My Letter To Project Sycamore
Project Sycamore's purpose, as stated on their website, is:
...to provide a source of information, a means of communication, and a collective voice to Notre Dame alumni and others in the Notre Dame family who are concerned about preserving the Catholic identity of the University.
Since this is a cause near and dear to the hearts of both Tom and I, I signed their petition a couple of months ago, and today decided to write them a letter:
Dear Sirs and Madam,
I have visited your website and signed the petition. I would like to know how I can further help the cause.
First, let me say that I was surprised by how "Catholic" Notre Dame was when I entered Our Lady's school in August of 1992 as a 25 year-old sophomore. Having had completed coursework at two public state universities (U. of Kansas, 1986-88, which did not go well; U. of Central Florida 1990-92, after growing up a bit, managed a 3.9 GPA) and having been warned that Notre Dame was going the way of Georgetown, I was a pleasant and welcome experience to see Mass celebrated each day in each dorm, and to see how religious most of the students were, and to be at a university where the grown-ups were in charge instead of the "inmates running the asylum" situations I had witnessed at KU and UCF. I was also delighted by my philosophy and theology courses (I was a Computer Engineering major); three of the four I took were rather orthodox, with the two philosophy professors repeatedly challenging my fellow students' default relativism. My "Intro to Theology" class was a disappointment, however, as it seemed to be little more than the professor's version of "My Problems With The Catholic Church 101". However, the other three classes were such a delight that this one bad one didn't phase me too much. Furthermore, the professors in my chosen field of engineering were predominantly religious (or at the very least, had nothing negative to say about it), which was quite a relief after hearing more than one professor at the aforementioned public state schools work an anti-religion rant into their subject matter.
It was also during my senior year that the Gays and Lesbians of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College (GLNDSMC) controversy began, with GLNDSMC agitating for official recognition. That the University didn't buckle I took as solid evidence that ND was not in danger of jettisoning its Catholic identity any time soon.
In summary, I found that those who dismissed Notre Dame as a "nominally Catholic" institution (a la Georgetown) were badly misinformed.
I have continued to keep up with campus happenings, and have been gladdened by:
** The theology department under John Cavadini. This department was the butt of jokes when I was there ("A lot of great Catholic thought takes place at Notre Dame, just not in the Theology department..."), but judging by the books coming out of there, it's much more orthodox, and Richard Neuhaus' First Things magazine ranked ND's Theology Dept. 2nd in the country (behind Duke).
** The continuing high levels of graduation (with real majors) of ND's athletes.
** The high ranks of the business school, law school, architecture, etc.....
However, in addition my concern about Dr. White's handling of the football program (scheduling, coaching hires, his apparent desire to join a conference, etc.), I have been rather appalled by:
** The Vagina Monologues on campus, especially the year it was performed on Ash Wednesday. No more needs to be said about this piece of crap.
** The Queer Film Festival (or whatever it's called now) on campus. A frank discussion of how to be pastoral towards homosexuals and homosexuality? Or a celebration of this "lifestyle"? I would bet heavily on the latter.
** The percentage of Catholic faculty. While it is true that one needs not be Catholic to support the school's mission - Max Johnson of the Theology Department, a Lutheran minister, wrote a very good book about Our Lady of Guadalupe, and in person is a terrific fellow and a great asset to the university - it is prudent for an institution that desires to be a true Catholic university to have a majority of its staff be practicing Catholics. The percentage of the Catholic faculty hovering at around 50% is a cause for alarm, as is some of the puzzling hiring decisions (Duffy 'no', Mann 'yes'....?????).
** The apparent regard for approval and standing with secular peers over and above the regard for being a great Catholic university. Can Notre Dame, for the love of all that is good and true, finally retire the phrase "aspirational peers"? I had hoped with Fr. Jenkins' presidency that there would be movement away from trying to be Stanford and/or Duke, but his stated desire for ND to enhance its Catholic identity so far appears to be stuck in neutral.
The world does not need another Stanford, another Harvard, another Cornell...it needs a true and confident Catholic university. It needs a true and confident Catholic Notre Dame.
Thus I am writing to you, the staff of Project Sycamore, to offer whatever help I can give. I have signed the petition, and would like to do more. I recognize my limitations in being able to facilitate real change - I am not a big alumni donor, nor do I have large amounts of available funds to give ND; I am not "big man" in my profession of software engineering/web design; I don't have a large readership of my blog to sway to action. I can offer what time, energy, and resources I have to your disposal. I care deeply about Notre Dame, and deeply about my Catholic faith. Please let me know what I can do.