Academic Freedom and Foolery

Here's an interesting story. It is one of the few promising examples that academia still has the ability to be authentic in its quest for truth. Hopefully more like it will come.

As it seems, the University of San Diego, a Catholic school, has recently withdrawn an offer of professorship it had extended to Rosemary Radford Ruether, a writer and 'theologian' whose main thrust includes the amalgamation of feminism and Catholic theology [a book of whose appears to the right]. Despite the university chair of theology, Lance Nelson, agreeing that she is in fact a "widely respected scholar in the field," the offer for her to teach and hold an endowed position within the theology department was retracted. Nelson went on to assure us, though, that such a withdrawn offer does not indicate that she won't be back for a guest lecture, or something of that ilk. For her part, Ruether believes that "some right-wing group has put pressure on the university," and is therefore concerned for the future of 'academic freedom' at the University of San Diego.

It's funny; I had a conversation one time with a university president about this same issue of academic freedom. I was taking an introductory class in world religions—wherein we studied Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, etc.—throughout the course of which were presented the 'fundamental tenets' of the Christian faith. Although my professor was an Anglican priest, he had no problem denying such truly fundamental Christian beliefs as the virgin birth of Christ, the Resurrection and, to top it all, the Incarnation. "The Incarnation is...well...insufficient," I remember him saying, with a slight chuckle (and I wish I were lying). Nevertheless, when confronted with my complaints of clearly anti-Catholic 'theology' being taught at a Catholic institution (and under the guise of authentic teaching, mind you), all my president could say was that to deny such would be an affront to 'academic freedom,' and more or less that students shouldn't whine about these things.

I rejoice in the fact that, at least somewhere, anti-Catholic thinkers are being barred from the chairs of Catholic institutions. Not that I believe there is no place for 'theologians' like Rosemary Radford Ruether. She can now perhaps devote more of her time to her position on the board of Catholics for Choice (a pro-abortion lobbying group), or to any number of other pursuits which make her unfit to teach at a Catholic institution. At least unfit to teach theology.

And that is really the bottom line: there is a difference between respecting a person for their ability to think clearly, and respecting the ability to think clearly about a subject which has commonly accepted boundaries and scope. Although professors like mine and Ruether are quite obviously no good at doing Catholic theology, nonetheless I'm sure they would be quite proficient in another field. In the academic life, its an act of humility and charity to realize when the time has come to stop with one thing and start with another; perhaps the other is simply not teaching. When public outcry—even from such a secularized and relativistic culture as ours—supports the removal of such phony theologians from positions of respect and authority within Catholic institutions of higher learning, we must heed the warning. To deny that something very wrong is otherwise occurring is not only dangerous but diabolical. Certainly, censuring such dissident thinkers will always result in a feud between 'left and right' factions. But, as Cardinal Ratzinger so eloquently put it, and as we ought always to remember, "Truth is not determined by a majority vote." It is determined by Christ.