The difficult questions Catholics need to ask after the college admissions scandal

This combination of images shows college campuses, clockwise from top left, Georgetown University, Stanford University, Yale University, and University of California, Los Angeles. (AP Photos)

As the news broke of organized and widespread deception by wealthy parents to ensure their children’s admission to prestigious universities, I was offended but not surprised. We can decry the hubris and moral relativism of the parents. We can be disappointed at coaches and testing personnel willing to be bribed, lie and cheat for financial gain. We can even wonder how many other cases there are and which powerful people also bought their degrees. These are important considerations. But for people of faith the questions go much deeper.

As a professor, I am daily confronted by the problematic issue of who has a seat in the classroom and who does not, while I am also overwhelmed with gratitude as I witness the profound transformation that education can bring to a person’s life. More important, as a theologian, I am tasked with calling attention to the Christian priorities that should be, must be, different from those of the “marketplace.”

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As a theologian, I am tasked with calling attention to the Christian priorities that should be, must be, different from those of the “marketplace.”

In his wise words to the World Meeting of Universities entrusted to the Society of Jesus in 2018. Superior General Father Arturo Sosa, S.J., stressed the link between the “abundant life” that Jesus came to bring (Jn 10:10) and the moral imperative to make such life accessible and possible to all by “humanizing history from our place at the university.” The work of education is “an apostolate.” I agree because an honest Christian understanding of the world’s complexity and inequalities reveals that the “image of God” stamped into each of us is not given for individual achievement but is the gift of a “form” toward which we have the capacity to grow for the good of all.

The New Testament provides multiple glimpses of the importance of education in Jesus’ own life. He studied and debated in the Temple and although the son of a carpenter, was far from illiterate. As the noted archaeologist William Fulco, S.J., tells me, because Jesus spoke Aramaic and needed Hebrew to read the Scriptures, he must have known enough Greek to function in his trade and must have spoken “kitchen” Latin, which was the language of the military. Jesus was a young man who studied with care and who generously shared his learning. We see him principally referred to as “teacher,” and his effective ways of teasing out and communicating vital ideas attracted many.

The teaching of Jesus was offered to all equally as an invitation to a deeper engagement with their reality.

If, as we hold, Jesus is the paradigmatic human being, the “form” showing us through his incarnation who we have the potential to be, then education is not peripheral to our being but integrated into its very center. Unlike other religious groups at the time, the early church did not consider learning something only for the few, and they intentionally broke with groups claiming secret knowledge for their elite initiates.

As Jesus showed, education gives us life and has the potential to awaken life in others. The teaching of Jesus and his students was offered to all equally as an invitation to a deeper engagement with their reality. And although today that teaching appears to us swathed in the language of faith, at the time, they were teaching their community to critically read Scripture in the context of daily life. The resulting insights had implications for economics, power structures, gender roles and even the observance of laws that tyrannized people.

Thus, we could say the preaching of Jesus and his friends was multidisciplinary. Centered on a reign of God offered equally to all, it asked how such a vision of communal life affected the widow at the gate of the treasury, the sellers in the Temple, the sick who were driven out of town, the hungry on the Sabbath and the women marked for execution.

Questions about access to universities overlook the painful truth that the entire journey of education is profoundly challenging for the poor and people of color.

It is one of my guiding principles that as a consequence of Jesus’ example, the Christian approach to the world requires us to be champions for education as an inalienable and God-given human right and a theological good. As Father Sosa tells us, “the intellectual apostolate” is “a way to more effectively announce the Good news of the Gospel, to learn to grasp the presence of God in the world and the action of [God’s] Spirit in history in order to join in it and contribute to human liberation.”

The revelation of corruption surrounding who has access to higher education should bring us all to a critical and fruitful space. Yet, asking the question about access to universities overlooks the painful truth that the entire journey of education is profoundly challenging for the poor and people of color.

