Graduations are just around the corner, and I would assume that most high school seniors heading on to college next year have already picked their schools and are now navigating the treacherous waters of financial aid forms. However, ’tis the season, and with Catholic colleges somewhat in the news at the moment (and the realization that despite my thinking of myself as recently down from college I am in fact eight years out — with my eldest daughter likely heading off to college herself in eleven years) I thought it might be an appropriate time to assess the practicalities of Catholic higher education — or more properly, of higher education for Catholics.
In our social circle, I know a number of parents who proclaim that no child of theirs shall ever go to any but one of 3-5 approved, orthodox Catholic colleges. (The contents of these lists vary slightly depending on the speaker, but Thomas Aquinas, Steubenville, Ave Maria, Christendom, University of Dallas and Benedictine are names one hears often.) I find myself less of one mind on the question, in part because my wife and I both actually went to Steubenville (class of ’01). My goal here is not to advocate one specific course as the only wise one for serious Catholics, but to lay out the advantages and disadvantages of all. I think there are basically two sets of concerns that parents have in these discussions, moral and academic. I shall begin with the moral.
On the general outlines of the Obama-honored-by-Notre-Dame fraucus, there can be little question. It’s fairly obvious that this was a bad move on the part of the Notre Dame University leadership, especially when they already had a precedent to follow in that they had not had Clinton — another pro-abortion non-Catholic president who had been a law school hot-shot — as a commencement speaker. It’s fairly obvious this will be seen, not as an opportunity for dialogue, but as the Catholic intellectual establishment endorsing Obama. It’s fairly obvious that Notre Dame will not back down at this point, and to be honest this is very much in keeping with the general tenor of Notre Dame over the last 30 years or so, so that’s hardly a surprise either. It’s generally agreed that Notre Dame is the most elite Catholic college in the US, and also generally understood that the question of whether it is its Catholicism or its elite status that is its controlling characteristic is undecided.
However, there’s a wider question at play here which is, I think, worth considering as regards what academia is and ought to be. It’s become quite common for colleges and universities to bring in commencement speakers who have been successful in the wider world: politicans, CEOs, actors, people well known for their work at non-profits, etc.
I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.
I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.