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The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative-leaning foundation for educational issues, has put out a worthwhile report examining the core curricula of 100 leading colleges and universities in the U.S. The "core curriculum" in most institutions is the part of the undergraduate program that promises to provide a well-rounded education and introduce students to the essentials of learning that they need in order to be a well-educated person.

ACTA set out a list of subjects that an ideal program would include, and found that very few schools addressed the whole list. Interestingly, the state universities seemed to do a better job than the elite private colleges that charge over $30,000 per year.

For parents considering schools for their children, ACTA's summary report (PDF) is worth seeing, and the accompanying website looks useful too.

(Hat tip to Prof. Jenny Donelson, who found this mentioned in a related NYT piece by not-conservative-leaning literature prof Stanley Fish.)

In North Hampton, New Hampshire, the second grade acted out the Nativity story from the Gospels, for a Christmas pageant in 1965. Karen, poor thing, ("The Angel") looked great in her wings, and made her first entrance, but gave her second-entrance speech, causing us to leapfrog over a big chunk of the script.

There was no turning back: we were suddenly post-partum, and hands swiftly brought out the Christ Child and popped him into the manger. So the teacher shooed me (Wise Man #2) and my colleagues to go out for our number. I saw the malicious faces of a few rotten kids in the audience, but I was impervious; the song came off all right. And they should have been grateful: we got it over with at least five minutes faster than planned!

On meeting Küng and von Hildebrand

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Prof. Michael Healy (Philosophy, Steubenville) recalls two guest lectures held during his student days at Loyola: encounters with Hans Küng and Dietrich von Hildebrand that moved him to shun the era's fashionable embrace of heresy and to rejoice in the truths that can be known about man and God.

Pope to Jesuits:

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What conclusions can we draw from Pope Benedict's address to the Jesuit-run Gregorian University?

First of all, there is real conflict between the worldly culture's idea of the good and the true good of man, which is found in God:

"Today," he continued, "we cannot fail to take account of the confrontation with secular culture, which in many parts of the world tends ... not only to deny all signs of God's presence in the life of society and of individuals, but, with various means that disorient and confuse man's correct understanding, seeks to undermine his capacity to listen to God.

Theologies of religious pluralism that disregard the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the one savior of man and the uniqueness of the Church do not serve the truth:

"Nor can we ignore," he added, "relations with other religions." Such relations "are constructive only if they avoid all ambiguities that in any way weaken the essential contents of Christian faith in Christ, the only Savior of all mankind, and in the Church, a necessary sacrament for the salvation of all humanity."

The secular human sciences err and cannot be trusted uncritically when they disregard the truth about man, whose nature is directed toward love of God and love of the other, not self-seeking:

Other human sciences such as psychology, social science and communications, "precisely because they concern human beings, cannot omit a reference to God. Indeed, man, both in his interior and exterior aspects, cannot be fully understood if he is not recognized as being open to transcendence."
He continued: "Deprived of his reference to God, man cannot respond to the fundamental questions that disturb, and always will disturb, his heart; questions that concern the aim and, hence, the meaning of existence. ... Man's destiny, without reference to God, cannot but be the desolation of anguish that leads to desperation. Only with reference to God-Love, revealed in Jesus Christ, can man discover the meaning of his life, and live in hope, even while experiencing the evils that injure his personal life and the society in which he lives. Hope ensures that man does not close himself in a stagnant and sterile nihilism, but opens himself to generous commitment in the society in which he lives in order to improve it."

Pontifical universities and Jesuit universities in general are institutions with a religious mission and should be noted for their instruction in authentic Catholic doctrine:

Highlighting the fact that the integral formation of young people "is one of the traditional forms of the apostolate of Company of Jesus," the Holy Father recalled how the university's statutes and general regulations are currently being renewed, in order, he said, "to define the identity of the Gregorian University more clearly, facilitating the preparation of the most appropriate academic programs for carrying out its mission."
"As an ecclesial pontifical university, this academic institution is committed to 'sentire in Ecclesia et cum Ecclesia.' This is a commitment that arises from love for the Church, our Mother and Bride of Christ."


