We don’t typically do stuff like this but CMR friend Amy Giglio wrote in about her concerns with Seton Hall University. She seemed to know a lot about the university and its issues. While she asked CMR to write something up about it I thought readers would be better served by someone with her knowledge base. So I asked Amy to write up her concerns and she wrote back that she would. And this is what she wrote. In reading it I learned a lot about Seton Hall. But I think it has relevance beyond just one school. I believe right now that many Catholic schools are in danger of losing their Catholicism. So check out this story by Amy Giglio:
It seems there is a quiet battle going on behind the iron gates of Seton Hall University: a battle for the university’s soul.
The Division 1 men’s basketball program has endured a very dark off-the-court stretch, a new class is being offered by a member of the faculty who operates clearly and loudly at odds with Church teaching, and a year-long search for a new president has turned out fruitless. All of these things are circling in the air over these 58 acres of South Orange, NJ. Is Seton Hall’s soul dead, or merely on life support?
Seton Hall University is the oldest and largest diocesan university in the United States. Founded in 1856, just three years after the founding of the Diocese of Newark, NJ, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, established Seton Hall University to fill the need for a Catholic university within the diocese. He named the university for his aunt, Elizabeth Ann Seton, a Catholic convert who established the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph in Emmitsburg, MD to care for and educate poor children. Mother Seton would be the first American-born saint, canonized in 1975.
What’s been going on at The Hall lately?
1. Basketball madness: In April, 2006, Seton Hall Univeristy announced that Bobby Gonzalez, a coach known for his passion and explosive temper, would lead its Divison I, Big East men’s basketball program. In the four years he was there, Gonzalez did bring the better connections with local high school coaches that the university was looking for (National High School basketball powerhouses St. Anthony’s and St. Patrick’s are within 12 miles of campus.), but he alienated those same coaches and he also brought in some questionable transfer students who had run-ins with the law while enrolled at SHU. One was arrested for drunk driving the wrong way on the Garden State Parkway. Another punched a player on the opposing team below the belt during a game. A third, after having been kicked off the team, duct taped 8 people, some of whom were former teammates, and robbed them. On March 17, 2010, Gonzalez was fired by SHU President Robert Sheeran, six months after having been granted a contract extension through 2014. Sheeran cited Gonzalez’s conduct and that of his players as cause for termination. Gonzalez sued Seton Hall for wrongful termination shortly after he was fired, and Seton Hall countersued. The cases were settled out of court on August 25, 2010. No details of the settlement were released.
Seton Hall’s men’s basketball team has been the big team at the University. When any college’s or university’s basketball team does well in the NCAA tournament, its national profile is higher and it typically sees a sizable jump in admissions applications, which can translate into more qualified students and more money for the university. But at what cost? Bobby Gonzalez was a questionable choice for Seton Hall from the start. He’s intense, but was his brand of intensity a good fit for a Catholic university? Don’t Catholic colleges and universities have to hold themselves and their employees and students to a higher standard of behavior, modeling themselves on Jesus Christ?
It seems that Seton Hall has learned a lesson from the Gonzalez experience. On March 28, 2010, Seton Hall hired Kevin Willard, a family man who turned around the basketball program at Iona College and who served as Rick Pitino’s assistant with the Boston Celtics and at the University of Louisville. In an interview published on August 24, Willard told ESPN’s Dana O’Neil “When I met with Seton Hall, we talked a lot about behavior, but we also talked about winning and losing. I think you can have both. You can have a program you can be proud of and also have success. That’s what our goal is.”
Is it possible for a Catholic college or university today to have it both ways: to be a national sports powerhouse that is also fully committed to its Catholic identity? Of the colleges and universities who answered the National Catholic Register/Faith and Family Magazine’s 2009 College survey (only 26 schools completed the survey out of about 240 Catholic colleges and universities across the country), none of them have Division I athletic programs.
To look at Division I powerhouse Notre Dame’s decisions over the last 15 years or so, one might be left to wonder if Catholic colleges have their sports and be faithful, too. Certainly there are some members of the theology faculty who are solidly committed to the teaching authority of the Church, but there are others who are not. Notre Dame hosted the play The Vagina Monologues in 2008. And the fact that Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to President Obama in 2009, one of the most vocal proponents of abortion in our nation, and still refuses to drop charges against peaceful protesters might leave some to wonder if a Catholic college can really “have it all.” And if it’s worth having in the first place.
2. Questionable Course Offered: On April 15, 2010, The Setonian, the Seton Hall University student newspaper, published a story about a new course to be offered in fall 2010 on the topic of gay marriage. The course will be taught by Dr. W. King Mott, an openly gay professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department. Mott told the Setonian that this course was not about advocacy, but would take an academic approach to the issue. “I hope my students gain an appreciation and respect for disinterested analysis that can be used to formulate an informed opinion,” Mott told The Setonian.
