The college business model is broken. Catholic social teaching points a way forward.

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This article is a response to “Will Catholic universities survive the upheaval in higher education?” The next 10 years will tell,” a feature film by Charles C. Camosy. Read more views on this issue linked at the bottom of this article.

“Get off the beaten track. This is what the faculty of Wheeling Jesuit University have declared necessary for the survival of the school by the first of several senior administrators hired by the register of presidents of colleges and universities (“the gold standard of the country in interim placements,” according to their website) in the later years where it operated as a partnership between the Jesuits and the local Catholic Diocese of West Virginia. We were then presented with a series of spreadsheets and charts offering cookie-cutter solutions – a template for a smaller competency-based core curriculum, metrics to assess the value of our departments and their different members, a new manual – and we’ve been told that we have to fill them out and fit in to meet the needs of the facility. This particular administrator had made a career out of short-term “remedial” courses and had apparently used similar boxes to “streamline” the curricula and faculty of other institutions, but had no experience in Catholic education or Ignatian discernment practices.

Two years later, an administration appointed by the Diocese of Wheeling eliminated liberal arts altogether, leading the Society of Jesus to withdraw its sponsorship of the university. Charles Camosy briefly mentions Wheeling as an example of an institution “trapped in short-term survivalist thinking”, but he assures readers that most institutions will not need to take this approach if they rely on their distinctive identity.

I find myself frustrated with Dr. Camosy’s article, which understates the financial realities facing many, if not most, Catholic institutions and their students today.

As someone who has witnessed this kind of survivalist thinking firsthand, I am frustrated with Dr. Camosy’s article, which understates the financial realities facing many, if not most, Catholic institutions and their students. today. While Wheeling is unique in some ways, the fact that colleges and universities around the world are experiencing similar pressures – and turning to consultants and similar strategies, such as lowering basic requirements, eliminating faculty and full-time staff and the emphasis on ‘off-the-shelf’ professional programs – was one of the reasons why I decided not to seek another job in higher education when my teaching post of theology at Wheeling Jesuit was abolished. I was as likely as not to face similar dynamics wherever I went in higher education.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already revealed and deepened existing inequalities in the United States, including within higher education itself. Although Camosy acknowledges the economic challenges, they seem marginal to his concerns about the effects of secularism and intersectional critical theory on academic life. But the economic problems facing higher education are systemic and the current model is unsustainable. Education is a marketable commodity, and the financial pressures to attract students are real. Respectful engagement across differences is essential to the success of any organization, but for schools and families, financial pressures are inevitable (consider that parents of the next generation of college students may still pay their own school debt). education when their children graduate from high school). The key questions for many schools in the coming years will be: What is the cost of survival, and for what purpose?

I share Dr. Camosy’s sentiment that something radically different from the status quo is needed in American higher education, including a new commitment to the common good and to dialogue. However, given the immense economic and ecological crises—and the long-awaited racial reckoning—of our times, “engaging the fullness of the Catholic intellectual tradition” must be more than intellectual. This must not only be part of the students’ curriculum, but a blueprint for the management of the university, including respect for the dignity of workers, the practice of transparency and subsidiarity in decision-making. decision and a serious commitment to environmental sustainability.

The key questions for many schools in the coming years will be: What is the cost of survival, and for what purpose?

Indeed, the Catholic intellectual tradition itself pushes towards incarnate love and solidarity, economic democracy, concern for the marginalized and concern for our common home. Catholic universities must make a coordinated effort to address larger economic issues, such as why a college degree is valuable and how to finance education. Committing to practicing Catholic Social Teaching as part of university operations and investments would be an excellent starting point, but it will require creative and courageous coordinated efforts to engage broader economic structures – not to mention discernment and of deep prayer – for Catholic colleges and universities. get out of the squares in which they are now.

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