Saturday, December 15, 2007

Academic Freedom and Tolerance of Our 'Aspirational Peer'

I recieved a shocking email this morning from my brother, a recent Princeton alum. He wrote that a student at his alma mater, an outspoken member of the Anscombe Society,was beaten unconscious yesterday, his head slammed repeatedly against a brick wall for his unpopular views as he walked back to campus from a tutoring session. The student along with several other outspoken conservatives including Professor Robert George had been receiving death threats for weeks with little response from the university.

So far it has only been covered in the student media, The Daily Princetonian and the conservative paper, the. Princeton Tory.

Amazingly, on the same day a student wrote an op-ed piece calling out the university for its double standard. He recounts the story of how the university responded immediatley with a thorough investigation when someone merely drew obscene pictures on the white board outside a homosexual student's room, while repeated death threats to conservative students and faculty were all but ignored.

The Anscombe Society, which promotes traditional views of marriage and sexualiy, is part of a growing conservative movement at Princeton led by the James Madison Program and Witherspoon Institute. These groups have made great strides in recent years, providing a place for Christians and conserverative voices on campus. This episode shows pretty clearly, however, how entrenched the liberal orthodoxy is at the Ivies.

When I hear stories like this it makes me realize how insulated Notre Dame is--perhaps by the perminant cloud cover--from the 'real world' and the rest of academia. This kind of incident is unthinkable at Notre Dame--well, unless maybe you tried to take away someone's student football ticket booklet. Perhaps Notre Dame is at the other end of the spectrum in terms of political activity. Most students are apathetic, not intolerant. Rather than sending death threats and assaulting people over political/social issues, ND students are more concerned with following their fantasy football team or their next paper or project. Still, the full range of political views is represented at Notre Dame and for the most part respected.

This story goes to show once again that if Notre Dame wants to retain the academic freedom, diversity or tolerance which are inherent in the idea of a university, we will have to do so by cherishing our uniquely Catholic identity and not by mimicing the Ivies' empty, hypocritical standards of excellence.

Friday, December 14, 2007

College Tuition Troubles

First, I want to say that I completely agree with KDon's post regarding final exams. Everyone is busy--get over it.

Harvard University announced this week that it is going to reduce tuition for middle class families. Those families who make less than $60,000 per year are already able to send their children to Harvard for free, and now families with incomes of up to $180,000 will not have to spend more than 10% of that income to pay for the $45,600 that make up the annual costs of attending Harvard.

Of course, colleges and universities have come under fire recently for their exponential tuition increases. For each of the past 25 years, tuition has risen at roughly 3 percentage points higher than inflation. With about 4200 colleges and universities nationwide, why hasn't competition reduced prices? The explanations are manifold.

For one, selective colleges have such a high demand that they are relatively immune to market pressures. Students, and especially parents, are willing to put up serious cash in order to bring home diplomas from choice colleges.

Another issue is the growth of unusual student interests, manifesting themselves through gender studies departments and courses on maple syrup. As William F. Buckley Jr. wrote, "academic offerings for students with exotic interests are understandable, but some college administrators think themselves delinquent if they do not offer a course in jujitsu."

Then there is the fact that college and university financial aid has become part of the welfare state. There is more government aid offered than ever, and if universities raise their tuition, they know not to be worried because the government will surely be there to make up the difference. One wonders how Hillsdale College, the only U.S. college to refuse any type of government aid, is able to keep its tuition in check. Coincidence? I think not.

Finally, there are now twice as many university administrators per student as there were in the 1970s. This is an alarming statistic.

Recently, I was discussing Notre Dame with a newly hired professor. I asked him what has been the most disappointing thing he has noticed about the university. "The bureaucratic red tape," he said. "I expected that problem to be much less severe here than at big state universities."

Think again. If we are to reduce the costs of college tuition, a first but unpopular step would be to cut the size of adminstration and devote the majority of resources to teaching. Yeah, teaching--even at a premier "research university." Amazing, huh?

Let's learn something about the costs of higher education from Hillsdale. It doesn't take a $6 billion endowment to keep costs in line. It just takes common sense and right priorities.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Britney Spears to play Virgin Mary?

Apparently, Britney Spears is up for a role as the Virgin Mary in the film industry's latest bit of anti-religious garbage.
French producer Phillippe Rebboah is believed to have asked the singer to portray Christ's mother in satirical movie Sweet Baby Jesus.

He told Us Weekly: "I had to convince my partners, because they were like, 'Oh, no. Britney?' But I thought it was brilliant."

The new version of the tale depicts Mary as a 19-year-old who is unsure of the identity of her unborn baby's father. She goes into labour on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, Maryland, amid claims that the birth is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

I know that we have free speech and yadda yadda yadda, but can you imagine the *global* fallout that would occur if someone cast a train-wreck male celebrity (say, Ozzy Osbourne or Vanilla Ice) to play the prophet Muhammad in a "satirical" film about the origins of Islam? I normally don't get too worked up over the entertainment industry (ten years ago, this story would have been about Madonna), but this just goes to show that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in the Hollywood re-made by our parents' generation.

I genuinely feel sorry for Britney and the fact that she has let both her family and her career go down the crapper, but it's absolutely pathetic that a director would exploit the shambles of her brand in order to draw a parallel to the Virgin, so as to make some kind of statement that, frankly, was already passe in the late 90's.

Yeah, but...

It seems like the competition around here is ridiculous. I've noticed this particularly as exams approach and students have their exam conversations.

" I have four tests, three papers, and am running on 4 hours of sleep a night!"
" Wow, that sucks, but I have 6 tests, 2 papers, I'm sick, and I someone stole my pillow so I'm running on zero sleep."
"Only two papers? That's not that bad."