This isn't going to help Apopka, Florida's reputation as a place where stupidity reigns in public life: school teachers put eighth-graders through an abusive day-long demonstration of discrimination.

Apparently it's OK for teachers and administrators to subject children to unjust treatment if they're doing it for a "progressive" purpose. I thought this sort of experiment was a fad that ended in the '70s, but officials in Florida still need to get some education themselves about Ethical Restrictions on Human Experimentation. To start with, experimenting on people without their consent has to be totally excluded.

Somebody please sic on the lawyers on these people.

Giving Children a Catholic Education

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Time to write something a little less controversial. Here's my latest from Catholic Exchange. It concerns the Catholic education of children.

Dawn Eden writes that a NJ newspaper's article about a supposed no-blogging policy for high school students was misleading. A diocesan spokesman told her that the school only banned the posting of certain types of material: personal identifying information, comments about the school, and comments about other students. If that more moderate policy is actually being followed by the school administrators, then I think the fuss is settled.

Not bad: a school in liberal Newton, Mass., cancelled Halloween observances in response to complaints. It's good that somebody in this very P.C. place respected the objections of offended religious parents -- whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, we don't know yet.

The article also doesn't say quite what the parents' objections were. The old Celtic pagan holiday that fell on the 31st seems relatively benign, a bit of harmless myth-making, so I don't object to that too much, except on the grounds that I don't want public schools to promote neo-paganism. But in the pop culture, Halloween has become an opportunity to celebrate figures of evil and horror, and (call me a fundamentalist, but) I don't want that degraded phenomenon to have a platform in the schools. After all, if it weren't for the schools promoting Halloween, it would be a pretty minor annual affair, as it deserves to be.

Every time I have the slightest twinge of doubt that Catholic school is worth the money, something like this happens.

Apparently, some athletes Osbourn High School in Manassas decided to have a "sexual incident" one afternoon, to use the clinical term from the article. And did the parents discipline their children, or move to another state? No -- according to WMAL, a local station, they complained that their rutting children were punished too severely.

Whenever parents attack the authorities for punishing their misbehaving kids, one can only assume it's displaced anger from shame. They think that by defending their children, they can refrain from blaming themselves. That's the charitable interpretation -- the less charitable one would be that they really think there's nothing wrong with such an "incident."

I will be completely happy to write that tuition check next month.

Homeschooling - Pro and Con

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Now that our phone line and internet is hooked up again, I have spent part of the day surfing the net. In so doing, I couldn't help but notice some of the debates over homeschooling take place. While nobody disagrees that the education usually is superior to that of public schools, there is some question as to how well adapted homeschooled children are socially after they graduate.

In my experience, it depends upon the parents. I have seen both good and bad. In one particularly egregious example, one of my friends roomed in college with a homeschooled fellow who grew up in a very sheltered environment -- to the point of social inneptitude. For example, he was clueless as to who Darth Vader was.

Another story takes place within the context of a particular post-conciliar traditionalist schisms, which has attracted many adherents to a certain geographical locale. As soon as the girls reach their late teens or early twenties, they marry guys in their late thirties to early forties. They simply cannot relate to guys their own age, as the girls find the guys their own age too socially immature and too sheltered to maintain decent employment and support a family. So, obviously, this is the downside.

On the other hand, some of the most socially well-adjusted young men I have met were also homeschooled. I'm thinking, in particular, of a friend of mine whom I met through the FSSP. His parents were both military officers and took the view that homeschooling was about raising their children to be tommorrow's Catholic leaders. Therefore, they didn't see homeschooling as sheltering their children, but as an apprenticeship to maintaining one's faith while venturing forth in the real world.

So besides the usual homeschooling activities of catechesis, reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, etc... their kids also participated in sports, the arts, community service, choir practice, boy scouts and even scuba-diving (my friend's father explained that this wasn't just phys-ed, but a reinforcement of the lessons learned in mathematics and geography as well.) Another homeschooled friend of mine, who I met through the charismatic movement, did small-aircraft piloting rather than scuba-diving.

