Public Policy & Higher Education, Catholicism & Student Affairs

In recent weeks, much has been made of the state’s relationship with private institutions – particularly concerning issues of ‘religious freedom’ and ‘conscience’.

Perhaps there is no more profound a manifestation of such tensions than as found in Catholic university settings – both at once rightfully ‘Catholic’ and rightfully institution/university.

In a very evident way, these tensions implicate administrative professionals within student affairs divisions across the network of private, Catholic universities.

How, as professionals and persons, we interact with students and colleagues (in advice-giving, guidance, and friendship), is framed within these tensions of governmental legislation and convictions of institutional and personal conscience.

Services such as Student Programming and Health Services are bound up between wider secular public policy and a Catholic university’s distinct vision and mission.

Resolutions and strategies to resolutions between this apparent tensions and conflicts are difficult to come to – particularly as the practical daily responsibilities of every office of the university seem to take precedence over such wider issues.

There then seems to be a point at which, as administrators within a Catholic university, offices and departments might need to take the time to dialogue about how, as individual people and as a community, we might best come to understand and/or reconcile personal conviction with institutional mission and institutional mission with wider public policy.

There are certainly many challenges administrators face when situated within a Catholic university – the manifestation of religious liberty and conscience, though a large issue to be sure, is only one of a host of other tensions that impact the way we understand our work in relation to the mission of the university and the mission of the university with the wider culture.

Several questions can be asked in response to such tensions, including:

  1. How do I, as a person, understand the mission of a Catholic university?
    1. If I don’t see ‘eye to eye’ with the mission, how can I still contribute in a meaningful way to people’s/students’ lives and to the community as a whole?
    2. How does my particular administrative position contribute to the formation of students, colleagues, and the university community?
    3. How can I learn more about the ideas and convictions that inform the mission of a Catholic university?
      1. What resources are available to me? (C21, Mission and Ministry, etc)
      2. Ultimately, how, at the end of the day, am I able to find meaning in what I do, the community in which I am a part, in light of this university’s Catholic identity?


Not coincidentally to this posting, there is an event coming up on Wednesday, April 18th that deals with this particular issue of religious liberty, conscience, and Church-State relations.

The Title of the event is: “Is Religious Liberty Under Threat in America?”

Where: Robsham Theater (Lower Campus)

When: Wednesday, April 18th @ 7pm

Description: John Allen will moderate a discussion on the theological, legal, and political foundations of religious liberty in American society, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, educational, health and social service ministries.

Moderated by John L. Allen, Jr., Sr. Correspondent, National Catholic Reporter.

Panelists: M. Cathleen Kaveny, Professor of Law and Theology, University of Notre Dame; Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life, Harvard University; and Vincent D. Rougeau, Dean, Boston College Law School.


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