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Conflicts, campuses, and the return to Catholic commitments

More and more academic institutions—Duke Divinity School, Notre Dame, the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and Providence College in Rhode Island, to name just a few Christian schools, and just from the past two months—are in the news for the way they handle, or fail to handle, conflicts. While the particulars differ in each case, the overall complaint seems to be that universities today are more fragmented than ever, and are getting worse at handling conflict.

But what if, instead of lamenting all the conflicts on campuses today and acts of censorship when lectures are “no platformed” by students, Catholics instead not merely welcome but actively cultivate conflict in their students and on their campuses? What if Catholic universities set themselves the goal not of graduating compliant professionals fit for the ranks of the bourgeoisie, but people proficient at putting the politics, the state, and the market economies of our time radically to the question in search of a true culture of life? What if Catholic universities sought no longer to be post-Enlightenment liberal universities but instead refashion themselves on the model of a pre-modern Catholic university?

These are not really my own suggestions, but are largely drawn from something articulated by Alasdair MacIntyre in Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry (University of Notre Dame Press, 1990). In light of so many universities embroiled in conflict today, I decided to return to the last chapter of that book, “Reconceiving the University as an Institution and the Lecture as a Genre.” It is, like many of MacIntyre’s writings, composed of roughly equal doses of intellectual history and cultural despair—with a few counter-intuitive suggestions of a possible way forward raised at the very end.

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