Sacred Heart Chapel, on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. (Image via Wikipedia)
Like many institutions of higher
education in the United States, Loyola Marymount University wrestles with
questions of religious identity. These discussionsat least as they relate to faculty
compositioncan now be better informed thanks to a recent “Faculty Climate Survey.”
Of the 392 professors who took the Faculty Climate Survey, 94 (24 percent)
indicated that they are Catholic. The percentage of Catholic professors at LMU
is well below the standard articulated by Pope St. John Paul II in Ex corde ecclesiae, “the number of non-Catholic teachers
should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is
and must remain Catholic.”
This dearth of Catholic faculty will soon
worsen, because the most senior faculty are almost all Catholic. In the
Department of Theological Studies as well as in philosophy, Catholics make up
all four of the most recent retirements as well as the two most senior faculty.
In the history department, two Jesuits recently retired as well as a religious
brother. In mathematics, four of the five most senior members are Catholic. In classics,
in the College of Business Administration, and in political science, Catholics
constitute two of the three most senior members. Simply to maintain 24 percent
would require that every retiring Catholic in the university be replaced with
Does this trend
matter? LMU has never been better academically, financially, and aesthetically.
Under the leadership of its first non-Catholic president, David Burcham
(recently replaced by Timothy Law Snyder, a Catholic), LMU strengthened its
distinctive identity by establishing the Academy of Catholic Thought and
Imagination, recruiting nine new Jesuits, and launching the Center for Catholic
Education. In these respects and others, the first non-Catholic president left
LMU more Catholic than when he became president.
Despite these laudable efforts, and many
other elements of Catholic identity I have not mentioned, if the proportion of
Catholic faculty including Jesuits continues to decline, the gradual loss of
LMU’s religious identity seems inevitable. Faculty remain the most influential
participants in higher education. Their governance shapes the core curriculum,
the contents of the syllabi, and the faculty invited on tenure track. Presidents
and deans come and go, but the tenured faculty often serve for decades. The
importance of faculty composition is noted by Father John Jenkins, the president
of the University of Notre Dame. The percentage of Catholic faculty at Notre
Dame has dropped from 80 percent to 52 percent over the last decades”if we do
nothing about this, inevitably we’re going to sink to the national average of
25 to 30 percent, and if that’s the case, it’s hard to claim you’re Catholic in
any distinctive sense.” Father Jenkins continued, “We are trying to be a Catholic
university, and wouldn’t it be silly if we said we’re trying to do that and our
teachers aren’t Catholic to any degree greater than the national average?”
Should Catholic universities only hire
Catholics? No. Catholic universities are better and richer as universities,
indeed as Catholic universities, because of non-Catholics. Indeed, in some
cases non-Catholic faculty contribute to the distinctive mission of the
university to a greater extent than do many Catholic faculty. Just as advocates
for greater diversity are not suggesting that there should be no white males
teaching on campus, so too I am not suggesting that non-Catholics should be
excluded. It is good that non-Catholics work at Catholic universities, but to
maintain a distinctive identity and mission the percentage of Catholic
professors cannot mirror secular universities.
You might compare a Catholic university
to a walnut salad. Almost all salads have lettuce and dressing and some nuts,
but what makes walnut salads distinctive is having a large number of nuts of a
particular kind. If you have a walnut salad, and you remove a single walnut,
and replace it with a bit more lettuce, it remains a walnut salad. You can
repeat this replacement a number of times and still have a walnut salad.
However, if this trend continues, eventually you will not have a walnut salad
at all. Similarly, you cannot have a Catholic university in any meaningful
sense unless there are a sufficient number of Catholics on the faculty.
“hiring for mission” maintaining Catholic identity?
Some people believe that we need not be
concerned with the religious identity of faculty because we “hire for mission.”
What really counts is not whether a person is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or
atheist, but what “contribution the candidate might be expected to make to the
university’s Catholic intellectual tradition and its distinctive mission as a Jesuit-Marymount
institution,” as LMU search committee guidelines put it.
