Skip to comments.What makes a university ‘great’?
Posted on 06/22/2005 1:40:14 PM PDT by A.A. Cunningham
What makes a university great? By George Weigel
Milwaukees Marquette University has been in a bit of a flap.
Marquettes athletic teams had long been known as the Warriors. When the politically correct protested, the heirs of Jacques Marquette (the legendary 17th century Jesuit missionary honored in the Capitols Statuary Hall) caved, renaming the schools teams the Golden Eagles. That made a significant contingent of Marquette fans unhappy. They continued to cheer for their Warriors; the vice-chairman of the board even offered a million dollar gift if the old name were restored. University president Father Robert Wild, S.J., then announced a lengthy dialogue to straighten things out; predictably, the dialogue produced an anodyne nickname the Marquette Gold (as in the Harvard Crimson and the Stanford Cardinal). Im told that there were minor riots on campus. The local media were having a field day, and Father Wild finally announced yet another process: there would be a national plebiscite among interested parties, who would vote on a nickname from a list of ten names (chosen, of course, by a committee selected for its diversity).
In the midst of all this, Father Wild, evidently trying to get the conversation refocused, said this about his school: Just last week we received the largest single donation in university history with a gift of $28 million that will transform our College of Communication. For the third consecutive year, we celebrate the fact that students are applying to Marquette in record numbers. Marquette has risen in national academic rankings. The campus has undergone a physical transformation, and Marquette has enjoyed the most successful fund-raising period in its history, raising more than $300 million during the current comprehensive campaign. These are the true measures of a great university.
That would come as news to St. Ignatius Loyola, who thought that the real test of higher education was what happened to the students intellectually, socially, morally, and spiritually under Jesuit tutelage. A university that measures its greatness by application numbers and endowment rather than by the character of its graduates is a school with a decidedly secular notion of greatness.
Father Wilds measures of greatness would also have surprised his predecessors in Jesuit higher education, and not so long ago at that. In 1955, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, dean of U.S. Catholic historians, wrote an influential essay on the current state and future prospects of U.S. Catholic colleges and universities. Re-reading Msgr. Elliss essay on its fiftieth anniversary should remind us not to wax nostalgic about the state of Catholic higher education in the mid-1950s. It did some things well, and it did some things poorly.
Fixing what was broken did not require the wholesale abandonment of required courses and core curricula, however, much less the widespread rejection of character formation and spiritual direction as a function of Catholic higher education both of which took place in the late 1960s. According to the Ellis formula, improving Catholic higher education should have meant building on the traditional strengths of Catholic colleges and universities: rigorous training in the liberal arts complemented by solid personal formation (a combination recognized by thoughtful law and medical school administrators as the best preparation for demanding professional studies). Instead, too many Catholic schools began aping Harvard, Stanford, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, just when those schools were imploding, intellectually and morally.
One sad result of that forty-year long trend is intellectual: graduates of Catholic colleges and universities today often have no more idea how to put their knowledge together into a coherent and compelling worldview than do other recent graduates. Another sad outcome is the phenomenon that Loyola-Maryland professor Vigen Guroian calls the dorm brothel the college as sexual free-fire zone, which is a very bad place to learn how to love. (And if you think the dorm brothel isnt a feature of too many Catholic campuses, think again.)
And yet another sad result of misreading Father Elliss prescription is a Catholic university that measures its greatness by dollar signs and numbers of student applicants.
On this fiftieth anniversary of Msgr. Elliss critique, surely another, equally critical reflection is in order.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Weigels column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3215.
Easy..name it the "McGuires"...
I don't think the Buckeyes will ever be renamed...
There's a place for the argument about names for athletic teams. The fact the administration finds Warriors unacceptable tells us much about them, none of it surprising. But Weigel is also making a larger
At some point, good Catholics will learn that, with the exception of the handful of schools that includes Christendomn and Thomas Aquinas College, Catholic colleges and universities are frauds.