In each case, some of the other parents in the respective parish thought these parents were too libertine, wasteful and risky with the lives of their children. But their children have all turned out well. They came out from homeschooling well-adjusted young adults, with real life skills and capable of assuming responsibility. All have all kept the faith. They are all grateful for their home-schooling background, and remain close to their parents. One is about to graduate with a double-degree in fine arts and engineering. The other is a well-liked pilot and aircraft mechanic. Both are active in their faith.

On the other hand, a lot of my homeschooled friends whose parents sheltered them have turned out aweful. The one that breaks my heart the most is an ex-girlfriend who rebelled against her parents, got involved with a drug-addict, had a child that was given up for adoption, never finished high-school, and now works in the so-called "adult entertainment" field and is bitter against both her family and the Catholic faith. Others have become a variation, albeit not as bad.

So my point is that homeschooling depends upon the parents. If parents use homeschooling to shelter their kids from the real world, this is not good. But if parents use homeschooling to prepare their kids for the real world, then the results are much better than a public school education.

The same can be said about private Catholic schools. I know some traddy schools that simply shelter kids, and the kids graduate knowing all sorts of facts and figures, but still socially and emotionally immature. On the other hand, St. Gregory's Academy -- under the auspices of the FSSP -- openly has as its purpose not only classical education of teenage boys, but their formation and growth from boys into responsible young men. Thus the boys are expected to participate in sport, theatre, music and various social activities. When they graduate, it is a educated and well-adjusted young men.

The humble origins of postmodernism

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Whatever other -isms they believe, most professors believe in postmodernism. My definition of that term is: "The belief that there is no absolute Truth, there are only 'truths' that are constructed in our minds. Dialogue is, therefore, not a tool that can be used to discover Truth, but merely a word-game that people use to construct 'reality' in their minds."

That isn't an exhaustive definition of postmodernism, but I think that's a fair summary. Where does this idea come from? I'm sure Beregond can give us its supple, nuanced intellectual history, beginning with Decartes' revolutionary idea that knowledge begins with one's intellect and not the senses, and extending through his (Beregond's) bete noir, Immanuel Kant.

However, I am not an intellectual, and although I do not doubt the role of ideas in the formation of the postmodern critique (for it is surely not a philosophy), often I look to more concrete things when I ask why someone thinks a particular way. I submit that one of the reasons is the university library.

Not just the library, to be sure -- there is also the Registrar's office, the deans, the Faculty Senate, and all the other little rule-making and -enforcing entities on campus. But the library is the entity I am mad at tonight, so the library will be my example.

You may know, if you've read Catholic Light before, that I'm finishing my M.A. thesis project (Open Source Shakespeare). To accompany the site, I am writing a substantial paper, and so I have checked out books from the library. Tonight, I realized that 13 of them are overdue, and I owe the library $32.50.

I figured I'd pay the fine and renew the books. Not so fast! the library Web site said. There is a hold on my library privileges. I called the library, where a recording told me that I would have to bring in the books before I could renew or check out books.

"That's got to be a mistake," I thought. "I'm done with classes, and I'm rarely on campus. Surely they aren't going to make me physically go to the circulation desk."

I called the circulation desk. A nice young lady confirmed that yes, indeed, I would have to drag 13 books halfway across the county in order to get my records cleaned up.

"Is this some kind of collegiate hazing?" I asked. She didn't get the joke. "Let me get this straight: if I come in, I can renew the books, right?"

"Yes, absolutely. Come to the desk, and we'll check them in, and check them back out to you," she explained.

"And why can't we do that over the phone?"

"They have to be checked back in, because they're late."

"I know they're late, and I'll pay the fine. I have no problem with that. But I'd rather not have to make a 40-mile round trip just to renew some books."

"Hold on for a moment, please." Sound of a brief, muffled conversation. "Yeah, my supervisor says you have to come in person. Otherwise, we'd have to do an override."

I thanked her and hung up, without asking the obvious question: what's bad about giving me an "override"? Would it disturb the balance of the universe if they simply said, "Yes, Eric, you can keep the books you need. Don't worry about using your vacation time at work, or leaving your family for most of an evening. We'll renew the books and you can pay the fine the next time you're on campus"?

