Friday, March 20, 2009

The Needle's Eye

So, Barack Obama will be giving the commencement address this year at Notre Dame. And receiving an honorary degree from the school, as well (Hat tips to CMR and American Papist).

Sigh. Yawn.

Don't get me wrong: I didn't like it when President Clinton gave the ND commencement address. And giving Obama an honorary degree goes one step further down the road of academic prostitution to the zeitgeist, in a manner of speaking.

But come on. It's not like Obama's going to be speaking at, and honored by, a really Catholic university.

Oh, sure, Notre Dame still likes to throw around the "C" word, especially to potential benefactors and parents who chose prestigious expensive Catholic high schools for their children, some of whom were actually Catholic until they got old enough to scream that they didn't want to go to church anymore (leading parents to work out the usual Confirmation Accord: you go to Mass long enough to get confirmed, and then you can sleep in on Sunday mornings, and I won't bug you anymore, promise--but your grandmother would just kill me if you didn't get confirmed, or worse, cut you out of her trust fund).

And there are still small pockets of actually Catholic students at ND, persevering in the faith in spite of most of their professors and peers, and suffering the annual outbreak of The Vagina Monologues and other assorted tomfoolery; there are even a few notable Catholic professors and teachers there. Notre Dame even has a pro-life group.

But is Notre Dame really Catholic?

As of a few years ago, only 53% of the faculty were Catholic. This blog post by Mark Stricherz last year from the New Catholic Politics blog says:

McInerney identifies one source of the problem: the share of Catholic faculty has dropped from about two-thirds in 1985 to barely half today. Worse, the percentage of new Catholic faculty hired in 2004-2005 was barely more than two-fifths. The founders of Project Sycamore identify two more sources of the problem: the reduction in the number of required philosophy and religious courses as well as a general aspiration to emulate top-draw secular universities.

I did not go to Notre Dame, though one of my younger sisters did. Yet I wonder if Dr. McInerney and Project Sycamore’s founders overlook another source of the problem: exorbitant student tuition fees (the cost is $44 grand a year) and a lack of financial aid. While I take the point that 85 percent of the students at Notre Dame are Catholic, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of those come from the top one-third or one-half of Catholic America. The pool of pious but poor or working-class Catholics who can afford to attend Notre Dame has likely shrunk drastically. As recently as 30 years ago, the son or daughter of a union member could afford to send his kids to Notre Dame. I am told that this still occurs but much less frequently.

Under Mr. Stricherz's post, a self-identified ND student writes (spelling and grammar in the original):
I am currently a student at notre dame, and let me tell you - You dudes have no clue what you are talking about. Most people like to ignore the fact that students here by and large feel oppressed and suffocated by the catholic rules that we are forced to live by, and the fact that the way we live are lives are dictated by a religion that many of us dont believe in is pretty sad. Once Notre Dame was a place where people loved to live, nowadays students cant wait to move off campus - in fact it is a standing rule that freshman arent allowed to move off or have their own car, because if they did they would get the heck out. The vagina monologues go on every year, and so do all the othe r”offensive” and “pornographic” events. The university is a place of learning and expression, not the achive of backwards superstitions and religious right. Dont even get me started about pareitals - the vast majority of students HATE it, except for the deeply religious sycophants of the administration. Im GLAD that the school doesnt discriminate based on religion. I would rather have the best professor than one that isnt good but was hired just because he worships the same god as the people who do the hiring. Its also sad that the school refuses to agree not to discriminate against homosexuals and silences those who are.
Doesn't look like $44,000 a year gets you much in the way of well-prepared students, at least as regards English composition, does it?

The kind of Catholic who populates schools like Notre Dame is likely to be the kind of Catholic cut from the same cloth as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, John Kerry, and the like, along with their enablers of the Kmiec variety. They are the country-club Catholic Democrats, who believe in promoting peace 'n justice, but would rather not talk about abortion. They craft elaborate arguments about pluralism to justify their support for gay marriage--or at least gay civil unions; it's just the word marriage that gets the Church upset.

The kind of Catholic who sends his children to Notre Dame would be more likely to be uncomfortable in the presence of a George W. Bush (who talks about religion as if he means it) than Barack Obama (who has the good taste not to talk about it at all). This kind of Catholic is just fine hearing a Biden or a Kerry talk about those cute cultural clubby churchy things like altar service or Ash Wednesday, but they'd rather not be reminded of actual Church teaching, especially in the realm of sexual morality (do you think most people who eschew contraception could afford the $44K per child tuition price ND charges)?

As it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it's only fair that rich Catholics should have a fairly easy time getting in to Notre Dame. But in an environment where money, power, and prestige mean much, much more than authentic Catholicism, it's pretty easy for Barack Obama to be welcomed there as well, as a more-palatable twenty-first century messiah, who will set up his telepromter and say nice things about hope and change instead of ruffling any feathers or challenging anyone's consciences. That he is the Abortion President won't even be noted; caring for the right to life of the unborn is such a red-state religious right evangelical sort of thing to do, and the right sort of Catholics who understand the value of nuance and the meaning of the word "pluralism" would never be so gauche as to mention this one little speck marring Obama's otherwise shining character.


Irenaeus said...

Part of me has had my heart set on securing a job at ND, but tonight, I'm thinking, F*** it. I'll go to some obscure place that is magisterium faithful and not have to put up with any of the feminist queer BS at that place.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the local Ordinary has to say.

It will also be interesting to see if any of the students turn their backs on the baby-killer in chief. As certain students turned on Bush I, iirc, for what, I don't know.

molly said...

Once again you are much more eloquent than I. I just freaked out and slammed the school and Mr Obama.
good for you Erin!

Wizz said...

I read your blog for the first time tonight. I couldn't agree with you more. Notre Dame University is dispicable. I will be perusing your blog daily now! Thank you for the wonderful insight.

eulogos said...

Many private colleges/universities have that kind of tuition. But they usually also give good financial aide packages. Are you saying ND doesn't? Why not?
Almost all colleges, if they admit you, will meet your financial need as defined by the FAFSA and the CSS profile. A lot of the need is met by loans, and parents usually have to borrow also, or come up with more money than they thought possible. But if the formula works out that you can pay $12,000 a year, and the tuition is 24, 000, you will get 12,000 of scholarship and loan assistance. If it is 44, 000, you will get 32, 000 worth of scholarship and loan assistance. I find it hard to believe that ND doesn't do the same.
Some colleges do give merit aide on top of what the FAFSA dictates. My son at St. John's University in Queens got an extra $12,000 on top of the $12,000 in FAFSA dictated aide, (mostly loans) because he had such a good average at his community college. That leaves us paying mostly only his room and board and books. (Which is plenty. Especially when my daughter is in a school where tuition, room and board adds up to $50,000.)
I just wonder if the social class origin of the students is really the main factor here.
I feel sure there are working class CINO's and faithful Catholics in the 150,000+ a year bracket.

Susan Peterson