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Catholic World News News Feature

Raid or Rescue? September 27, 2001

What is happening at the University of Dallas? It is a question many seem to be asking in light of the April 9 resignations of the entire full-time staff of the university’s 15-year-old Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies (IRPS) program, a graduate program designed to prepare lay Catholics for church ministries. The resignations included those of director Douglas Bushman and associate directors Timothy Herrman and David Twellman, and took effect Friday, May 11.

The resignations--following on the heels of the forced closing of the St. Ignatius Institute program at the University of San Francisco--have prompted some questions as to whether the attack on perceived conservative programs on campuses of American Catholic universities might not be a trend. But whether or not the change at their school is indeed part of a larger trend, faculty and students at the University of Dallas believe that at the heart of issue there is real tension regarding the university’s Catholic identity.

Douglas Bushman declined to talk about specific issues surrounding his departure, but said that he feels there is a great deal of evidence that "the current administration is antagonistic to the IRPS in its present form and there is a desire to change direction." He continued:

That is the prerogative of the president and the Board. But it placed me in the awkward position of inviting hundreds of students and several bishops to make a significant commitment to a program that the university did not support. I felt I could no longer fulfill my responsibilities with integrity.

Bushman's quandary was resolved when he was contacted by another school, Ave Maria University in Michigan, which is aggressively recruiting loyal Catholic faculty members. He explains: "Ave Maria College has offered us a new home and more principled and enthusiastic support for our mission and our understanding of pastoral theology than has this [University of Dallas] administration." Bushman adds that the University of Dallas made no attempt to retain him or make a counter-offer after he received the bid from Ave Maria College.

FROM DALLAS TO AVE MARIA

Some observers in Dallas see the departure of the IRPS staff as a victory for liberals and a defeat for conservatives. Bushman comments:

While I do not think those categories are adequate to the Catholic reality, I do think the current administration is more sympathetic to those who have difficulty with our emphasis on doctrine as the foundation of all pastoral activity in the Church. All along our concern has been to offer a program consistent with the mind of the Church, to teach in rigorous fidelity to the texts of the Catholic tradition, and to stress the universal call to holiness. A principal objective has always been to lead students to appreciate the interdependence of truth and love, doctrine and pastoral practice, and thereby to overcome the false oppositions between them.

In 1992, Bushman inherited a program that had been operating in the red, staffed with heterodox teachers, and had an enrollment of 67 students. Today the program operates in the black, is staffed by teachers committed to authentic Catholic teaching, has an enrollment of 200 students, and has satellite sites in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Stevens Point, and Tulsa. Future sites were being planned to open in Omaha in the fall of 2001, and in Atlanta and Syracuse in 2002. The program had received the support of several bishops, including Bishop Edward Slattery in Tulsa, Cardinal Francis George in Chicago, and Bishop Raymond Burke in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Asked about his decision to resign, associate director David Twellman explained that he would follow Bushman's lead:

Doug has a vision for teaching what the Church teaches. He was instrumental in my own conversion to the Catholic Church as a United Methodist pastor. He teaches the truth and has invited me to work with him. If he has the opportunity to teach what the Church teaches elsewhere I am going to follow him.

In response to the IRPS resignations, the president of the University of Dallas, Msgr. Milam Joseph, sought to minimize their impact on the program. He said:

The IRPS provides pastoral theology within the diocese and the region. We are in constant dialogue with our bishops about the content of the program. The program will continue. At any university there are individuals taking jobs elsewhere. The issue is that the members of the IRPS program have decided to take another job. There is no story or agenda beyond that. They feel they can get a better deal elsewhere, I guess. That’s all I have to say.

Ave Maria president Nicholas Healy disagreed. "Why would three senior administrators of a prestigious program leave the University of Dallas for a startup?" asked Healy. "It wasn’t for the money."

"I did not initiate Doug Bushman’s decision to leave Dallas," explained Healy. "I never would have talked to him had I not heard that he was looking for a job."

Healy recounts the sequence of events that prompted his offer:

When I learned of Bushman’s work and accomplishments I was convinced of how important this is for the Church in America and how good these men were in executing a program. I spoke with students and other faculty, and they confirmed this too."