Nobody else has requested any of the overdue books. I'll pay the fine, or else they won't give me a diploma. Either this is a petty punishment for forgetting the due date, or it's a dumb rule that nobody has thought about but must be followed unquestioningly.

Library book regulations are a small thing, to be sure. But they are part of the web of intricate, arbitrary rules that make up the modern university. Other American institutions (except governments) actively try to make things easier on the people they serve. Not universities, which are run like medieval fiefdoms, complete with their own legal systems.

It's unsurprising that academic professionals — who know no other life, having spent their adult years in this milieu — would think that Truth is a construct and words are weapons used to advance one's personal will. That is precisely what their workplace teaches them.

De Latine nunquam satis

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Two articles from AP: Wheelock's Latin textbook gets an update, including a web site, audio clips, and racy poems.

I have a student who will be homeschooled this year. I am very interested in having her continue with her musical studies and she has been an asset to our program here. Her parents reside in and pay taxes to Fairfax County.

I've been reminded of some things, and learned some new ones:

An expensive fad

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Schools in Maine have spent $15 million (with $22 million to go) on a contract to put laptops into the, well, laps of middle-schoolers. After two years of the program, the students with computers performed about the same as the students without them.

One school board member tells what her son learned in the process:

... David, 14, who will be in ninth grade this year, said his classmates found ways to play games on their laptops without their teachers noticing. Also, he said students spent a lot of time downloading and pasting photographs and sound effects to create movies.

''You don't have to do as much work as writing a report,'' he said. ''It's more about getting pictures and putting in sound effects than learning about the topic.''

Education Commissioner Sue Gendron said teachers over the past two years were just learning how to integrate laptops into the curriculum, and that it is unfair to judge the program after only two years.

When asked when the test scores should improve, she declined to give a timetable, saying laptops are worth the investment even if they don't boost test scores.

''I believe that the jobs of the future will be based on technology, and part of Maine's goal is to have the best-educated citizens and to ensure that they are skilled to work in a creative economy,'' she said.

It's sad to think that educationists are falling for the attraction of shiny objects. They're spending money and time on machines -- admittedly cute, handy machines -- that don't make much measurable difference to learning, while local governments are forced to cut teachers' jobs.

Parents in Pennsylvania sue to overturn a law they consider an undue burden on home education.

"It really comes down to who owns the child," said Newborn, whose 17-year-old son just completed his freshman year at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe. "The parents are the stewards over the child, not the state."

Let's start with a hypothetical proposition:

If God exists, I will not see the movie "Catwoman."
Sounds simple enough! I mean to say that if God exists, He makes certain demands on us with regard to moral behavior. Seeing Halle Berry (proverbially) prowl around the world seeking the ruin of male souls in her Catwoman outfit would be acting contrary to those demands. Her disguise can harldy be called an "outfit" - it's more like cat ears and three postage stamps. To see this movie would be a near occasion of sin at the very least and in all likelyhood actually sinful. Consequently, I will not see the movie "Catwoman."

The mixed hypothetical syllogism in standard form, minus the stuff about demands, moral behavior, cat ears, postage stamps, and sin:

If God exists, then I will not see the movie "Catwoman."
God exists.
I will not see the movie "Catwoman."
This is a formally valid syllogism. It's logical form is known as modus ponens, or affirming the antecedent.

No tolerance for you!

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Philosophy professor James Tuttle is suing Lakeland (OH) Community College. The College reduced his teaching schedule and thus his salary -- contrary to seniority rules -- in an apparent move to punish him after he disclosed his Catholic point of view to his students and even -- shock -- mentioned it in a class syllabus!

Dean Brown went on to suggest that Dr. Tuttle "would be happier in a sectarian classroom."
Just imagine the outrage if some other philosophy professor were urged to go get a job at another college because his philosophy was... (you fill in the blank).

Some weeks ago I volunteered to help manage and train the altar servers at my parish. I've noticed that the vast majority of them have no clue what is going on during Mass; they don't say the proper responses or sing things like the Alleluia, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Does anyone know of a simple booklet out there to teach kids what the Mass is all about? I'm looking for something small and inexpensive. Give Mr. Sal some help now and we might get more vocations out of this parish!

