Inside Higher Ed reports on debates within Catholic higher education over how well Catholic colleges nurture the faith of their Catholic students.
In 2003 the Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic organization that serves as a sort of watchdog group for Catholic college’s loyalty to church teaching, released a study claiming that graduating seniors at Catholic colleges are “predominantly pro-abortion, approve of homosexual ‘marriage,’ and only occasionally pray or attend religious services.”
But at the recent meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, new evidence was presented to challenge the Newman Society study. The new study suggests that students at Catholic colleges and universities are more likely to “turn toward” their faith than Catholic students at non-Catholic colleges.
This raises a really interesting issue. To what extent are church-related colleges required to inculcate students in the faith-tradition of the sponsoring denomination or religious institution? To what extent are church-related colleges “churches” and to what extent are they “colleges?” I think the answer to these questions vary from institution to institution and from denomination to denomination.
On the one hand, it would be a shame if a Catholic student’s faith was deliberately undermined at a Catholic college. In fact, any faculty member in the business of destroying the faith of their students should not be teaching at a church-related school. Church-related liberal arts colleges should be safe places where religious students can feel comfortable asking questions about their deeply-held beliefs without having them attacked by professors.
On the other hand, church-related colleges should be challenging their students to think critically about the tradition. The goal is education, not indoctrination. They should be committed to creating spaces where this kind of intellectual engagement can take place.
This balance is not always an easy one to pull off, but it seems to me to be absolutely essential to church-related liberal arts education.