Healy also spoke with Msgr. Joseph to see whether a collaborative transition would be possible. "It wasn’t," said Healy.

On May 8, Ave Maria University announced that it would be launching a master’s degree in sacred theology through its Institute for Pastoral Theology (IPT). Modeled after the IRPS, the IPT will be headed by Dallas’ Bushman, Herrman, and Twellman. It is designed for adult lay Catholics, and will hold weekend sessions in several cities around the country.

NEW LEADERSHIP

While the University of Dallas administration insists that doctrinal disputes were not at the heart of the departures, the school's new direction has manifested itself in attacks on perceived "conservative" faculty, practices, and students. Such actions form a pattern of behavior that certainly portrays a Catholic institution in the midst of an identity crisis.

The Dallas campus has been no stranger to crisis. "Msgr. Joseph's selection as president was very controversial," explained philosophy professor Janet Smith, an internationally recognized Humane Vitae scholar and Vatican consultant. She recalled another curious sequence of events:

The board created a position for Msgr. Joseph--a former board member himself--as special assistant to the president. Soon the president resigned and Msgr. Joseph was appointed interim president. When it came time to select a president, a search committee was appointed by Msgr. Joseph; the committee did a very extensive canvassing of students, alumni, and faculty. It was overwhelmingly clear that the community wanted a president with a PhD and the ad was written to that effect.

Msgr. Joseph does not have an earned doctorate. But there were other irregularities in the selection process, as Smith points out:

In spite of the fact that we were promised that we would be able to have an active part in the selection process, no candidates were ever brought to campus or announced. Suddenly, we learned that Msgr. Joseph was being named president.

There were many students and professors at Dallas who were disappointed that a top academic institution could not attract an academic professional to serve as president. Moreover, many staff members became concerned that Msgr. Joseph would not follow due process in academic affairs. "His actions over the last several years have not allayed those fears," adds Smith.

As an example, Smith provided Msgr. Joseph’s eviction of the Millennium Evangelization Project, a program endorsed by cardinals and bishops that provides materials for educators. The new Dallas president gave no reason for moving that project off the campus. "I would have thought that such a program would be a welcome presence at any Catholic institution and a means for attracting students and donors," commented Smith. She also cites Msgr. Joseph’s reprimand for a column she and colleague Mark Lowery had published in the Dallas Morning News explaining the Holy Father’s revisions to canon law respecting dissenting theologians.

Smith herself is taking a year’s leave of absence from Dallas to accept an appointment at Sacred Heart Seminary in Michigan. She will be teaching a course at Ave Maria as well.

CAMPUS IN CRISIS

Another crisis shook the university last fall, when Msgr. Joseph decided to remove Glen Thurow from his position as provost--without opportunity for review, consultation, or board approval. According to Smith, the development office and board received hundreds of letters from faculty, students, and alumni protesting that decision. (Thurow refused to comment for this story.)

In response to the confusion resulting from that decision, 1991 valedictorian Marc Haefner organized the Alumni for Liberal Education: a network of 500 alumni whose goal is to protect the university’s core curriculum. "Our purpose is not to tear down anything, but to build up the liberal education that makes the University of Dallas so valuable," said Haefner, a New Jersey-based attorney.

"Our group serves as a watchdog," said Haefner. "Our concern is that whatever changes take place, that the university not lose its fundamental character. We keep track of what is happening at UD and keep alumni informed so that that doesn’t happen."

Not all the reviews of the new campus leadership have been critical, however. Haefner credits Msgr. Joseph with updating buildings on campus and in getting alumni to give back to the university. "They’ve made some remarkable strides," said Haefner. "The percentage of alumni giving to the university was between 8 and 15 percent and has doubled to 26 percent."

"The students recognize the outstanding Catholic liberal arts education that UD offers," said a former student body president and 1999 graduate, Dan Oldenburg. "They do not want to see that change."

Oldenburg, who is finishing his second year of law school at Creighton, fleshed out his point:

Students appreciate a renovated dorm, but if the administration starts toying with the core curriculum, replacing the provost, and making changes for the sake of change the students will vigorously object. This objection is voiced more rapidly when there is no explanation for the change. Msgr. Joseph seems to think that UD is rigid and needs to be brought to the "middle of the road."