Giving 'Exodus' a new meaning, Cal Thomas - washtimes.com

Now comes what could be the most radical and most successful education reform proposal ever made. The Southern Baptist Convention the nation's largest Protestant denomination with about 17 million members meets this week in Indianapolis, and among the resolutions it is considering is one calling upon parents to withdraw their children from public schools and either educate them at home or enroll them in private Christian academies.

This might be interesting to Catholic Light readers, especially since the previous discussion of universities veered off into a discussion about Catholic primary schools:

Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, reports that the Southern Baptists may consider a resolution at their convention "urging the denomination's 16 million members to take their children out of public schools and either home school them or send them to parochial schools."

If this becomes a trend, it's a huge shift for Protestant churches. It used to be that "secular" schools taught an essentially Protestant worldview, complete with Bible readings in many school districts. Therefore, Protestants -- including "good guys" like the Southern Baptists -- have been reluctant to give up on public schools.

This is an entirely good thing. We need more fellow citizens to stand up for the principle that it is parents who raise children with the assistance of the schools, not the other way around. Evangelicals are roughly a third of the electorate, as are Catholics. If we join forces, maybe we can enact the best school reform of all, which is getting the state out of directly running schools altogether.

Peter Wood, a professor at Boston University, weighs in on Senator Kerry's proposal to make college more affordable. I'm posting this because of the comments on my post about the "giant sucking sound" coming from universities siphoning people's money from their wallets. He confirms my thesis that higher education is expensive because of government intervention:

Why is college so expensive? Why does federal aid never really succeed in making college more affordable? These shouldn't be deep mysteries. For over a decade I participated in university meetings aimed at determining my university's annual tuition increases. The only real question was, "How much can we get away with?" And the only real worry was that, if we overreached, we might move to the dreaded top of the list for largest increases. Most years, it fell to me to draft a letter to parents from the Chairman of the Board explaining that the tuition increase reflected this or that combination of new construction projects and programs.
I recall visiting George Mason when Steve Schultz was going there in the early '90s, when Virginia balanced its budget by modest reductions in spending. The university president decided that if the state was going to reduce its subsidy, he would endanger the safety of his students. He didn't quite phrase it like that, but he did order the facilities department to start turning off random street lights for several hours a night, as a "cost-cutting" measure. He could have fired a useless administrators and that would have saved as much money, but instead he wanted to make sure young women would walk around in dark areas so they might be more easily assaulted.

Wood includes an ominous possible explanation for high prices:

But maybe we have just decided that high prices for a college education are a good way to organize our society. Those prices are high enough to discourage large families and to provide a strong incentive for both parents to work.

...which means the price of a college education is another manifestation, not of capitalism run amok, but of the Culture of Death.

Thanks

Thanks to the happy 7 people who visited this blog and then took the Pepsi survey. My team got an A on the project, in large part because RC helped me with some statistics concepts on Friday evening. Sorry for making you miss "Murder She Wrote" reruns on TNT, RC. :)

So I just registered for my thesis "class," which in reality is just a way for George Mason University to extract money from me for the privilege of talking to the three professors on my committee. No hard feelings, though -- their time is valuable. Now I can finish the Open Source Shakespeare project and get my M.A.

It's taken me almost five years to finish since I was admitted to the Professional Writing and Editing program (you there! stop laughing!). When I took my first class in 1998, before I was admitted, the total cost was about $540. That includes the various fees for things everyone uses (the library) and fees for things I will never, ever use (the pool, the student union, the gyms, the movie theater, etc.)

Today, taking my three-credit "class" will cost me $772. That's an increase of 43%, or more than 6% a year during a time when inflation was less than 2%. It's becoming increasingly clear that education has become yet another excuse for the government to extract money from productive people and give it to a class of people (educators) whom it favors.

Ever heard of this?

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One of the things that has been occupying my time lately is a travelling program we're having at my school in March. It's called Challenge Day. It's quite expensive (of course), and it's being touted as the best thing to have ever come down the pike. The video introduction to the program called to my mind tent revivals in the South, complete with tears, hands in the air, and other signs of emotional breakdown.

