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viewpoint

Crossroads’ cross-country impact

| Thursday, February 27, 2014

When the University of Notre Dame announced its intention to attach state-of-the-art academic buildings and a student-life center designed with an exterior skin inspired by its tradition-rich campus to the bare concrete and brick exterior of its iconic football stadium, hundreds of newspapers and other media outlets described it as a bold solution for a university looking to integrate uses and to build without the sprawl that has turned other pedestrian-friendly places into ones where cars were king. Some accounts included the fact that the Campus Crossroads Project included rehearsal space for the Sacred Music at Notre Dame program, whose leadership includes the field’s top scholars, lured from Yale and Princeton to Our Lady’s University. For the most part, however, the accounts were mainly brick-and-mortar stories.

One exception was a remarkable piece by Matt Emerson, a 2008 alumnus of Notre Dame Law School and a teacher and administrator at Xavier College Preparatory, who writes “The Ignatian Educator” blog for the Jesuit magazine “America.” In his Feb. 3 article, “Lessons from Crossroads Project at Notre Dame,” Emerson acknowledged a predictable reaction but then stepped back to appreciate something much larger than Crossroads or even Notre Dame itself.

“When I first heard of the University’s intentions, my first reaction was similar to many others, a reflexive ‘wow’ at the magnificence of the project and a marveling at the cost,” Emerson wrote. “But it would be a mistake to see the Campus Crossroads Project as a mere expansion, as simply another sign of progress at a leading school. In implementing the Crossroads Project, Notre Dame is making a dramatic statement about the nature and future of education.”

To understand why, Emerson wrote, “one has to understand the landscape of modern education. An array of voices and forces are destabilizing the traditional university model, the model that has sustained Western culture for hundreds of years. This model features a centralized campus uniting academic departments, athletic programs and all the activities, offices and services that coalesce into a teeming community. It has evolved, today, into the model of large quads, dorm life and the frenzied game days of college sports. It’s the ‘total immersion’ model, whereby the learner fully situates him or herself in an educational community.”

Emerson said the model still defines American college life but that, in recent years, “the Hubble-like reach of the Internet has reconfigured the status quo,” with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses enabling “people from around the world to access lectures and coursework formerly offered only on a specific campus, often at a prohibitive cost.”

Then Emerson poses a worrisome question: “If you can take Introduction to Psychology online for free, why sit in a 100-person lecture hall where the professor doesn’t know your name?” He quotes Nathan Harden in the January-February 2013 issue of “The American Interest” in saying that “The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs…”

So, with Crossroads, is Notre Dame boldly going where angels fear to tread? Or are we visionaries, as Emerson suggests? He writes: “Into this milieu, into the winds of this pessimism, comes the bold vision of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is one of the country’s most important Catholic schools. Notre Dame’s decisions influence not only other Catholic colleges, but high schools and primary schools. People look to Notre Dame for what Catholic education is and what it should be. What are some lessons, what are some insights, from Notre Dame’s Crossroads Project?

“1) Notre Dame’s Crossroads Project expresses total confidence in the viability of the residential college system; not necessarily in all residential college systems, but at least in the residential system that Notre Dame offers. Though online learning venues will continue to grow, Notre Dame is not abandoning the merits of being on campus. University officials believe that living and studying at Notre Dame delivers benefits that cannot be gained elsewhere — and that students will continue to pay for it. Notre Dame is optimistic that students will continue to seek the fellowship and edification which can only be gained in community. This doesn’t mean online alternatives have no value, but it does indicate Notre Dame’s belief that there is no substitute for an environment dedicated to a vibrant, consistent pursuit of truth, where scholars from disparate fields regularly converse with one another about the commonalties of their endeavors.

“2) The Campus Crossroads Project expresses the classic Catholic belief in the unity of knowledge. … Notre Dame Stadium will no longer stand in isolation as a cathedral of competition, as something apart from or better than the rest of the University. The football stadium will now be connected to Notre Dame’s Sacred Music program, which will be connected to the psychology and anthropology departments. Notre Dame is making a statement that all of these fields of study relate. … Connecting athletics, academics and spirituality signals to a visitor that Notre Dame football is set against a broader horizon of activity and meaning. Athletics, in other words, is one of many pursuits through which the human being realizes the dignity of his or her creation.”

Emerson doesn’t suggest that Notre Dame is alone in advancing the belief in the unity of knowledge, but, he says, “it’s really heartening to see an institution as well-known as Notre Dame undertake such a prominent, innovative move in service of an on-campus education and the unity of the human experience.“

Matt Emerson is, in fact, an Ignatian educator, who made these observations from afar, in Palm Desert, Calif., where he teaches and is director of admissions and advancement at Xavier. He found a calling in service to Catholic education to be apparently more spiritually-enriching than the commercial litigation he formerly practiced. One would think, however, he had spent hundreds of hours in the meetings of Notre Dame faculty, architects and others whose vision and aspirations he captured better than anyone who has written on the subject to date. Emerson thinks big, and he understands those at Notre Dame who think big, too.

Paul Browne is the vice president for public affairs and communications.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Callahan

    Caveat Emptor my friends .When Paul Browne speaks you are wise to stay very alert .This man is from the Obama school of ethics . I would give his statements here five” Pinnochios ” and be at least considered for the ” lie of the year award ” .

    Here are the facts . There is a huge pushback on this project from the Notre Dame Alumni . This project has at it’s core the goal of pleasing the radical left wing non Catholic Notre Dame faculty who demand more and more office space and more perks as justification for their pompous claims of being a great research university . They could care less about being Catholic . ( See the faculty declaration to” not allow being Catholic to ” interfere” with being a great research university”) The admissions office ( and I have proof of this ) says they owe no duty to Catholic High Schools nor do they give any preference to recruiting Catholic students from Catholic High Schools . You can’t have it both ways Mr Browne .

