Melanie M. MOREY and John J. PIDERIT, S.J. Catholic Higher Education: A Culture in Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press. 2006’ pp. 370. $35.00 Hardback. ISBN 978-0-19-530551-7.
Reviewed by Anthony J. POGORELC, The Catholic University of America, WASHINGTON D.C. 20064

This book should be discussed and even debated by those who care about Catholic higher education; it’s a must read for Catholic college and university administrators, faculty, staff and trustees as well as church leaders. It claims Catholic higher education is in a state of crisis, and its persistence is threatened by structural issues related to Catholicism and American society, the contested meaning and value of Catholic identity and culture, declining religious personnel, and an ill prepared laity. The authors claim the survival of Catholic higher education hinges on its capacity to be distinguishable from other brands of higher education and inheritable, able to be transmitted to future generations.

Chapter one lays out the method of the study, which focuses on undergraduate education and uses qualitative data elicited from administrators of 33 institutions representing all Carnegie classifications. In general it takes an open systems approach. Part One (Chapters 1-3) establishes the analytical framework. Part Two (4-8) offers critical evaluation of administrator’s perspectives. Part Three (9-12) develops conclusions based on the data.

Chapter Two notes that Catholic universities and colleges, embedded in Catholic, academic and U.S. Culture, respond to these forces in diverse ways. The book challenges fundamentalist versions of Catholicism as well as those that claim the uniqueness of Catholicism impedes the operationalization and measurement of its component parts. The relationship between educational and Church institutions creates complexity and tension. Tendencies to ease this tension in the direction of authoritarianism and traditionalism or individualism and innovation need serious discussion. The book persuasively argues that the enhancement of Catholic institutional identity cannot be accomplished in a top-down linear fashion but needs a collaborative approach.

Chapter Three proposes four models of Catholic universities. (1) In the immersion model, the majority of students, faculty and administrators is Catholic and in the academic and nonacademic sectors Catholicism is pervasive. (2) In the persuasion model a majority of students and significant number of faculty and administrators are Catholic. The character of Catholicism in the academic sector is limited, and there is a strong non-academic Catholic culture. (3) In the diaspora model a minority of students, faculty and administrators is Catholic. There is minimal Catholic content in the academic sector, but a consistent Catholic culture in nonacademic areas. (4) The cohort model has a dual objective, to promote the practice and knowledge of religion as an influence on policy, and for a smaller cohort, a deeper participation in Catholicism. The models are considered in relationship to internal factors such as academics, residence life, student life, campus ministry and personnel, and external factors such as economics, social characteristics of students, the market and the wider environment.

In Chapter Four, data categorized according to administrators’ convictions, situations, and concerns indicate areas of agreement and disagreement. The second part of the chapter examines specific questions such as criteria for hiring faculty, the significance of knowledge of Catholicism in addition to that of academic disciplines, assessment of students’ appropriation of Catholic knowledge. A comparison is made between “postmodern-secular” and “Catholic” critical reasoning. The authors imply the core of the Catholic intellectual tradition is fixed while the periphery is dynamic. An important point for discussion concerns what constitutes core and periphery?

Chapter Fives defines the Catholic Intellectual Tradition as the contributions of Catholic Philosophy and Theology to Western thought; its component parts are the moral tradition and social teaching. Unlike their forbearers who were more likely to be teaching rather than critical research institutions, embedded in larger Catholic Culture, Catholic universities today must distinguish the tradition and its components: theology, philosophy, liberal arts, and the remainder that do not fit in to these categories. The authors purport theology is done within a community of believers for its benefit, and that friction between Church teaching and modern thought should stimulate dialogue between various disciplines. This book raises many issue that could profitably be discussed and even debated by a range of scholars and others related to the university community. While the authors stress the importance of community in transmitting Catholic tradition, this topic needs more development.

In Chapter six administrators emphasize the role of student culture in a holistic vision of education. While Catholic ethics are taught, realistically it is difficult to insure their practice. There is more discussion of rules than creative ways to cultivate a relational environment that allows personal and social morality to thrive. They offer a creative suggestion for enabling speeches by those whose views are contrary to Catholic teaching to become opportunities to present and discuss it. In all regards, institutions do not define themselves by individual acts but by the patterns they establish.

The role of religious activities in expressing and nurturing Catholic culture as well as the responsibility of campus ministry and mission staffs are discussed in Chapter Seven. Administrators regret religious apathy among students and note that service and social justice are paths for some students to a more intense faith practice. The authors stress the importance of collecting data about student experiences to evaluate their effectiveness. This points to the value of research centers and strong social science departments in Catholic universities.

Chapter Eight claims that greater clarity and use of Catholic language are needed as universities and college refine their self understanding-and communication with others. They stress the important role faculty play in providing Catholic education, also discussing opinions of what constitutes a critical mass of Catholic faculty and its variance across models of colleges. Chapter Nine departs somewhat from the central thesis and does not give enough attention to the effect of a changing U.S. culture on women’s congregations. Chapter Ten proposes two types of presidential leadership: (1) Connective presidents who are process oriented, working with what is at hand, identifying and mentoring a group of catalysts, and best at facilitating a cultural adjustment. (2) Directive presidents who take charge and pursue innovations and adaptations when institutions need cultural correction. Trustees have the important role of selecting presidents, monitoring performance and establishing general policies. To be effective they must have data concerning what students learn as well as about finances.

Chapter Eleven addresses the cultural and leadership style of presidents across the four models. Again the need for solid data regarding content, outcomes and measures of knowledge and practice is stressed. Strategies are outlined for scenarios when Catholic distinguishability or inheritability is lacking, and also when there is danger of losing Catholic identity.

Chapter Twelve underscores the crisis situation and raises doubts about the survival of Catholic higher education. It examines conventional responses and proposes alternatives in a time of crisis in regard to (1) Academic initiatives (2) Student life (3) Campus ministry, and (4) Administration.

This book makes a significant contribution to the discussion of Catholic higher education and should be read by administrators, church leaders, theologians, other faculty, and board members. Questions related to and raised by the text could be excellent starting points for dialogue. Ideas raised in this book can plant seeds for variety of empirical studies. Social scientists and educators should take note of its potential to inspire future research. Administrators should use their influence to encourage and support such dialogue and research.

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