And it requires us to keep asking new questions: Who has access to quality preschools? How many of our Catholic elementary schools and high schools have become “private schools” content to cater to the already privileged? How are we interacting with local public schools, which are often underfunded and overcrowded, to support public education? What are we doing to provide the possibility of higher education to adults serving in parish ministries who never had an opportunity? Are we politically active in support of candidates and programs that prioritize funding for education? What can we do at our parishes to partner up with local colleges to offer information and guidance on higher education for our youth? Are we investing in scholarships and mentoring for young people with great potential but scant resources? Are we asking corporations and advertisers to take some of their profits and reinvest these in education? Are we supporting fair wages and classroom sizes for teachers? Every question opens up a new area for our attention.

The lifting of the veil to reveal the underbelly of our present educational system precipitated by the college admissions scandal can be a moment of grace for people of good will, where we begin to take stock of the problems and prayerfully decide to work hard toward solutions so that all “may have life, and have it abundantly.”

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Randal Agostini
4 months 1 week ago

I would like to know the general policy that The Catholic Church of America has regarding access to Catholic Schools. If we agree that Catholic Schooling for our children is fundamental with regards to learning their faith, learning to practice and appreciate their faith and building a secure foundation for salvation then all parents and diocese would be working towards that goal. Catholic schooling should be free to Catholic children, using the same tax funds that all pay towards educating our children. The denial of even using our own tax money is one of the most self destroying, discriminatory and bigoted laws that we have in America, inherited from the failed Blaine Amendment that was included in the Constitutions of thirty eight States.
There are States where education scholarships have been introduced, but these only benefit the children of poor families. Many Catholic families make huge sacrifices to give their children a Catholic education - many more cannot afford it. Those that do pay have to pay twice for their children's education - once to the Catholic Schools and a second time through their taxes. It is time that the Church advocated for parents to have school choice - not for the few, but for all.

Mike Macrie
4 months 1 week ago

If you can get Congress to change the law to treat all Religious Schools, Catholic, Jewish, Morman, and Muslim like Charter Schools then you just have to pay taxes for education. I’m not sure that Seperation of State and Church should apply to Education. The Reality is Catholic Schools will not survive charging the Tuition that they do. Very few Catholic Clergy teach anymore and you have Catholic lay teachers that must be paid a reasonable salary.

Mike Macrie
4 months 1 week ago

If

Mike Macrie
4 months 1 week ago

I

Crystal Watson
4 months 1 week ago

Why does it cost so much to go to Catholic schools? It costs more than 4 times as much to go to Georgetown, one of the schools caught scamming, than it does to go to Oxford. Same is true of Boston College, another Jesuit school. The fact that there are some scholarships in no way answers the question of why tuition is so high that lower and middle class students cannot afford to attend.

FRAN ABBOTT
4 months 1 week ago

Tuition is high at all private schools, which are not supported by tax dollars like state schools are.

Crystal Watson
4 months 1 week ago

These "private" schools are supported by a world-wide church, a church that purports to teach the gospel value of helping the poor, not educating the rich.

Sandy Everett
4 months ago

Actually as the parent of five (2 college graduates, 2 currently in college, one in high school) I have found many of the protestant christian colleges very affordable. Grove City College was under 25,000 for room, board and tuition. The Catholic colleges were off the charts...my kids were accepted into Catholic University of America with room board and tuition at over 62,000. So far all of them have gone to Christian Colleges, not Catholic Colleges. And public school as the local Catholic school was just too expensive.

Christopher Lochner
4 months 1 week ago

But the problem also is in tuition cost increases which greatly outstrip inflation. So a better question is whether this is education for the sake of learning or education as a business with learning as a sideline, you know, the old diploma mill model.

Crystal Watson
4 months 1 week ago

I went to a state college, worked part time jobs, and majored in liberal arts - art and philosophy. Now education seems to be purely vocational, just a means to a financial end. I don't get why the church participates in this.

Stanley Kopacz
4 months ago

I figured out what my yearly tuition at St. Joseph's then College in 1970 was in today's dollars. Around $8K. Actual SJU yearly tuition in 2019, $42K. That IS beyond inflation.

Chris Dorf
4 months 1 week ago

...no kidding...like this is some revelation? We has a Yale person as President in the US for 8 years who was a product of wealthy connected nepotism. Tell us something all of us outsiders do not know. The Gospel looks good, but who lives by it?

