University to “Align” Philosophy Major with Catholic Studies
The trustees of Newman University, a Catholic university in Kansas, have approved a plan proposed by the administration that will revise its philosophy and theology programs so that they “align strategically” with its new School of Catholic Studies.
The administration also plans to eliminate four major programs, but it is unclear at this point whether philosophy would be among them.
Also unclear is what it means for the philosophy program to “align strategically” with the School of Catholic Studies. It could primarily be an administrative and staff consolidation with only indirect effects on how philosophy is taught at the school. Or it could be an attempt to explicitly influence the content and teaching of philosophy courses in a way that furthers the aim of the School of Catholic Studies, which is to reinforce “core values” such as “Catholic Identity” and provide “students authentic and transformational opportunities to grow in their faith during their collegiate journey.” (Inquiries about this to Newman University administration have yet to be answered.)
Newman philosophy professor Christopher Fox was interviewed for a story on these changes by the school paper, The Vantage, about which he expressed concerns regarding “Newman’s ability to stay a place where knowledge is produced, and the diversity of views is supported.”
The Vantage reports: “Fox said with the realignment of his department with the school of Catholic Studies, and the university’s broader aim of reducing faculty positions, he expects that he will lose his job—in part, he said, because he has been prohibited from teaching philosophy to the seminarians. ‘They said it’s because I used bad words in class,’ he said.”
Perhaps relatedly, Newman University has faced a number of wrongful termination lawsuits over the past couple of years.
All universities presumably aim to have their programs further their stated goals and values. It’s a Catholic university. Why would it be surprising that they would want their philosophy program to be aligned with their “core values”. This doesn’t mean that they will be messing with syllabi or micromanaging to that degree. But many Catholic universities already have professors sign statements that they won’t be explicitly undermining tenets of the faith. And I don’t see any problem with this.Report
Been thinking about this. There are a number of problems:
1. Catholic identity is not a fixed item. To over-simplify, there is a debate between more conservative and more liberal interpretations. Usually, however, those speaking of making a department align with Catholic values represent the conservative side. It should come as no surprise, then, that Newman University looks like falls on the conservative side of what that means..
2. The rhetoric of “strategic alignment” originates from the business world (decades ago) and was used by upper management to merge business departments, lay people off, and export jobs. This kind of language is now being used by University administration and every professor should fear its long term impact.
3. Departments are supposed to be self-governing bodies — regardless of the institution’s religious affiliation. Looks like Newman administrators believe otherwise. That also bodes ill.
This list is just off the top of my head. I’m sure others could contribute more.Report
I’ll be honest, I don’t see how any of this:
> Or it could be an attempt to explicitly influence the content and teaching of philosophy courses in a way that furthers the aim of the School of Catholic Studies, which is to reinforce “core values” such as “Catholic Identity” and provide “students authentic and transformational opportunities to grow in their faith during their collegiate journey.”
differs in principle from what other Catholic institutions already do. I don’t necessarily mean this as criticism. It’s simply a fact that Catholic institutions (up to and including places like Notre Dame) require philosophy departments to invest a certain amount of energy and content on the Catholic tradition. (And the trade-off to these sorts of restrictions is that Catholic institutions usually carry larger philosophy departments than their non-religious peers.)Report
‘“They said it’s because I used bad words in class,” he said.’
This Catholic school must be run by puritans. Next we’ll find there’s no drinking or smoking allowed, for fear of offending the seminarians … this sounds like a very weird, not-at-all-Catholic culture.Report
Better not let those seminarians read Dante or Chaucer!Report
Theo and at a different Catholic college’s comments completely miss the point. It’s not the stated goal of Newman that’s objectionable so much as how they’re going about accomplishing it. If a college only wants to hire philosophers that align with its religious identity that’s one thing. Many of us have had to put our religious affiliation on job applications with Catholic schools and/or had job interviews with Catholic schools where they try to suss out how well we fit with what they take their Catholic identity to be (as Prof_at_Catholic_school points out “Catholic identity means different things to different folks.) And that’s all fine. Back when I was on the market I was certainly disappointed that a conservative Catholic school wasn’t going to hire a moderately liberal Presbyterian like myself but in the end that probably wouldn’t work out well for any of us. And these schools are open about what they’re doing and the students who go there pick them for a reason.
It’s an entirely different thing to try to fire professors a college has already hired because they don’t fit with some very vague definition of “Catholic identity” or whatever identity that the college has never laid out. That’s a recipe for professors living, teaching, and writing in fear lest they transgress against this unwritten code. In fact, this is far worse than making would be professors sign some statement of faith and conduct and then firing them if they transgress against it. At least in that case one knows what the deal, whether one can do as asked, and what to to keep one’s job. Hopefully anyone who felt that an imposition wouldn’t take the job. And the public would know what was going on. This is a huge threat to academic freedom given the culture of fear it threatens to create.Report