It seems to me that those children would have been better off going to confession.

I don't know how many readers we have who are in the education business, but I'd appreciate hearing the reaction of somebody who has witnessed this program first-hand before I start recommending students to stay home that day.

We're Here to Pump You Up!

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There is an interesting article in yesterday's Washington Times about the effects of too much praise on children.

In the past several decades, the effort to respect, protect and even puff up children's self-esteem has resulted in a generation of children who expect to win, whose feelings are never hurt and who believe they are the best.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is most commonly known as the Middle School Model, and it's ubiquitous in the public schools of this country. The idea is to find something good to say to each individual each day, even if it's something like, "That surely is a nice pair of eyebrow rings you've got, Maribeth!" in hopes of increasing students' self-esteem.

(There's nothing wrong with being civil (even pleasant, although I have yet to try it) to students, but it should not be mandated.)

I believe that self-esteem is raised through true accomplishment, don't you?

Overheard

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A public-school faculty came up with the following at an Imagineering [sic] session recently. My mother-in-law pointed out that "most of these goals, even the more stupidly expressed ones, would be accomplished by closing down the government schools and getting parents to homeshool."

Somebody's tax money is paying for this, you people!
________________________________________________

I want my school to be a place where …

-Students exhibit shared responsibility to grow academically, emotionally, and
socially.
-We are safe.
-Classes are small (no more than 20).
-Learning is exciting and challenging.
-Testing does not take priority over learning.
-Everyone looks forward to coming every day.

A student in my philosophy class argued yesterday that we can't know if invertebrates think deep thoughts just because they haven't built up any civilizations, written books, or discussed philosophy.

Maybe, he said, they are communicating telepathically and have decided that a life in the mud at the bottom of the ocean is better than our wars, poverty, &c.

This would be less of a problem if I thought the student were arguing for the sake of annoying me, but he seemed to be earnest in his beliefs.

We're starting the Summa tomorrow.

Yes, It's A Scam

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The other issue in higher education is that the liberal arts curriculum is dead. I managed two music degrees at a Virginia university without ever taking a foreign language, philosophy, logic, or a good natural science course. Instead, I had to take a bogus course in Sociology (a bogus subject in the first place) and my only foray into maths at university was called MATH 106: Concepts of Math. We studied percentages and voting and other issues appropriate to a seventh-grade curriculum.

I knew at the time that this was not a classical education and doubled up on my literature coursework and seminars to compensate, but most of my confreres did not. Granted, we were all spending the majority of our days in rehearsals and in the practice rooms (some actually practicing), but most of the other music students looked at "gen ed" requirements as something to get out of the way as quickly as possible. No one cared if we learned anything, and none of our advisors seemed to care if we did or not.

The bottom line is that every university student should be taught a core set of liberal arts courses, and, if my experience is indicative, few are.

I will stop, as I feel an E.D. Hirsh rant coming on.

Check out this article in the Washington Times about the increasing popularity of orthodox Catholic higher education.

When I was a reporter for the diocesan paper of Arlington, I covered many events that Christendom held, and I was always impressed at how they strove for sanctity without being priggish. I would be pleased if my children went to any of the institutions mentioned in the article, provided they don't get screwed up in the next 15-17 years.

A dissenting note to the article: I don't think things are so bad at Catholic universities in general. Yes, they are too enamored of secularism, but mostly that's out of weakness. Universities selected their staffs from the Herd of Independent Minds, and they tailor their views accordingly. When deans and presidents talk about "academic freedom" trumping an authentic Catholic identity, they're really saying, "We're afraid we won't get any respect from other people who work at universities, because they spit on our backwards papist religion."

For instance, I happen to know that Notre Dame, which is singled out as an example of a Catholic university gone wild, has quite a lot of Catholic character. I know many people who went there, by way of my friend Andy, and when I visited there I knew I was in a place where Jesus was alive and well. They have Masses in the basement chapels of every dormitory, and the architecture and statues remind you that you're not on a secular campus. Sure, there are some questionable faculty working there, and they could certainly stand for some improvement. But they're not lost, and neither, I suspect, are most Catholic universities.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz


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