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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Four Prominent Catholic Professors"

One of the more telling aspects of the Statement of the Association of Ave Maria Faculty ("The Association") is the following:

Most disappointing is the conduct of the Board, which has (or had) among its members two cardinals and four prominent Catholic professors. (emphasis mine)

I choose today to bring attention to the "four prominent Catholic professors." As FUMARE has been linked on an academic blog geared towards academics, I wonder if ruminations concerning these professors are not inappropriate for the consumption of not only our readers but those academicians who choose to visit here. As a caveat, I write as a non-academic. Pardon my rustic backwardness.

Over the last two years it has befuddled me how the "four prominent Catholic professors" ("The Four") who are members of the Board of Governors have behaved throughout this controversy. It seems to me that Profs. Alvare, George, Bradley and Uhlmann should have at least some sympathy with faculty concerns and faculty issues. As professors in an academic environment, there are many issues that are of concern. One of these concerns is academic freedom. Another is institutional freedom. Sometimes the two conflict. It is not the purpose of this post to explore these issues in depth. Nevertheless, it is important to look at both of these issues to gain an understanding of the position of the Association of Ave Maria Faculty and any faculty member in any school or university. Fr. Paul Quay, S.J. has written well on this topic in his paper "Towards a Christian Understanding of Academic Freedom." (Required reading for those in the academy and Catholic lawyers on the contractual nature of professors and institutions.) Regarding academic freedom, Fr. Quay states:

No detailed or even fully general definition of AF [academic freedom] can be given because of its dependence, as we shall see shortly, on freely constituted contractual relations. But we may use, as a rough approximation, a notion of AF as a freedom of the individual teacher with respect to his university: he is not subject to controls, still less to punishment, imposed by the university or one of its parts because of what he teaches in his assigned courses or how he does so solely because of the desires of nonacademics. I think it clear that teachers in institutions of higher learning need to have a certain independence with respect to extrinsic pressures brought to bear on them by those who have inadequate competence to judge the truth of their teaching or who are motivated by concerns other than truth. For Catholics, at least, this is the independence needed by the faculty of a university to serve truth well. We are convinced, as Christians especially, of the transcendental nature of truth, i.e., that all legitimate desires, usefulness, expediency are, as all things else, best served in the long run by truth's being discovered and as widely known as possible. Without some institutionalized guarantee, nonacademic pressures such as the desires of benefactors, the commercial usefulness of results, the expediency of governments, whether civil or religious, would often exercise serious constraints on the truth's being sought or transmitted.

Words I'm sure that no professor--least of all "The Four"--would disagree with. However, how does that square with the report of the Association that,

We have also been informed that Dean Dobranski had instituted a system of monitoring our emails and computers, and student research assistants have been closely questioned about research projects of disfavored faculty members. All tenured faculty members have been removed from the Chairs of faculty committees, and such chairs are now in the control of the few faculty members whom the Dean believes to be loyal to him. Cumulatively, such intimidation and bullying has created an intolerable atmosphere of fear and contempt at our school.

Given these serious allegations, one would think that fellow academics would be concerned about the conditions at AMSL. Perhaps, meeting with the faculty to discuss whether and if these issues were and are true would have been warranted. One could hardly imagine Profesor George standing for such an atmosphere at Princeton. The fact that The Four have presided as Governors over the seeming institutional dimunition of academic freedom over the past two years is a stinging indictment of their concern for AMSL as an academic institution, not to mention their concern for the seeking of truth--which as Catholics they would seem to have an especial interest.

I suppose, though, in their positions as Governors, they focused more on the institutional freedoms of AMSL. The institutional freedoms are the right of the institution to govern itself as it chooses. Quoth Fr. Quay:

The university also has rights as a social body. These are sometimes labeled the rights of "institutional autonomy," but I prefer to speak of "institutional freedoms" (IF). In any case, the university itself has a "nature" or "identity," a set of goals and an ideal image of itself...The IF are determined by this nature or identity, i.e., by the university's goals and policies as an institution. Given these, the university has certain rights in connection with their achievement. Though these rights have their roots in man's natural right to work together with his fellows for the achievement of some common good, their civil forms are based on the legal right to "free association." Whence, the need of contracts to regulate the interplay of the two sets of rights.

In this contractual context, judgment may legitimately be passed on a faculty member's suitability for the goals and purposes of the university, particular or general, even where pressures for a judgment come primarily from the nonacademic world. Such judgment may be made by his academic peers or by the university's administration without harm to AF. Evidently, problems of justice will arise if the goals and purposes in question have not been made clear to all concerned at the contractual level...For, one is dealing with contractual relations between free men, who size each other up in terms of their own interests and ideals and, if satisfied, accept a mutual bonding. But this requires a full and up-front manifestation of the real goals and the real purposes of both parties. Both AF and IF, since flowing from and governed by free contract between this particular academic and this particular university, suffer profoundly if there is any concealing or fudging of one's academic or institutional aims.

"Full and up-front manifestation of real goals and real purposes." "Concealing or fudging one's institutional aims." Sound familiar? Did The Four, as Governors, give a "full and up-front manifestation" as they no doubt would require from their own governing boards? Were there some sub rosa agreements as to a change in the terms of the original contract without letting the other parties to the contract know? Given that invincible ignorance may exculpate one from responsibility in a particular matter, are we to believe that The Four were invincibly ignorant as to the nature or ideal of AMSL? Its goals? Given Father Quay's explicatio--of which only a portion was presented--and the standing The Four have in the Catholic world, can we say that they have an adequate Christian understanding of academia? Perhaps they shouldn't be considered all that prominent after all.

"Four Prominent Catholic Professors" on the AMSL Board of Governors: Professor Helen Alvare, Professor Robert George, Professor Gerard Bradley, and Professor Michael Uhlmann...the real failed experiment.