that empowered and unleashed such latent forces, according to Father Spitzer.

Faithful Alternatives

Rather than Land O’Lakes, Father Spitzer and Father Miscamble say Catholic universities should adopt the principles of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on higher education, which appeared more than two decades later, in 1990. Ex Corde Ecclesiae better defines what a Catholic university should be, in particular stipulating that a majority of faculty should be faithful Catholics, Father Miscamble said.

While larger legacy institutions — Boston College, Georgetown and Fordham are often mentioned — declined in terms of their Catholic identity and mission, other smaller Catholic colleges have sprung up that embody John Paul II’s vision for Catholic higher education. (Editor’s note: A profile of colleges who share this approach will be the focus of an article in the Register’s next issue.)

One is Christendom College, which was founded in Front Royal, Virginia, 40 years ago.

“We’ve continued to do what Catholic higher education was created to do. We have not waned from that. We have not run from it,” said Tom McFadden, the vice president for enrollment and marketing at Christendom.

As at many of the colleges that have rejected the Land O’Lakes approach, the contrast between Christendom and many of the older schools’ campuses is striking. Male students wear slacks and ties and female students wear dresses and skirts/dress pants to class, Mass and lunch. There are separate men’s and women’s dorms, and coed visitation is not allowed. The school has an 86-hour core curriculum, and its professors all take an oath of obedience to the magisterium.

Christendom has eschewed the attitude of academic freedom that says “We want to teach whatever we want to; we don’t want Holy Mother Church telling us what to do,” McFadden said.

“Holy Mother Church, as we believe as Catholics, has the truth … and for a college to say we don’t want to have to teach the truth, that’s a problem.”

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2 comments on “Land O’Lakes 50 Years Later: How the Statement Affected Academia

  1. Response to Land O’Lakes: ‘It’s Fidelity’

    Crop of faithful colleges thrive in wake of document.

    Stephen Beale
    7/17/17

    This month is the 50th anniversary of a turning point in Catholic higher education: the signing of the “Land O’Lakes Statement,” which unleashed a tide of secularization among those universities that accepted its principles but also spurred a countercurrent of renewal and revitalization among those that avoided its pitfalls.

    The “Land O’Lakes Statement” stressed academic freedom and institutional independence over the authority of the Church. “Put simply, Land O’Lakes was a prideful attempt to separate Catholic education from the obligation to be faithfully Catholic,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a watchdog in Catholic higher education that produces a guide to faithful schools, akin to the Register’s own annual “Catholic Identity College Guide.”

    Since the 1967 statement, Catholic identity at schools like Georgetown University, Boston College and Fordham University has faded. Those that remain faithful today include both older schools such as Franciscan University of Steubenville and The Catholic University of America as well as a number of smaller colleges that were founded in response to the decline of so many of the older ones.

    “The ‘Land O’Lakes Statement’ reflected the tenor of the late 1960s: a deep suspicion of the hierarchy and a desire for lay-directed institutions. But, ironically, many of the most faithful colleges that were later established in opposition to Land O’Lakes are lay-run: Thomas Aquinas College, Christendom College, Northeast Catholic College, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, Ave Maria University, John Paul the Great Catholic University, and Wyoming Catholic College,” Reilly said.

    A common key to remaining faithful for both older and newer schools is hiring faculty who are not merely baptized Catholics, but who are also committed to their faith, letting it shine through their lives and their work.

    “We have intended, in hiring faculty, to [fulfill our commitment to] attracting and hiring people who are committed to building a vibrant Catholic intellectual life in the various disciplines at the university — not just in philosophy and theology and canon law, but in arts and sciences, in music, in architecture, in law, and business and so on,” said John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America.

    At Thomas Aquinas College, understanding its distinctive mission statement is a prerequisite for prospective teachers, said President Michael McLean. Likewise, at Franciscan University, the vice president of pastoral care and evangelization reviews faculty applicants to ensure their adherence to the school’s mission statement, according to Franciscan Father Sean Sheridan, the college’s president.

    The idea is to attract great minds who are working on the same kinds of problems with the same set of presuppositions and same goals in mind, according to Garvey, who likens the approach to the University of Chicago economics department, which is known for its distinctive free-market emphasis.

    “It’s nothing that’s inconsistent with academic freedom or building a great university. In fact, it’s the recipe for building a great university,” Garvey said.

    Freedom and Approach

    A major fault line between faithful colleges and others is academic freedom.

    “What fundamentally sets us apart from those Catholic colleges and universities which have arguably drifted from their initial mission are really fundamentally different interpretations of the notion of academic freedom,” McLean said.

    In the wake of Land O’Lakes, many of those institutions adhered to a distorted notion of academic freedom in which it became the basis not just for exploring different opinions, but for hiring faculty. In other words, it is one thing to host a debate on atheism — it is another to actually hire an atheist in the name of academic freedom, critics say.

    Academic freedom led older schools to question the fundamental propositions of their faith, according to McLean. Thomas Aquinas College takes the opposite approach: It teaches from a standpoint of conviction, he said. But that doesn’t mean other viewpoints are excluded from the classroom. In fact, due to the school’s distinctive curriculum, which is built around classics or Great Books of the West, students are directly exposed to the arguments of figures like Hume and Nietzsche by reading their original works.