NERVOUS ABOUT A REPUTATION

The University of Dallas traces its beginnings to Sister Teresa Weber, Provincial Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, in 1950. Recognizing the need for a Catholic college in the area, the sisters revived the 1906 charter of the defunct Holy Trinity College, obtained land, and lined up a board of directors. In 1956, Bishop Thomas K. Gorman joined with Dallas business leaders Eugene Constantin, Jr. and Edward R. Maher to build a university founded on freedom, faith, and the classical curriculum that had been developed at the great European universities. The University of Dallas was founded and opened with 96 students in 1956. Today, the campus has grown to 3,000 students. Over the years the University of Dallas has become known as an institution faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and devoted to a classical Great Books core curriculum.

In his January, 1996 convocation address, Msgr. Joseph called for a conversion of heart and spoke of his desire for a change in the atmosphere on campus. "We have made an idol out of the past, and… I think that mentality has… an infatuation with death." He continued, "We have to make a decision whether we want to be a closed, narrow, rigid, fearful, timid, secure, controlled group of people. If we want to stay there, we are prophets of doom."

Staff and faculty members have expressed their concern with the university’s direction as well. The former director of university relations, Alan Van Zelfden, explained how in 1998 the administration questioned the alphabetical listing of "Abortion" as the first topic in a media guide that he was compiling. According to Van Zelfden, a vice president in the school's new administration expressed fears that such a listing would make UD appear "right wing." As a result, and at considerable cost to the institution, the word "Abortion" was erased and replaced with "Accounting" as the first alphabetical listing in the guide. "Abortion" was moved under the topic heading of sexuality--next to last in the guide.

"The bottom line is that the University of Dallas struggled enormously to distance itself from the topic of abortion," stated Van Zelfden. "It did so on the misguided premise that the university would be branded with some kind of scarlet letter--the stigma of being so-called 'right wing.'"

"I believe the university's action in this regard is part of a mosaic of evidence in the ongoing saga of a Catholic university struggling with its identity," stated Van Zelfden.

Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, a theology professor whose high profile is based in part on his regular appearances on the Eternal Word Television Network, offers another example of this sensitivity toward criticisms that Dallas is a "conservative" institution:

In December, 1999, after my successful 4th-year tenure review, Msgr. Joseph asked me, "Why are you here? Why aren’t you at a Jesuit school?" He explained that he was uncomfortable with me being at UD because of my involvement with EWTN, and said, "I don’t want this to become another Steubenville."

PASTORAL CONFLICTS

The desire to avoid an appearance of "conservatism" has also led to conflicts over liturgical practices on the Dallas campus. Matthew Schultz, a 2000 graduate, explained how as a freshman in 1996, he had been told by Msgr. Joseph to "stand up" when he knelt to receive Communion. The same thing happened three more times during his undergraduate years--once again with Msgr. Joseph and twice with Father Sean Martin. According to Schultz, Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante held a meeting on campus in April of 2000, and told students that such behavior was unbecoming of a priest and that it should never happen again. Despite the intervention of Bishop Galante, Schutz says that his sister was asked to stand during the Baccalaureate Mass one month after the bishop's appearance on campus.

A more recent incident occurred on May 13 of this year. Jamie Clover, a senior, said that she knelt to receive Communion, as she often does, during the Sunday evening Mass on campus. "The celebrant, Father Sean Martin, said to me, ‘We take Communion standing up here,’" reports Clover.

Clover said she met with Msgr. Joseph and Father Martin a few days after the incident. "While Father Martin did not apologize, Msgr. Joseph assured me that it would not happen again."

"My impression," said Clover, "is that the priests are more liberal than the faculty."

Perhaps even more shocking is a conversation between Msgr. Joseph and the former student body president, Daniel Oldenburg, in January, 1999. Oldenburg made a transcript of a conversation that occurred between him and Msgr. Joseph while he was an undergraduate. Oldenburg had been called in to Msgr. Joseph’s office following a student forum that had occurred a day earlier. According to Oldenburg, Msgr. Joseph was upset by a question he had been asked about any administrative attempt to alter the Catholic identity of the university. In response, Msgr. Joseph shouted at Oldenburg, used several expletives, and complained that he had been "set up" by students at the campus meeting. Oldenberg's transcript has Msgr. Joseph suggesting that students were being "poisoned and indoctrinated by the faculty," and suggesting that Oldenburg’s degree "would not have been worth 25 cents" prior to Joseph's arrival at the university.

