Saturday, May 09, 2009

A thought about universities

In the last several months, there has been a good deal of discussion within a certain subset of the blogosphere about whether my alma mater can still claim to be a Catholic university if it gives an honorary doctorate to a pro-abortion politician—or a pro-choice politician, depending on one's views. And, in the most recent edition of the student newspaper at my employer a former student of mine argued that my employer can no longer claim to be a Catholic university because not all members of the theology department are fully orthodox, many students engage in premarital sex and the liturgies are too progressive and perhaps not entirely rubrical. Leaving aside whether even in the high middle ages the students at the great universities were chaste—Chaucer, at least, gives us good reason to think that they were not—or orthodox—history tells us that there were major theological debates and that even Aquinas was thought to be unorthodox at the University of Paris—there is another issue in both sets of concerns.
What makes a university? Is the administration a university? This seems that it cannot be right. If it were, then the universities were extremely conservative and supportive of the government in the Sixties. But no one thinks this. Is the faculty a university? This seems hardly better. Are the students? The real answer is that universities are complex and organic institutions. They were the original corporations, i.e., bodies. It can be hard to tell what a university's views or positions or ideological slants are. And this is simply because universities are complex institutions, too complex to be judged by single actions or single years or single Presidents or classes.

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