But what does it mean to contribute to
the mission of the university? At my faculty orientation at LMU, an invited
presenter informed us “the mission means whatever you want it to mean.” I’ve
heard this interpretation of the mission often, including from the mouth of a
former dean. A mission that means anything is a mission that means nothing.
In response to a number of recent controversies about Catholic identity, a faculty committee sought to give
greater substance to what is meant by our shared mission. In their report, “Campus
Conversations on Catholic Identity,” the committee wrote,
community is comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators with
various religious beliefs, as well as those who are guided by moral values not
necessarily grounded in any religion. We view this as a valid expression of a
Catholic university taking seriously its mission to both reflect and engage the
society that is its context.
We are indeed a university composed of
people of all religious faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists. But this
pluralism does not set us apart as a Catholic university, any more than does
having a recreation center, a coed student body, or a swimming pool on campus.
If our pluralism is what makes us Catholic, then Cal State Dominguez Hills is
The Campus Conversations Report states,
community, under the direction of its leaders, needs to develop and enunciate
clearer statements that celebrate religious pluralism rather than tolerate it,
through words and gestures that demonstrate that no members of our community
are guests in their own house because of their non-Catholic status. … These
efforts can only help to supply people with the needed language that can move
them forward in articulating a Catholic identity, and healing their sense of
second class citizenship because they are not Catholicor “Catholic enough”to
engage the conversation.
The committee made these assertions in
the context of the university president, the dean of liberal arts, the chair of
philosophy, the chair of theological studies, and 76 percent of the faculty
being non-Catholic. It is hard to see how non-Catholics both hold all of these
positions and at the same time could be considered guests in their own house.
You might as well claim that white males are second-class citizens in the
United States Senate.
The Campus Conversations Report states, “People
expressed a desire for consistency and alignment of our University practices
with the social justice teachings of the Church.” The suggestion is that the
social teaching of the Catholic Church is a promising locus of agreement for a
pluralistic faculty that nevertheless shares a common mission.
Unfortunately, the faculty is not
consistent in its desire that the university practice the social justice
teachings of the Church. Virtually no one opposes social justice in the
abstract, but this nominal agreement evaporates immediately when the term “social
justice” is given substantial content. Catholic social justice, as understood
by the US Jesuits in “Standing
with the Unborn“
and by Pope
Francis, includes loving
and seeking equal protection of the law for all human beings, born and unborn.
By contrast, a public letter in the September 30, 2013 edition of the campus newspaper the Loyolan signed by more than 150 LMU
faculty and staff (including professors of Theological Studies) asked the
university to include elective abortion in its employee insurance coverage. A
shared vision of social justice cannot be a substantive basis on which to build
consensus at the university, since the foundation of the social justice
teachings of the Church is the inherent dignity of every single human being
regardless of age, race, disability, or birth.
Finally, the “service of faith” appears
in LMU’s mission statement, but the service of faith is virtually invisible in
the Campus Conversations Report. In the Catholic tradition, unlike traditions
inspired by Immanuel Kant, religion cannot be reduced to ethics, much less to
social justice. Indeed, the Faculty Climate Survey spoke about a “majority
secular liberal point of view” on campus. Thus, both the Faculty Climate Survey
and the Campus Conversations Report provide some evidence that hiring for
mission, as currently practiced without any system of “quality control,” does
not secure a distinctive Catholic identity for the university.
the religious identity of faculty matter?
On one view, religious belief informs,
inspires, directs, and influences teaching and scholarly work in both direct
and subtle ways. Religious belief (or lack of religious belief) shapes
antecedent attitudes about reality, God, human persons, our destiny, happiness,
what we can and cannot know, and a myriad of other matters of crucial
importance for higher education.
The opposite view, that religious belief
is a matter of indifference or, more often, a detriment to teaching and
scholarly work, is the dominant view of secular universities. If this view is
correct, then it is hard to see the point of having a Catholic university at
all, just as we don’t need Catholic laundromats. Faith is unimportant for
hiring mechanics at Loyola Automotive, but how can it be irrelevant at Loyola
Marymount, if we are really dedicated to “the service of faith”?