DIFFERING PERSPECTIVES

Professor Smith views Msgr. Joseph’s interventions in academic staffing as heavy-handed. "He has imposed chairmen on departments, passed over senior faculty for chairmanships, vetoed departmental recommendations for new faculty hires, and refused to explain a veto of a theology department appointment," explained Smith. Specifically regarding the IRPS, she saw a deliberate pattern of intervention:

Msgr. Joseph created a program for deacons--widely considered to be unnecessary and perceived as a rival to the IRPS... In the fall of 2000, Msgr. Joseph attempted to place Father Martin as co-director of the IRPS program. No search committee was appointed and no reason was given for the need for a co-director. Many believed these actions were a means to force Bushman’s resignation or to influence the direction of the IRPS program.

Douglas Bushman would not directly corroborate Smith’s remarks. But he did concede that after Father Martin had been named as a new director of the IRPS program, his own status was uneasy. Alluding to his eventual resignation, he said that "there was the perception that this was imminent last fall."

Prior to the resignations, only one student had been accepted into the IRPS program for the fall of 2001. Marc Drogin, a former Jewish atheist, converted to Catholicism in 1974 and is now director of Remnant of Israel. Drogin says he was invited to apply by Dr. William Farmer, the noted Scripture scholar, prior to Farmer's death on December 31, 2000. The university, which is no longer accepting new students in the IRPS program for the fall of 2001, is honoring its commitment to Drogin by allowing him to enter as a second-year student.

Drogin's view of the changes in the IRPS program is distinctly upbeat. He reports that he has been told the new direction of the IRPS will be more "ecumenical." He says:

There are good things going on at the University of Dallas that are genuinely Catholic. We are seeing the genuine fruits of Vatican II, 35 years later. Dr. Farmer brought people together and did wonderful things. That is the purpose of a university. Protestants are saying that they are casting their lot with Vatican II. If Msgr. Joseph says he wants to implement Vatican II, let’s go with it.

"The Holy Father," said Drogin, "has been able to transcend the liberal-conservative battles because he has focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel." He hopes the IRPS program will be able to do the same.

Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann told the Dallas Morning News that the departures from the IRPS were "a blessing." According to Bishop Grahmann, the diocese pulled out of the institute years ago because it had become narrowly focused on teaching Church doctrine. The diocese then started its own program to train deacons and lay ministers; now the bishop says he hopes to be able to phase out that diocesan program and move back into the IRPS.

"Now the Institute can once again do what it was founded to do," Bishop Grahmann said. "It's being allowed to return to its original mission of serving the local Church. We are changing the direction of the program."

In the course of the past ten years, Catholics have surpassed Baptists as the largest religious contingent in the Dallas area. The diocese estimates that it has 800,000 Catholics, the majority of whom are Hispanic. Because of a shortage of priests, the diocese has become more dependent on deacons and lay people. The IRPS did not respond effectively to that situation, Bishop Grahmann charged. "The whole practical side of being of service to the Church escaped the faculty members who left," he said. "They became advocates of an ideal orthodoxy and built walls that no one could penetrate."

On the other hand, the students who were attracted to Dallas by the IRPS program that Douglas Bushman had built are now left to wonder whether the IRPS will continue to fulfill their needs. Cathy Hennessey, a second-year student, reports that although it is still too early to say what she will do, her instinct is to pursue the program through Ave Maria. "I am there for those professors," she reasons, "and if there is any way possible, I would like to follow them."

Another second-year student, attorney Marty Stewart, agrees:

If a competing program is offered through Ave Maria, I imagine that a large number of students will be attracted to it. I have very serious concerns as to whether I will want to finish up the program at the University of Dallas.

[AUTHOR ID] Tim Drake is the managing editor of the Catholic.net Internet site.

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