The young man was clearly uneasy. Most people would insist that he had no cause for worry. After all, he would soon receive his M.B.A. from a very prestigious business school, had already been offered a contract by a large investment banking firm and, if he accepts it, would have a starting salary of $200,000 (which is ordinarily doubled in the second year). Why the unease? Would that every graduate were so fortunate.
But he told me that he had worked last summer as an intern in this firm and soon realized that it was deeply involved in mergers and buyouts. Smaller companies were absorbed and, as a result, shareholders were made very happy. Stock values went up and dividends increased. This also meant, however, that thousands of workers found themselves out of a job. He had at least started to wonder about the morality of all of this. Did he really want to spend his life working in this type of business? Could one save one’s soul in investment banking?
I asked if any questions about business ethics were ever raised in his classes. No, he said, never. Much is said, however, about marketing, competition and maximizing profits. Nothing, it seems, is really wrong or bad unless it does not work in our capitalistic world.
In an annual Aims of Education address, the former chairman of the political science department quickly became famous when he clearly and honestly told 1,000 first-year students that they should expect no ethical guidance from their new school, the University of Chicago. The university is, he insisted, totally amoral. Though it is not, one would hope, an immoral place, it is dedicated to a rigorous search for facts, for data, and is neither able nor willing to provide moral leadership. Such, at least, is the theory.
But what happens in practice? It is hard to believe, even in this postmodern era, when everyone is allowed his or her own set of unquestioned values and all becomes relative, that considerations of good and evil never arise. Are professors of law, medicine, philosophy, English, history or any other discipline always value free as they lecture and lead discussions?
Although the young man enrolled in the business school and the professor of political science may both hold that the university is amoral, convictions and attitudes do surface. Prejudices will also be revealed.
One recent graduate put it this way: Numerous students and faculty have ambivalent feelings toward followers of Christ, ranging from bewilderment to hatred. I received a sharp lesson in the latter as a first year student in the college, when in the course on classics of social and political thought the professor announced in class, I hate Christians.’ He then proceeded to attempt to remove God from Aquinas and pronounced Thomistic philosophy worthless if it could not stand without God.
Many chaplains at other schools know of similar incidents. Professors who are otherwise liberal and intelligent seem to find it terribly difficult to move beyond the Crusades, the Inquisition and Galileo. Christianity and the Catholic Church in particular are still seen as the enemy.
Pius XII has become the new evil genius, and a woman’s right to choose abortion is accepted as beyond argument. At a recent lecture on the University of Chicago campus, the Rev. Mel White, founder of Soulforce, denounced the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church about sexual minorities which lead to suffering and death for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers. The clearly implied question is: how can an institution whose teachings cause suffering and death be tolerated?
In the United States today, about 90 percent of Catholic college and university students are enrolled in state and private secular institutions. Notre Dame, Fordham, Georgetown and all of the other Catholic schools are educating the remaining 10 percent in an ambiance in which, it is piously hoped, ethical and theological issues are taken seriously and discussed carefully. In other words, the great majority of American Catholics are receiving their higher education at universities and colleges that are either amoral or perhaps aggressively positivistic. There are, of course, happy exceptions, but most of these students arrive with minimal religious education. They are young men and women who are frequently idealistic, rarely antagonistic, but quite ignorant of a Christian and Catholic heritage. They are certainly not prepared for a subtle or quite open attack on their religion led by a polished and revered professor or by peers in the dorms.
The U.S. bishops have come to realize the importance of campus ministry, but personnel and funding are not easy to find. In Chicago’s center, the so-called Loop, there are now 57,000 students studying everything from law and biology to graphic design and dance. (Even the huge state universities seldom have more than 40,000 students.) How many chaplains are needed for such a demanding ministry? What qualifications are necessary? What is a realistic budget? Will the Catholics among those 57,000 students find an oasis in downtown Chicago where they can be comfortable in talking about ethical concerns? Will there be an intelligent and articulate chaplain to care about them and offer them the wisdom of the Gospel? How will they experience Catholic worship and preaching during these formative years of college? The same questions, of course, confront many other dioceses.
There is no doubt that the fine Catholic colleges and universities of the United States must be encouraged and helped to continue their truly admirable work of higher education. But there are all those other young Catholics, the 90 percent who fill the classrooms of the nation’s state and private secular schools. They present our church with an enormous challenge and an exciting pastoral opportunity.