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Catholic faculty maintain University’s identity

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

While I was quite pleased with The Observer’s coverage of our townhall meeting this Monday, in light of Mr. Dechant’s editorial (“Questioning Quotas,” Feb. 19), there are a few further points that ought to be addressed. Mr. Dechant, after considering the rationale behind support for mission hiring, suggests that “many teachers believe departments should hire based solely on academic merit,” especially as we otherwise risk sending the method that we prefer religious faith to rigorous thinking. But this glosses over two key factors to consider.

First, the administration stresses that preferential treatment for Catholics would only factor in at the end of a selection process: that, after literally dozens of applications have been sorted through, if there are two or three equally qualified candidates and one is Catholic, the religion of the applicant should be taken into consideration.

Second, and crucially, this ‘other factors’ approach is already a standard practice university- wide: we already grant preferential treatment to female and minority applicants in precisely this manner. If the faculty as a whole does indeed believe decisions should be made “solely” on academic merit, then it ought to be up in arms against affirmative action. (Lest I be misunderstood, I should add that I personally believe that preferential treatment ought to be given for diversity as well as for mission-fulfillment.)

There is yet another problem with the “academic merit alone” stance. It is that, as a matter of historical record, the most critical turn toward the secularization of the Ivies and dozens of other schools has precisely been when hiring of the faculty began to be done with an eye exclusively to prestige. Those who disbelieve me are encouraged to consult “The Dying of the Light,” the monumental study of this issue by former Notre Dame Provost James Tunstead Burtchaell., C.S.C. – or to contact the good people at Project Sycamore for plenty of other academic sources.

It is understandable that Mr. Dechant would assert that “the core of faith at Notre Dame does not come from the faculty, and never has.” In the day-to-day life of a student, dorm masses, Campus Ministry, and the Center for Social Concerns are much more tangibly influential than the religious affiliation of one’s chemistry or accounting professors.

Furthermore, Arts and Letters Dean Mark Roche has repeatedly and rightly stressed that every faculty member, no matter their faith or lack thereof, has the potential to contribute to our religious mission, by thoughtfully engaging the Catholic tradition. And I myself have been powerfully influenced by Professor David Solomon, director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, who exemplifies the way in which a faculty member can build up Notre Dame’s identity without being Catholic himself.

But all such caveats aside, in the long run, it is an historical fact that the meaningful adherence of a university to its religious founding depends upon the preponderant adherence of its faculty to said denomination.

In recognizing this and taking measures to promote Catholic hiring, the administration is doing no more than seeking to ensure that when we students become alumni with children of our own to send to college, the Notre Dame we re-visit will not be a pale imitation of our secular ‘aspirational peers,’ but a place where it is still the case that, as Father. Hesburgh often says, “the Church does its thinking.”

Brian Boyd


off campus

Feb. 19