Upon learning about the course offering, Archbishop Myers asked the University’s Board of Trustees (of which Myers is Chair) and the Board of Regents (of which Myers is president), to review the course. At this time, no official decision has been made on whether or not the course will go forward. The Mission and Identity Committee was supposed to discuss it in June. However, in an article that appeared in the Star-Ledger on August 25, Mott has said that as far as he has been told, the course is still slated to begin in the first week of class and it has about 24 students registered. The University had no official comment to the Star Ledger.
This is not the first time Mott has clashed with the administration of the University. In October 2005, The Star Ledger printed a letter by Mott that criticized the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Mott signed the letter as the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Seton Hall University. As a result, Mott was removed from his duties as Associate Dean, but was retained as a tenured member of the faculty.
What’s interesting about Mott is that his entire professional academic career has been at Catholic Universities. I wonder why that is, especially since he thinks the Church is homophobic:
“The bottom line is, you’re talking about a homophobic institution,” he said last night. “The Roman Catholic Church is prima facie homophobic. The Roman Catholic Church considers me to be inherently disordered. I don’t know how much more homophobic one can be” (Star Ledger October 28, 2005). In this 2005 article, Mott had indicated that he would seek a faculty position elsewhere. Clearly, he is still teaching at Seton Hall.
When I worked at Seton Hall as an admissions counselor 10 years ago, the nursing students were put on rotations in which they would observe abortion procedures. The nursing school made it clear to us at the time that students could opt out of those rotations without penalty, but the question is: why was this part of the nursing curriculum at a Catholic University in the first place?
Catholic Colleges have a right and a grave responsibility to be CATHOLIC. Many parents send their children to, and pay good money for, Catholic universities for a Catholic education. And knowing that, there are many secular colleges and universities which would gladly hire well-qualified professors, like Mott, without caring about what they think about Church teaching.
Seton Hall is a diocesan university, meaning that it is not founded or tied to a particular religious order, but it was founded by the Bishop of Newark and is tied to the diocese in its bylaws. Immaculate Conception Seminary, the diocesan seminary, is located on the campus at SHU. The Archbishop of Newark, Most Rev. John J. Myers, is the chair of the Board of Trustees and is also the Chair of the Board of Regents. Other permanent seats on the Board of Regents are the bishops of the four other dioceses in New Jersey, and other clergy.
One subcommittee of the Board of Regents is the Mission and Identity Committee. “The Mission and Identity Committee shall consider matters referred to the Board of Regents by the Board of Trustees arising from the University’s Catholic mission and identity, giving due consideration to the identity of Catholic institutions of higher education that is described in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990). The Committee shall report its recommendations to the Board of Regents” (Seton Hall Univeristy By-laws, Section 2, e, 3).
Why did the Mission and Identity Committee fail to issue a judgment or recommendation on this course? A Catholic University ought to be an oasis for Catholic thought and ideas. Parents should not have to be worried about whether or not a particular Catholic university is really Catholic. Parents should expect that their children will not be put off their faith by the actions of the university. People who are not Catholic should be attracted to a true Catholic University that by its nature would exude Christian love and freedom .
3. Failed presidential search: In June 2009, Msgr. Robert Sheeran announced his intention to resign as the President of Seton Hall University, kicking off a year-long search for a replacement. By the spring of 2010, the committee had chosen two priests as finalists, Msgr. Stuart Swetland and Rev. Kevin Mackin, OFM. Fr. Mackin, currently the president of Mt. St. Mary College in Newburgh, NY, withdrew from consideration shortly after his name was announced, saying that he had decided to stay at Mt. St. Mary’s.
Msgr. Swetland, who was ordained for the diocese of Peoria IL in 1991 by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers (bishop of Peoria Diocese from 1990-2001), came to campus for a series of interviews in May 2010. Swetland is the host of EWTN’s Catholicism on Campus and a professor at Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. Some at the university objected to Swetland’s candidacy, citing his lack of administrative experience. They also contended that he was being seriously considered a finalist only because of his friendship with Archbishop Myers.
Swetland was offered the job of president of Seton Hall. During the course of confidential contract negotiations, some university officials leaked specific details about the contract discussion, including a reported $300,000 annual salary. Sheeran earned about $31,000 per year. At the same time, the faculty senate, which represents each of the university’s colleges, circulated a statement urging the Board of Regents to reopen the search to seek candidates with more administrative experience and to laypeople. Citing his discernment that the Lord was calling him to stay at Mt. St. Mary’s (MD) and expressing his disappointment that the confidential contract discussion had been compromised, Swetland withdrew his candidacy.
While other New Jersey Catholic colleges in the area have gone from having priests and religious serving as president to laypeople, Seton Hall has not. The Board of Regents had limited its search to clergy for two reasons: the by-laws of the university require that the president is a priest and the Board’s feeling that a priest-president best serves the university’s mission.
