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Just Universities, Just Economics

Each essay in this symposium inspired by Beyer’s volume constitutes an important contribution to the ongoing discourse about the ways corporatized higher education impacts academia in the U. S. today, especially the missions of religious institutions of higher learning.

There is no dearth of negative assessments of numerous facets of higher education in the United States today, with many book-length treatments dedicated to these having appeared in recent decades. Areas of scrutiny range from specific topics like worker rights and labor ethics—especially with respect to full- and part-time faculty,[1] to the full ambit of the ways in which American higher education is enmeshed in what are typically identified as the range of negative features of neoliberal capitalism.[2] The new field of University Ethics emerged concomitantly and in engagement with these critiques, and is predicated upon the notion that the academy is no exception to the need for the standards of professional ethics as recognized by other domains such as business, medicine, and law.[3]

Amidst this discourse Gerald J. Beyer’s Just Universities: Catholic Social Teaching Confronts Corporatized Higher Education (Fordham University Press, 2021) stands out with its thesis that the ability of Catholic universities to live out their mission and embody the principles of Catholic Social Teaching has been compromised by their immersion in neoliberal, corporatized higher education. The symposium to be published here in installments over the coming weeks is the outgrowth of a book panel at the 2021 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion inspired by and in interaction with Beyer.

Inquiring into what sort of anthropology is advertised as being promoted when a university calls itself “Catholic,” in the first essay Michael T. McLaughlin urges that the model of homo economicus seeking to maximize personal utility is at odds with Catholic anthropology and strives to show how U. S. Catholic higher education in its workings today often endorses the former to the detriment of the latter. Borrowing the biblical story of the judgment of Solomon where out of love the real mother saves her child from death by giving her child up, Rubén Rosario Rodríguez’ argues in the next essay that, by contrast, faculty members at Catholic universities have so compromised and cooperated with corporate entities that the viability of the Catholic university’s mission is seriously threatened. Offering a divergent viewpoint from a discipline outside of the humanities, Rohnn B. Sanderson contends in the third essay that from an economist’s perspective markets and morality need not be in conflict, corporate-based mission and service-based mission in Catholic higher education are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and at the end of the day there can be no “mission” without “margin.” The fourth essay by Linda Mercadante reports the findings of her qualitative, interview-based, research on forced termination of faculty members at religious institutions of higher education engaged in theological formation, including the effects these terminations have had on the faculty members themselves as well as the broader implications this trend has for theological formation and the church. In the final essay Beyer offers his responses to the others, including areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, and considerations springing from specific points made by the other contributors.

Just Universities and each essay in this symposium inspired by Beyer’s volume constitute important contributions to the ongoing discourse about the ways corporatized higher education impacts academia in the U. S. today, especially the missions of religious institutions of higher learning. May this discourse be advanced in positive ways through the publication of this symposium. 

[1] See, for instance, Marc Bousquet, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York: NYU Press, 2008); Herb Childress, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission (Chicago, IL‏: ‎ University of Chicago Press, 2019); and Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola, and Daniel T. Scott, The Gig Academy: Mapping Labor in the Neoliberal University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019).

[2] For example, see, Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhodes, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2009); Susan B. Hyatt, Boone W. Shear, Susan Wright, Learning Under Neoliberalism: Ethnographies of Governance in Higher Education (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2015); and Lawrence Busch, Knowledge for Sale: The Neoliberal Takeover of Higher Education (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017).

[3] See, e.g., James F. Keenan, S. J., University Ethics: How Colleges Can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015).

Symposium Essays

Forming Humans and Supporting the Humanities at the Just University

To express it very simply and briefly these are the Paul Ryan Republican Catholics who would look askance at anything like even a mild Bernie Sanders kind of socialism. The problem is that Sanders is more aligned with official Catholic teaching on the common good than is the former.

The Judgment of Solomon: Can the Mission Remain Divided Without Killing the University?

The horror stories threaten to overwhelm us. But what can we do? How can we employ the Catholic mission of these institutions to slow down and reverse the corporate takeover of Catholic higher education?

Just Universities – Markets and Mission: An Economist’s Perspective

Most disciplines in the university are less about workforce development and more about various forms of thinking and knowledge. The idea seems to be that if we develop individuals in a broad sense, then that will spill over into workforce skills and productivity. While I do believe that in some sense this is true, I am not sure how much this is happening or how important it actually is.

I Wasn’t Planning on Becoming Spiritual but not Religious: The Human Cost of Forced Termination in Religiously-Affiliated Higher Education

I have been interviewing thirty persons, mostly forcibly-terminated professors from Protestant and Catholic institutions, and several professionals who work with them. Their stories demonstrate a stunning depth of disillusionment. The majority of these often-ordained religionists feel so betrayed by the church that they – and often their families – refuse to be part of it anymore.

Just Universities Redux: Frustration, Despair, Gratitude, and Hope

Upon completing the book, I wanted to turn my attention to my other scholarly interests. I wanted to look away. However, the book, despite whatever shortcomings it has, seems to have struck a chord. Reading groups have used it on several campuses. I have given more talks already since its 2021 publication than about any other topic over the course of my career.