    So this is about providing more office space for more ” research ” projects paid for by grants to be sure , but also by charging the parents and students ( with no regard for student debt ) more tuition to pay in part the increased overhead for all of the new office space for the office space for the ” research ” projects .
    Anyone notice how the university is de-emphasizing the ” residential ” component of the undergrad experience ? Could it be they see the internet age clearly and are trying to grab all they can while they can ?
    What bothers these people so much about the stadium ? Over the last several years you have heard a steady stream of ” not utilized ” , ” underperforming ” ,” wasted space ” ,
    ” antiquated ” , and on and on . What about the parking the students are losing pushing them further and further from campus . Wonder if we actually hired a Catholic on the faculty it might help re-focus the direction of the university back on it’s Catholic mission and away from the march to secularism . In ten years the stadium may well be converted to botanical gardens or a global warming free zone and research center .
    If only those pesky alums would stay out of the way .

    Mr Browne gives props to he writer when Browne says :

    “He found a calling in service to Catholic education to be
    apparently more spiritually-enriching than the commercial litigation he
    formerly practiced. One would think, however, he had spent hundreds of hours in
    the meetings of Notre Dame faculty, architects and others whose vision and
    aspirations he captured better than anyone who has written on the subject to
    date. Emerson thinks big, and he understands those at Notre Dame who think big,
    too.”
    I could spend weeks deciphering that statement . Suffice to say it was written by a self indulged , narcissistic , delusional, self appointed elitist , Fr. John Jenkins , with an assist from Mr Browne .

    • Joe

      ND lost its Catholic identity at the Land O’ Lakes meeting. Hopefully someday it gets it back. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  • Keb

    This reads like propaganda… full of hyperbole…gushing at the “merits” of spending $400 million on stadium renovations. Or perhaps a desperate attempt to go on damage control because this project is getting more criticism from alumni than expected? I’m strongly considering taking my yearly contribution and sending it elsewhere. When I got to the end of the piece, lo and behold, I see it’s signed by Paul Browne, vice president of public affairs and communications. This is an advertisement and press release designed to put positive spin on a bad idea.

  • Keb

    A friend sent this link to a good counterpoint: http://www.irishrover.net/?p=5006

  • Colin F.

    To Notre Dame Students and Alums (and friends of ND):

    If this (above) is the best ND’s Director of Propaganda can come up with to justify CC, then you may want to ask for a refund on that portion of your tuition that funds the Propaganda Dept. Isn’t HE paid to give us “Communications”, maybe his own (?), rather than co-opt and basically proof-text another alums odd opinion of fluffy words and incoherent messenging about CC?

    Few bullets:

    1) Brown/Emerson: “Then Emerson poses a worrisome question: “If you can take Introduction
    to Psychology online for free, why sit in a 100-person lecture hall where the professor doesn’t know your name?” And they condescendingly cite another dude: ” “The American Interest” in saying that “The future looks like this:
    Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the
    residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of
    thousands of professors will lose their jobs…”

    What’s wrong with “free”? What’s wrong with free access to college-level education to everyone? Apparently it is to the University, Our Lady’s University, that has the 10th largest endowment in the US. To counter-act “free”, you spend more and make everything more expensive! I am sure Pope Francis would agree with Brown, Jenkins, et al. Catholics need more exclusivity, rock climbing walls, and $400 million worth of sand and dirt to justify Christlike appearance.

    2) In my reading of this, Brown and Jenkins justify Campus Crossroads on the necessity of some “vision” or something that to me makes zero sense yet ,and so that Sacred Music majors can bump shoulders with Everett Golson on the way to the Rock Climbing wall or some other odd form of logic. Is that why/how Notre Dame student will come? Is the greatest Catholic University in the world afraid of humility and freedom and learning for all ? Or that Notre Dame needs to build a $400 monument to itself to ward off the evil on-line students ( which is preposterous and absurdly-outdated thinking.)

    3) Key sentence: ” University officials believe that living and studying at Notre Dame delivers
    benefits that cannot be gained elsewhere — and that students will CONTINUE TO PAY FOR IT. Notre Dame is optimistic that students will continue to seek the fellowship and edification which can only be gained in community.”

    Is that not the most confusing logic you’ve read in some time (in context) for spending $400 mil?

    “Mr Notre Dame CEO (Jenkins) , our competition has come up with some cheaper products or alternatives forms of access to some fringe forms of education. I think a good idea would be to build some rock-climbing walls, a few extra classrooms and gyms, and then RAISE the tuition. That will make us appear to me more of an elite, and CATHOLIC (per Emerson), university at the same time! No one will want attend ND, except the few we seek, because we are too EXPENSIVE. We will rid ourselves of the middle-class kid from Boston, the kid from Texas from a single parent home, the great student from south Chicago with intent of a vocation. Problem solved….. This dude Emerson told me, and it will draw even more expense and waste into the fray. We are awesome at wasting money AND making education LESS accessible to others. We just need bricks to put the donor’s name on it, and they will never know what our confusing plan is for. A genius plan right?!”

    One of ND’s donors, maybe biggest overall, from Texas, was my babysitter when I was a kid,and my single mom rented her old house on 3303 Lockmoor Ln., because of her Dad’s kindness and charity. Her little brother, was my best friend, (and the best goalie in 8-yr old soccer!) She is trying to eliminate disease all over the world. This project is not.

    I implore the University to not ask conscientious Catholics such as she and her husband, and any socially-aware donors, to waste this money, and to help needy-students first, deploy resources to where they are needed most, and not for another “brick in the wall”.

    Colin F.
    Dallas TX