Michael Cardinale
4 months 1 week ago

There is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus was well educated in the sense of this article. He knew Scripture (better than anyone else); so yes, He could read and write. He was probably a great carpenter. He knew the hearts of man, and the evil of demons; but He didn't learn that in a school. Throughout the Bible, God tells His people that they are responsible to educate their children in His ways and of their covenant with Him. Jesus Christ continues that teaching tradition. When the Israelites failed to teach their children, they forgot God's promise and failed to keep theirs. We have the same issue today. The Church needs to strengthen that apostolate.
While I think Catholic children are better off in Catholic schools, they mainly they need education on the Gospel. Though many Catholic schools are unaffordable, all Catholic parishes that I have been in offered CCD for a reasonable fee (which even that could be waived); so, religious education is available to all Catholic children generally through high school (but many cease to go after Confirmation – the fault of parents, not the Church). All state universities with which I have been associated have had a Newman Center or at least a Catholic chaplain. So, even if a Catholic University is unaffordable, the Church helps ensure that our children can receive the education that God wants us to give them, but not necessarily the secular content that our increasingly godless society wants.
The great offenders are the nominally Catholic universities that have decided that their secular academic reputation is more important than their Catholic reputation or obedience to their bishop (yeah, I know, in this forum they are all evil) or the Truth. Fortunately, as I have seen evidence at Georgetown and Notre Dame, many students are seeking the Truth of the Gospel even if their administrators and professors aren’t.

John Lennon
4 months 1 week ago

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Vincent Gaglione
4 months 1 week ago

I am firmly opposed to the use of taxpayer dollars for the support of religious schools. First, I am a retired public-school teacher. I know full well what damages have been inflicted on public education by the “choice” philosophy, which has become a sop to those who don’t have the wherewithal or time to become more involved in creating good public schools everywhere or who seek a segregated environment of various sorts: discipline, religion, culture, etc. Second, I do not want my tax dollars used to support any institution which teaches a religion, culture, belief system, etc. to which I am opposed. If you prefer a specific belief system, pay for it yourself. Third, as the author points out, education is a human right and as such deserves the fullest support from governments for every child and every child’s specific needs. When I began teaching, children with disabilities were literally barred from public education. Since, they are included, as well they should be.

It costs money, big money, and maybe those who can afford to bribe their children’s ways into schools should be taxed to help those who can’t. People talk extravagantly about the importance of education; they don’t talk about funding it.

Oh yes, finally, I am a product of Catholic schools – 14 years of Catholic education, provided almost for free because there were women and men whose vocations gave their working lives to do it. That pool of educators doesn’t exist anymore. Those of us who benefited from them need to spend some dollars providing for their care in their old ages!

Judith Jordan
4 months 1 week ago

Vincent Gaglione--
My experiences and attitudes are mostly the same as yours. I was educated in Catholic schools and I am now a retired public school teacher. I am opposed to any tax payer money going to religious schools even if I agree with the teachings of that religion. When I was in Catholic schools, pre-Vatican II, not one penny of tax money went to us and that is the way it should be.

Ironically, the group who most opposed money for Catholic schools, even for school buses or text books, were Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals. For some decades, these are the same groups who demand tax money now and often get it. I oppose tax money for religious schools because I am a strong believer in separation of church and state; and, many religious schools teach things that are morally repugnant to me.

Universal public education has always been the good attempt to equalize our students and the nation. Now public education funds are bleeding into other forms of education. And then people wonder why public schools are having such a difficult time.

Vince Killoran
4 months ago

Agree on all counts. Public education is one of the few civic spaces left in this privatized world of ours. No public $$ for religious, private, or charter schools. (Yes, I know that charter schools are, technically, "public" but they are an insidious means of undercutting "real" public schools.)

Vince Killoran
4 months ago

Agree on all counts. Public education is one of the few civic spaces left in this privatized world of ours. No public $$ for religious, private, or charter schools. (Yes, I know that charter schools are, technically, "public" but they are an insidious means of undercutting "real" public schools.)

rose-ellen caminer
4 months ago

We live in a super competitive society. [That we are materialistic; that we like stuff, is not the problem[IMO]. Liking material things does not make one materialistic. The appeal of physical things is innocent ,even spiritual; for delighting in the aesthetics of things can lift ones mind and hearts to the reality of God; the creator of the universe and of made in God image humans who also create beautiful things.]