Many professors argue in favor of hiring
more women or faculty of color to serve as role models for female and minority
students. The same argument can be made about role models for believers. The
students at Catholic universities, including my own, remain largely Catholic.
When I arrived at LMU in 1998, 62 percent of the students were Catholic, and
currently about 50 percent are Catholic. Boston College has a student body
which is 70 percent Catholic, and Notre Dame has 85 percent. If it helps women
to have female professors, and minority students to have professors of color,
why is it irrelevant for Catholic students to have Catholic professors?
The faith of the faculty also makes a
difference in terms of course offerings. After the last two Jesuits left LMU’s
Department of Political Science, the course entitled “Catholic Political
Thought” was dropped from the bulletin. Loyola Law School boasts faculty
focusing on Jewish law and Islamic law, but nothing at all can be found on
their website about Natural Law. It is unusual for non-Catholics to be experts
in matters Catholic, so as the number of Catholics on the faculty declines, we
can expect the number of courses focused in whole or in part on Catholic
subjects to decline.
Many alumni donate and many parents pay
tuition for Catholic universities because they want students to receive a
distinctive form of education. Are their expectations being met? As the New York Times reported of LMU, “Students said there
were few reminders that they attended a Catholic university at all, aside from
the glistening white church at the center of campus or the occasional cross on
a classroom wall.”
the status quo continues, what will happen next?
As the number of Catholics on the faculty
and in the administration continues to decline university wide, faculty who
want to be at a place with a distinctive identity will leave. If they are
Catholic, they might leave for the Catholic University of America or the
University of Notre Dame. If they are Jesuit, they might leave to teach in
Africa or England, or to become principal of a Jesuit high school. If they are
Protestant, they might go to Calvin College.
As these faculty leave, the
secularization of the university will accelerate. Given that the most senior
faculty are almost all Catholic and only 24 percent of the total faculty are
Catholic, LMU has in recent years been hiring Catholics at a percentage below that of their representation in
the general US population. When qualified Jesuits or lay Catholics of faith
apply for positions, they will increasingly be rejected by hiring committees
made up by faculty with no interest in or even hostility toward the Catholic
More and more, students of faith will
feel as if they cannot publicly articulate their beliefs lest they suffer
penalties from unsympathetic professors. Non-religious students will never hear
the best case against the views that they have. Some students of faith will
transfer, suffer in silence, lose faith, or compartmentalize faith from
As a university loses its religious
identity, fundraising will be damaged. In his book Who Really Cares, Arthur C. Brooks notes that on average religious
people are more generous financially than non-religious people. As these donors
realize that what the university says
about its identity does not correspond to what the university does in faculty hiring and institutional
decision making, these benefactors will stop donating.
When my parents attended Seattle
University, Jesuit universities required all students to take a philosophy and
theology course each semester. The philosophy and theological studies core
requirements at LMU were recently reduced from two classes to one class. “Why privilege
philosophy and theology?” critics will ask. The original rationale of these
requirements (theology is helpful for salvation; philosophy is intrinsically
valuable as well as needed for theology) will increasingly lack plausibility in
the wider university community. In the next core revision, philosophy and
theology requirements will be eliminated. About the same time, the Department
of Theological Studies will also be renamed the Department of Religious Studies
to reflect the fully secular outlook of the faculty.
In order to reflect what is really
happening in the university, mission statements will have to be altered by
deleting words such as “the service of faith” and “commitment to Roman Catholicism”
from university and college mission statements. Deletion of these few lines
will have no effect on the day-to-day running of the university, as they had no
effect for years previously.
Symbolic ties will probably be the last
to be cut. Already, the change in our university logo from a depiction of
Sacred Heart Chapel to the current logo, below, is not without significance.
