Catholic universities and academic freedom

Catholic universities and academic freedom

Fr Daniel Callam

Some Catholic institutions look upon Rome's insistence on oaths of loyalty as undue interference in their proper functioning. This attitude fails to honour the principle that the primary responsibility for safeguarding Catholic doctrine in a region rests with the bishop of the place; he must therefore have a say, more or less formal, in the affairs of a Catholic college in his diocese. The public profession of Catholic belief which Rome wants the bishops to receive from theology professors is a minimal requirement.

The fact is that all educational institutions have something equivalent. No one would tolerate, for example, a racist or a sexist on the staff of a provincial university, or think that such "intolerance" is an illegitimate limitation of academic freedom. Similarly, when students are suffering harm from a professorial neglect of duty - absenteeism or unprepared classes - there is a veritable breach of contract on the part of the professor which the institution corrects by firing him.

These matters are treated in the near-universal mission statements that candidates have to endorse before assuming positions in universities, Catholic or not. Such agreed-upon statements enable the institution to meet its responsibilities to its clientele. A religious university makes an additional demand upon the appointee by requiring that his service to his students, mainly in his lectures, be consonant with the nature of the institution. It is no infringement of rights to protect and assure the preservation of these goals by requiring their public endorsement.

While it is true that the confines of Catholicism are broad, they are confines nevertheless. It is therefore possible for students or lecturers to come to question or even to transgress them. As educated persons, they should recognise that to reject any one principle in as tightly knit a structure as Catholicism is to bring the entire edifice crashing down. No one is required to be a member of a Catholic intellectual institution, but if he is then he must recognise when his principles or behaviour contradict what the institution stands for. Normally, such a person would withdraw voluntarily. Integrity and simple, honest self-respect require as much. Sometimes, for a number of reasons - financial, cultural, administrative, political - a person on staff will reject Catholic principles without resigning. This real possibility shows, first, the importance of hiring candidates who honour the Catholic world view. But the practical matter remains, and the specific nature of a religious institution requires an equally practical method of handling it.

Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Callam csb, was the founding editor of 'The Canadian Catholic Review' in 1983, and served in this capacity until 1997. He now teaches at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, Texas. The above is an extract from a his article which appeared in 'The Canadian Catholic Review.'

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.