What IS pernicious in society is not the misnomer "materialism"[ the consumer culture;liking things does not preclude one from having humanistic values] but the value we place on "success". To be successful matters above all, and success means prestige. Everyone is expected to accomplish. Accomplish ,accomplish, accomplish; Young people just starting out in life are asked what have you accomplished so far, when applying for a job or to get into college.They are expected to have countless passions, drives ,ambitions, verifiable for all to know good deeds. Being a successful person is all, and success is measured by prestige;societal recognition. Every one feels this pressure to be a success. Certainly parents for their children. In this culture of competition to be successful and where success is measured by prestige; the prestige of accomplishments,of standing out , the prestige of a degree from certain universities, people get desperate. Desperate people do all manner of reckless immoral and illegal things.;if I take a risk and just do THIS, all will be well going forward. If not for me, for my children. That's how people who pay money to coyotes just to live in first first world US reason. [ I'm not talking about refugees from wars and violence here but just the risks people take to come here for opportunities for a better life].That is how even rich people reason when desperate to want their children to have the successful future that graduating with a degree from a prestigious university reason;if I just do THIS ,then THAT; my children will have it made for life according to societies measure.

I feel sorry for these parents and everyone involved. I know what it's like to desperately want something.For my own self.I recognize the brazen outragousness of what they did but I also recognize the societal pressure this competitive value to "succeed", places on everyone.

John Walton
4 months ago

If I were President of a Catholic college or university, and people weren't bribing their way to get in I would suggest that the Board of Trustees were derelict in their duty in your continued employment. Just sayin...the market is seldom wrong.

John Walton
4 months ago

.

J Jones
4 months ago

just as many Catholics believe the RCC is the primary funder of Catholic social services in the US (spoiler: the largest funder of Catholic Charities USA is the federal government AKA the US taxpayer), many also believe that Catholic schools do not receive taxpayer funding (spoiler: Catholic colleges and universities do receive public funding, and many primary and secondary Catholic schools do too).

1) httpss://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.businessinsider.com/catholic-schools-voucher-programs-study-2017-2
2) From Georgetown's website: https://finaid.georgetown.edu/financial-resources.
3) From Forbes 2018 https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/richardvedder/2018/04/08/there-are-really-almost-no-truly-private-universities/amp/
4) A list of private colleges that do NOT accept federal funding https://deanclancy.com/a-list-of-colleges-that-dont-take-federal-money/

J Jones
4 months ago

Duplicate

Annette Magjuka
4 months ago

My Dad was the son of an Italian immigrant coal miner in PA who never learned English. My dad worked very hard and his siblings pooled $ to send him to college. He became a professor/administrator at Notre Dame. All five of his children went to ND tuition free as a job perk. This was his goal in life—that we could go to ND. We all embraced this great opportunity, and it changed the trajectory of our families forever. I have three children who worked very hard. Two went to ND, one was a D-1 athlete on full scholarship. Paying for Notre Dame took every penny of our disposable income. We are still trying to help with graduate degrees. I do not begrudge paying for these educations, but it made me acutely aware just how much a family must earn to pay. We’d earn $, we paid all of it in tuition. Only the truly wealthy can absorb the cost of tuition. My aunt is a nun in her90’s. She taught physics, chemistry, and calculus in Catholic schools for over 60years. Then she tutored from her retirement home. This was her vocation. She has a bare room with a chair and a bed. The misogyny in the church has driven women away. I believe that our young people have the heart for tremendous service, but many are strapped with student loans so onerous that they are trapped. Those who would teach in any school, Catholic or public, cannot afford to live on the meager salaries. There are no more nuns to staff catholic schools (for free)! The smart women in our society are developing their talents where they are respected. The bottom line with education is, WHO GETS A SEAT? Because it is the access to the education that is everything. If we do not want to keep on educating a bunch of tone-deaf “elites,” we need to give access to a diverse student body. Diversity is a vital component of a true education. Otherwise, the privileged talk to the privileged, and out pop more clueless “leaders.” Diversity—and listening are the keys. But many wealthy want to keep the access shut tight! And they hold a lot of the power. So, there you have it.

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