4. Mission Control? At the beginning of this series, I said that there seems to be a battle going on for the university’s soul: a battle between Catholic thought and values and those of the secular world. It’s human nature to want to draw clear lines and assign parts in this drama: “liberal” faculty forces vs. a “conservative” archbishop, or the money a Division 1 sports program can bring in vs. goodness and integrity. I’m not so sure that accurately depicts what’s going on here.
The university has a lot going for it in terms of “orthodoxy cred.” The Office of Mission and Ministry at the University seems to be trying to do a lot of good things, overseeing: The Catholic Center for Family Life and Spirituality, The G.K. Chesteron Institute for Faith and Culture, the Institute for Christian Spirituality, and others.
What I think we have at Seton Hall is a split-personality disorder. There seems to be a culture there that doesn’t recognize that to be intellectually honest and rigorous and truly Catholic are not mutually exclusive things. The Seminary and the Mission and Identity haven’t been successful in permeating the entire culture at Seton Hall.
What Seton Hall needs to do, and it is not too far gone to do, is to examine itself through the lens of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education (In its press packet, the Cardinal Newman Society has a good breakdown of the guidelines and analysis of what has happened at Catholic colleges in the United States in the 20 years since Ex Corde was published.). Seton Hall doesn’t seem to have truly embraced the following:
“A Catholic university, as Catholic, informs and carries out its research, teaching, and all other activities with Catholic ideals, principles and attitudes. …Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected. Any official action or commitment of the university is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”
Catholic ideals, principles, and attitudes are not being reflected across the board at Seton Hall. Catholic attitudes and principles were not on display during the coaching tenure of Bobby Gonzalez. Having a priest sit on your bench during games (like the team chaplain, Msgr. Liddy does) doesn’t mean that your coach and his or her players are living Catholic attitudes and principles, and it doesn’t make up for distinctly un-Christian behavior.
Can a course on gay marriage be offered at a Catholic university that is living up to Catholic ideals, principles, and actions? Can such a course be offered in a completely balanced way, showing how the Church teaches that people who self-identify as gay must be treated with dignity and respect and are called, just like every other human being, to live a chaste life within God’s ordered creation and that the Church teaches that gay marriage goes against the natural law? It’s hard to imagine that an openly gay professor who has advocated for the gay lifestyle would be able to accomplish this.
This struggle between the secular forces and Catholic mission forces is very evident in the failed search for a replacement for Msgr. Robert Sheeran this past year. Based on Msgr. Swetland’s background and his involvement with EWTN’s “Catholicism on Campus,” one might conclude that Msgr. Swetland might try to guide Seton Hall into a place where it resides more firmly within Ex Corde’s guidelines. Some have seen in Swetland’s candidacy the hand of Archbishop Myers trying to bring Seton Hall closer to Ex Corde.
What can the Archbishop do about Seton Hall University? The truth is, Archbishop Myers can do very little in an overt way, so there is no smackdown on the way. The Archdiocese does not own Seton Hall, even though it is a diocesan university. Archbishop Myers does sit on two very important boards, but he doesn’t have absolute control over them. He can advocate and he can preach, but he does not have direct control over the daily happenings at the University. That is the job of the President.
What can we, Jane and Joe Catholic sitting in the pews, do to save not just this Catholic university, but all Catholic colleges and universities in danger of losing their souls? First, we must pray. We must ask the intercession of the saints in whose names these schools were founded for the conversion of the campuses. We must pray for the clergy and religious who are running these schools. We must pray for those who are trying to effect positive change at these schools. We must pray for lukewarm souls to be set on fire for Christ once again.
If we are alumni of these Catholic colleges in trouble, we must make our feelings known and vote with our wallets. We need to show the people on the boards and the presidents of these colleges that following the guidelines of Ex Corde means something to us and that we will either give or withhold giving based on how well they do that.
We also need to understand what following the guidelines established by Ex Corde means. People tend to focus on the mandatum oath, whose theology professors have taken it and whose haven’t (From Ex Corde: Catholic theologians “are to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church as the authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.” Every professor of Catholic theology must have a “mandate” (mandatum) from the local bishop, as required in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.”). While the mandatum is crucial, it’s only one part of the guidelines and isn’t a guarantee of a holistically Catholic college. The National Catholic Register/Faith and Family Magazine College survey is an excellent resource which asks the colleges to self- report on all of the guidelines established by Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The Newman Guide is indispensable in helping Catholic families choose a Catholic College.
Finally, we need to support the bishops who are working to clean these colleges up. We need to encourage them with cards, letters and emails, and we especially need to pray for them. Our bishops need to know that we think that Catholic colleges and universities are important to all the faithful, to our country, and to the world. Our bishops need to know that we believe that the colleges and universities who would call themselves Catholic need to project a strong Catholic identity for the world to see.