    “So it’s not a question of shielding students from that, but helping them study those things within a framework of general commitment to the conviction about the truth of the faith and using that as kind of a standpoint or a basis upon which to judge other positions and other opinions,” McLean said.

    For Garvey, academic freedom is the freedom to be Catholic — to learn not only through reason, but also through the light of faith. “To say that there are ways of knowing in addition to logic and empirical science is, I think, an expansion rather than a contraction of our work as a university,” Garvey said.

    A common denominator among these schools is their holistic approach to educating their students. “A great Catholic university isn’t just a place where we transmit information from faculty to student and churn them out with diplomas certifying that they’re good at Mandarin Chinese or mechanical engineering. We also devote a lot of attention and effort to what kind of people they become during their time here,” Garvey said.

    “The key to staying faithful is the same for a college as it is for an individual: recognizing that faith changes how we do everything — how we think, act and teach — and Catholic identity can never be divorced from its one source and summit. In a word, it’s fidelity. There’s no other secret. Those who value faithful Catholic education will find ways of supporting it,” Reilly said.

    Franciscan’s view is the same. “We’re very strong on having pastoral care and evangelization pervade everything we do — whether it’s in student life, whether it’s in athletics, whether it’s in all the various clubs that are on campus. There’s always some type of faith-based component to all of those activities,” Father Sheridan said.

    The university’s vibrant interior life, in turn, has contributed to the overall success of the school. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement was particularly instrumental in revitalizing the campus culture in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Father Sheridan, who noted that today there are a number of Catholic spiritualities represented on campus.

    The university also stands out for its alternative to traditional college fraternities and sororities: the households system, a voluntary brotherhood and sisterhood of students, each of which runs from a handful to a maximum of 50 members, who are dedicated to supporting one another in Catholic life. Each household is a community with a distinctive charism, drawn from a specific Marian devotion, a saint’s patronage, a line of Scripture, or a way of evangelization, and students have to apply to them and, if accepted, agree to participate with their fellow “household sisters or brothers” in activities that serve the mission of the community.

    The households were the idea of Father Michael Scanlan, the longtime president of Franciscan credited with steering the school through the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s. In a sense, the “story of Steubenville” is a testament to the difference a leader can make.

    But it also points to the importance of hiring like-minded school administrators and other staff who share that vision — something Father Scanlan made a point of doing, according to Father Sheridan.

    Farther Scanlan set an example for other colleges, as well, Father Sheridan said. “I think many of the institutions look to Franciscan University for that example, for that witness of how to do these things in a way that it is possible to be faith-filled: adhering to what the magisterium has [put] out, but also being a university at the same time.”

    Oversight Models

    Trustees are also critical to a school’s leadership. Here, there appear to be several different paths to success. Franciscan has a 25-member board of trustees, of whom seven must be Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Province of the Most Sacred Heart, including the president of the university and the chairman of the board.

    Catholic University has a notably different model: It is the official national university of the Church in the United States, with two separate governing boards. The board of fellows consists of every cardinal-archbishop in the United States, plus four bishops, and ensures that the university is persevering in its Catholic identity and mission. A lay board of trustees handles the day-to-day business of running the school.

    Thomas Aquinas exemplifies a third model: It is lay-founded and lay-governed. When the school was established in the early 1970s, this was practically unheard of in the United States — in general, Catholic universities were started by religious orders or sponsored by a diocese. Some had also begun as seminaries.

    Inspired by the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on the laity, Thomas Aquinas became the first of a new vanguard of small faithful colleges. “I think the first in any group is often a leader and sets an example for others about what’s possible in education,” McLean said.

    At least among the 18 schools recommended by the Newman Society, Thomas Aquinas is one of the first in time among the new contingent of schools. Others that soon followed suit were: Northeast Catholic in 1973, Christendom College in 1977, and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in 1978. (Benedictine College dates its founding to 1971, but the institution was not really new. Instead, it was a merger between two older men’s and women’s colleges, both of which were founded by religious orders.) The University of Dallas also has a religious-order background. The first graduating class was in 1960.

    Thriving and Expanding

    Colleges like Thomas Aquinas have not only persevered, but thrived. In fact, Thomas Aquinas recently announced its expansion to an East Coast campus in Massachusetts that is set to open in fall 2018.

    Their success is now sparking yet another trend: a move among those older schools to recover their identity. “The colleges we recommend in The Newman Guide have been tremendous examples to more secularized colleges,” Reilly said. “Although problems persist, we are seeing evidence of a gradual renewal of Catholic identity across Catholic higher education.”

  2. The campuses of the older Catholic colleges and universities now under anti-Catholic control must be returned to rightful Catholic authorities and there should be restitution for the theft of the property in the form of rent paid by the anti-Catholic radical faculty who have been abusing and vandalizing the property. The pre-Vatican II curriculum must also be restored and the unqualified, heretical female faculty and administrators must leave.


    While there have been admirable efforts there are no institutions which replicate the male Catholic education which existed before the modernist revolution (which took place after Land O’Lakes and Vatican II when Catholic academic life in the U.S. was emasculated by modernist revolutionaries and their anti-Catholic secret society buddies). They have to remove the anti-Catholic and anti-male Velma and Daria types leading the feminist deconstruction and emasculation of Catholic culture.

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