Our current logo contains, we are told,
subtle religious symbolism. Indeed, the symbolism is so understated as to be
completely unnoticeable to the untutored eye, a perfect icon for the future of
LMU. At some point, the crucifixes will come out of the classrooms. Sacred
Heart Chapel will need to move into greater conformity with wider university
culture. The Eucharist will be permanently removed so that the space can be
used for theatre, concerts, and yoga. The final argument about religious
identity will be about whether distinctively religious art should remain. A
compromise will be struck whereby the pieces considered offensivesuch as the
central crucifix and the statue of Maryare removed, but the stained glass windows
remain intact, a silent reminder of a long lost tradition.
could we enhance Catholic identity?
Renewal of Catholic identity is possible.
First, we need to keep track of, as we do with race and gender, the religious
identity of incoming faculty. We will then be able know whether the loss of
Catholic faculty is stabilizing or getting even worse.
Some people think it is illegal to ask
about or consider a candidate’s faith. LMU’s former president and
constitutional lawyer David Burcham disagrees. We can, like Pepperdine
University, in our
advertisements for faculty reserve “the right to seek, hire, and promote
persons who support the goals and mission of the institution, including the
right to prefer co-religionists who are active members.” If we are serious
about the service of faith, it is time to lift the self-imposed ban on such
Incoming faculty candidates, prior to on-campus
visits, can be invited to respond to the mission statement of the university in
writing as well as at length in their interviews. At this stage, candidates of
whatever religion who do not manifest strong
support of the university’s distinctive religious mission and identity can be
rejected. In order to say “yes” to a distinctive identity, hiring committees
and university administrators must say “no” to any candidate who will not
contribute to Catholic mission. In a short time, departments will learn to send
more suitable candidates. Evidence of strong advocacy for the mission can
become a necessary condition of advancement in rank and tenure.
Following the example of Notre Dame and
Boston College, the administration can create endowed chairs for several
departments that highlight the Catholic intellectual tradition, perhaps a John
Courtney Murray, SJ Chair in Political Thought, a Dante Chair in Literature, a Lonergan,
SJ Chair in Philosophy, a Copernicus Chair in Astronomy, or a Mendel Chair in
Biology. Focused hiring can seek faculty on public record as strong advocates
for the Catholicity of the university. Similar positions can be created for
younger candidates. Catholics could be treated as women and persons of color
are now treated in the hiring process. The administration can encourage
departments to lure distinguished Catholic professors from other universities.
When a Catholic professor no longer teaches at the university, special efforts
can be made to replace this person with a co-religionist. Another possibility
is to create new positions in “Catholic Studies” with the successful candidates
appointed jointly with traditional departments.
To the question, “Who counts as Catholic?”
I would answerthe way the University of Notre Dame has answeredby
self-identification. If candidates volunteer their religious identity, it is
fair to also then askas we do of other candidateshow various parts of their
background relate to teaching, research, and fit with the distinctive mission
of the university. There are Catholics for whom religious faith animates
virtually everything that they do, and Catholics for whom faith is entirely
irrelevant to what they do. We need more Catholics of the first kind.
is that the next generation of my family will be able to attend a wide variety
of Catholic universities truly animated by “the service of faith” and an “institutional
commitment to Roman Catholicism.” Many good people in the LMU community, such
as Vice President for Mission and Identity Father Bob Caro, SJ and more than 5,000
alumni, parents, and donors voicing their concerns by signing petitions at RenewLMU.com, are working hard to make this a
is that the process of secularization will be completed within a generation.
LMU is not a parish, seminary, or convent, we sometimes hear. But the only real
risk is becoming one more of the numerous schools which have already entirely
lost their Catholic identity: Loyola College Montreal, Marymount Manhattan College, Stevenson University,
Webster University, College of Santa Fe, Daemen College, Lynn University, Manhattanville
College, Marist College, Maryville University, Mercy College, Nazareth College,
Medical College of Wisconsin, St. John Fisher College, the University of
Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the New York Medical College.
It is magical thinking to believe LMU is
immune from losing its identity. To do nothing, to continue the status quo of
religious indifferentism in hiring, is to eventually join the list of formerly
Catholic institutions. Higher education does not need one more flavor of vanilla.