The October issue of Common Sense, one of the campus newspapers at Notre Dame, included an article by Professor Emeritus Peter Walshe entitled “The Conscience of a University: a matter of economics and perhaps much more.” The article originally appeared in the newspaper in 1996, but it is being republished because, according to the Editor’s note, “especially in light of the uncertain future of the Economics Department at Notre Dame, the concerns that Professor Walshe discusses remain as pertinent as ever.” (While the issues are not currently posted online, the original 1996 publication of this article can be found here.)
Because of the lucidity and clairvoyance with which Professor Walshe writes, I can only quote him and encourage a reading of the entire article.
As the campus struggles to discern the essential attributes of a Catholic university, blame for the crisis – the advance of secularization – has focused on the relationship between faith and science, liberalism, individualism, license, the scourge of the Enlightenment, the collapse of an inherited moral consensus, etc. etc.. What is missed – because it would be far too uncomfortable to confront – is the nature of the capitalist enterprise that has been embraced by Notre Dame. Capitalist values and the financial clout of corporate leaders prevail. Instead of witnessing against the cultural hegemony of capitalism, Notre Dame reflects it. Notice our market generated income differentials (the huge discrepancies that exist between faculty colleagues), the composition of our Board of Trustees, our monuments to capitalist heroes, the corporate salaries paid to our top administrators and our unwillingness to take up certain justice issues: for example, the longstanding opposition to trade union activity on campus, whether among groundskeepers, dining hall staff, secretaries or faculty.
A major casualty of this approach was the Department of Economics. In an earlier decade it had begun to establish a national reputation as a place where unfashionable value issues were taken seriously. Hesitating to continue down this road, the strategy (under pressure from the Provost’s office) changed to one of employing au courant, (largely mathematical) model- building faculty, which has made the Department much less interesting.. In an interview in Common Sense last month, Douglas Kinsey drew our attention to a comparably disquieting situation, pointing out that market determined salaries are heavily skewed against the Art Department where a distinguished senior professor will earn a salary below that of incoming junior faculty in the Business School. (Next time the Business School hosts a conference on business ethics it might care to use this situation as a case-study.) Another example of the malaise comes from the Department of Government which earlier this year set out to lure a successful British academic. Toying with the Department, he visited the campus on several occasions, negotiating for the top dollar, only to decline the offer – for which the Department had gone out on a limb to make in a context where there was an urgent need to appoint women and minorities. (I suspect he had second thoughts about being stranded in an Indiana cornfield, or possibly a better deal was made elsewhere.) Such cases, and the maneuvers of already appointed and well compensated faculty to pressure Notre Dame into yet further pay hikes, are not unusual. The sad fact is that we have naive administrators who lack confidence and are easily dazzled by high profile academics – particularly those from Latin America and Europe – ready to take advantage of the University’s insecurity to squeeze out inflated contracts. The result is a chaotic pattern of salaries which is an affront to sorority and fraternity.
Forming Notre Dame as a truly Catholic university means answering Bob Rodes’ most telling questions: “Do our teaching and research priorities reflect a preferential option for the poor, a concern for the margins of society?” Or do we set out “to impress the biggest employers,” court the wealthiest foundations, publish in the most prestigious journals, become dependent on outside funding and its research agendas – “to the point of exercising a preferential option for the rich?