Today the Rubble features two books that offer serious and uniquely informed insights into Notre Dame.
Dr. Charles Rice has taught at Notre Dame Law School since 1969. His specialty is constitutional law, but he is also widely known as one of America’s foremost champions of life. Right or Wrong comprises a collection of the columns that Dr. Rice wrote the campus student newspaper over the course of forty years. This fascinating book is an invaluable contribution to history, to Notre Dame, and to the Church.
In recent years, students at Notre Dame haven’t been guaranteed a Catholic education. For many of them, Dr. Rice’s columns have offered the only presentation of the basic truths of the faith that they will ever see. The students have the right to the truth, Dr. Rice observes: so many of them lose their faith by the time they graduate, Dr. Rice believes they at least ought to know what it is that they’re rejecting.
To fill this critical vacuum, Dr. Rice often devotes his commentary to the central moral teachings of the Church, especially those contained in Humanae Vitae, the encyclical promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Humane Vitae addresses issues that stare the world in the face every day: marriage, children, illegitimacy, abortion, homosexuality – even contraception. It addresses those truths on the basis of the natural law and the divine law. Unfortunately, these days Notre Dame gets embarrassed when you talk about that stuff.
But why? After all, history has proven Pope Paul VI to be a prophet. Consider just one point: in today’s contraceptive culture, women have indeed been reduced to sex objects – unfortunately, all too often, even at Notre Dame. The saddest part is that so many are tempted to embrace this demeaning status, as long as they can be “successful.” So instead of learning from Humanae Vitae, a lot of kids are hooking up – keeping their lives free from distractions – like commitment and fertility – that might interfere with their careers.
Does that really spell “success”? Many a sane person would call it moral decadence. But today, the kids might disagree. Well, kids, as a wise monk told me long ago, the only failure is to lose your soul.
Auld Lang Syne for “Old Notre Dame”?
Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., is a prize-winning diplomatic historian whose classes are always packed. His book, For Notre Dame, recounts his efforts to return Notre Dame to its Catholic roots as a truly Catholic institution focusing on undergraduate education.
He has not chosen an easy task. As the university increasingly focuses on research, the recruiting of faculty focuses on the candidate’s ability to secure grants from foundations and, especially, federal agencies.
These priorities have resulted in a faculty that is increasingly less Catholic, and an undergraduate student body that is increasingly less important to the university’s “success” as a “premier research university.”
When my father arrived there as a young professor in 1919, the University of Notre Dame was poor in wealth, but rich in spirit. Not any more. The late Ralph McInerny, probably the most distinguished professor in the university’s history, put it succinctly when he described the “vulgar lust” with which today’s Notre Dame pursue “excellence” – prestige and money. The results are in. Today the Golden Dome reflects a campus that is rich in wealth, but impoverished in spirit.
The decision to invite Barack Obama to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the 2009 commencement brought the issue to a head. Over eighty bishops, led by South Bend’s Bishop John D’Arcy, objected to the appearance on campus of the most pro-abortion president in history.
A public letter from Father Miscamble and several of his fellow C.S.C.’s clearly stated their case:
The University pursues a dangerous course when it allows itself to decide for and by itself what part of being a Catholic institution it will choose to embrace. Although undoubtedly unintended, the University administration’s decision portends a distancing of Notre Dame from the Church which is its lifeblood and the source of its identity and real strength. Such a distancing puts at risk the true soul of Notre Dame.
What is stunning about both Father Miscamble’s account and that of Dr. Rice is their persistent and cheerful fortitude – a virtue so often lacking among both laity and clerics in these troubled times. Father Miscamble admits getting a “cold shoulder” now and then; Dr. Rice hilariously recounts how one Matt Gamber, the pathetic editor of the campus newspaper, cancelled the column after forty years because his views were not “balanced” by columns that opposed Catholic teaching.
Such are the mice that populate the post-Catholic Notre Dame.
An Irish Challenge
In an interview with the Rubble, Dr. Rice addressed an unwelcome trend.
In 1950, Notre Dame’s alumni magazine actually bragged that the university had a very meager endowment. Sure, it got lots of donations, but the University directed those funds towards the students, to keep the tuition low. All that began to change in the 1960s, when Notre Dame decided to get off the Catholic track and get on the fast track.
In 1967, Notre Dame’s president, Father Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., led dozens of Catholic university presidents in proclaiming the famous Land o’Lakes statement. Land o’Lakes was a declaration of independence for Catholic universities from the Catholic Church.
Why did the Fighting Irish fold its Catholic tent and evict the authority of the Catholic Church and its teaching from its campus and curriculum? Notre Dame made that decision because Lyndon Johnson’s explosive “Great Society” spending included for the first time mammoth federal grants for universities – as long as they weren’t religious. At the same time that Notre Dame told the Pope to stay in Rome, the fighting Irish found a new home in the halls of Congress. They placed an increasing emphasis on getting government grants.
Lots of them.
And that led to something even more perverse. As Notre Dame’s federal funding began to grow in the late 1970s, the university started lobbying Congress – in tandem with other universities– to expand vastly the population that could receive government-guaranteed student loans – thus allowing more prospective students to get federally guaranteed loans for tuition.
As Jack Kemp pointed out way back then, when you subsidize something, you get more of it. And when the government subsidized college tuition, you got more college tuition.
A lot more.
So Notre Dame’s tuition has increased at twice the rate of inflation since the 1970s. Today’s Notre Dame students can easily graduate with debts of $100,000 and more.
And that’s just undergrad.
Imagine a Notre Dame graduate who decides to go to law school at Georgetown. There she falls in love with a Boston College grad – hopefully a boy. Each of these fine young Catholics has $100,000 in undergraduate student loans to pay off.
Law school adds another hundred thousand dollars in student debt between them.
Now they decide to get married. But these days, if you read the papers, you’ll find that only one of them will get a job in the law. If they buy a house, they could be over half a million dollars in debt. Are they going to be open to life? Will they think that they can afford children at all?
Now, consider: When Father Hesburgh became president of Notre Dame in 1952, its endowment was $7 million. Today it hovers between $6 and $7 billion. Notre Dame considers itself the premier “Catholic” university.
Well, why doesn’t Notre Dame take the lead and use economic incentives to encourage the best and the brightest Catholics in the country – after all that’s who the students think they are – to be fruitful and multiply? Notre Dame has enough money to finance its own student loans, and give big discounts to kids from big families. It can even give tuition rebates to graduates who go on to have big families.
What a great step that would be in the New Evangelization!
Charity begins at home, folks. So what about it, Fighting Irish?