Everyone should just agree that exams is a busy time, it sucks for everyone, so stop complaining about it. We all have tests, papers, etc. and some of us actually do have less than others (for example Arts and Letters vs. Engineering; I'll admit it). Chill, work through it, and don't try to one up me, cause mine's so worse. Just joking, but don't worry, you'll make it through it, even if you officially earn the finals week from hell. I just don't need to know how much easier I have it than you. In fact, if you ever see or hear me complaining about my schedule you can slap me. Not hard, but go ahead, please. That's it. It's two in the morning and that's all that's bothering me. Good luck with finding your pillow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A step in the wrong direction...

[[This is an extension on K. Donahue's earlier post regarding the Observer's recent trumpeting the availability of contraceptives at Health Services.]]
Donahue and I actually discovered the Observer article together as we exited Flanner Hall following our college seminar, "Perfect God, Imperfect World: The Problem of Evil'" and we were stopped dead in our tracks by the head line. We were in utter and complete shock at reading it, mind-blown really, as we stood there for easily a full two minutes knocking our heads and wondering how this happened.
Yes, the article did say that Health Services will be only administering contraceptive prescriptions for patients with irregular or painful menstrual cycles, no menstrual cycle or abdominal pain. However, I do not think that even extreme situations such as these necessitate that Health Services have contraceptives readily available to the double-X student population. Why? Well, my reasons are multi-fold and i would be more than happy to tell you.
[1] Although contraception may offer the best or easiest treatment for these medical conditions, there are other, good quality treatments available that Health Services can offer to student-patients. These could be offered as a "first try," and if these don't work, well then Health Services can refer students off-campus.
[2] The medical resources in South Bend are of high quality and quanitity. If a young, ND female student is needing treatment, then she should have no problem in traveling a whole mile and a half off campus to a medical facility for consultation. And I would have no problem with Health Services having medical referrances available for these students.
[3] With contraception being so closely tied with the abortion industry, which is wrought with dishonesty and deceit, I do not find it much a stretch to believe that those doctors and patients respectively prescribing and being prescribed contraception will have no problem faining an excuse for "medically-necessary" contraception. I know that this sounds a little like conspiracy theory, but I find it hard to believe that doctors wouldn't have any qualms about prescribing contraception for contraceptive purposes, with the claim of it being for legitimate health needs.
[4] On a related note, even though the University may take every mean possible to prevent the use of contraception for its designed purposes, Notre Dame should not offer the pill for any reason, even "noble" ones, because it is contrary to its Catholic identity. As persons created in the Image and Likeness of God, we are called to transcend our human weaknesses so to obtain the perfection in which we were originally created. Contraception in its truest form does not have a role in this plight. In this year's production of "Loyal Daughters and Sons" there was a particular skit which accused Catholic teaching on sexuality and relationships as being an ideal that is not really attainable for everybody. WRONG! If this was the case then the Church never would have adopted this teaching in the first place. Yes, Church "ideals" might be hard or challenging to conform one's life to, especially in the 21st century, however it is an entirely possible and managable life practice.
[5] Notre Dame, as a prestigious institute in the world of academia, should stand as a beacon of Catholicism in a world where most prestigious universities have succumbed to most pressures and demands of secular society. We should not sacrifice or undermine our Catholic Identity and Character when society can only benefit from our remaining strong in the face of adversity.

Notre Dame has so much potential and its students have exponential potential as well, but we must make sure that we [Notre Dame] take every mean possible to make sure that this potential is realized only through means that benefit the student bodily, spiritually, intellectually, and ethically.

the definitive list of top ten books to read while in college

As a somewhat tardy follow-up to the posting about Prof. Ghilarducci's favorite books, I'd like to offer my all-time top-ten list--what I think is truly necessarily for a well-rounded, liberal education, particularly in the military-industrial complex in which we abide. Here goes:

1. "I know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Maya Angelou
2. "I, Rigoberta Menchu," by Rigoberta Menchu
3. "Dear President Bush," A Pamphlet by Cindy Sheehan
4. "Giving," by Bill Clinton
5. "Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech," by Al Gore
6. "Bushwhacked," by Maureen Dowd
7. anything by David Gergen
8. "On a Move: The Story of Mumia al-Jamal," by Terry Bison (also, the collected poems, articles, and songs written by, about, and for Mumia; keep the faith!)
9. "Poems from Guantamo: Detainees Speak"
10. "The Politics of Truth," by Joe Wilson

I'd like to add that Ghilarducci was right on to suggest Epstein on envy--he is a first-rate essaysist. I wonder if any prof. would ever assign any of his works. Anyway, that's my two-cents.

The Maddening Effects of Finals

They come every semester without fail, just as the sun rises every day. Finals. Nasty things.

The end of the semester comes and the computer clusters are suddenly full of bleary-eyed students slowly typing out term papers and study guides. Or worse. Then there are the group projects. Loud, obnoxious groups, clearly ignorant of the social norms of the clusters, invade like Viking hoards and disrupt the intense, studious quiet that should only be punctuated by the click-clacking of the keyboards.

Oh the crimes of the cluster!

Take for example the Quarter Dog heaping with onions that soon fills the already rancid LaFortune Hole (I mean Cluster) with an even more nauseating stench. To add insult in injury, the offending sausage is not consumed immediately, but set aside to continue polluting the already-foul air.

And you, Mr. Yankees-Pajama-Pants sitting next to me typing a paper with books on Darwin and one entitled "Abortion Rights as Religious Freedom" (You know, the existence of Yankee PJs are crime enough, let alone being worn by you in a public space. And Darwin and abortion?): Why for the love of the gold on the Dome are you typing on your laptop and not the cluster computer in front of you!? Did you not just see that poor girl come in desperately searching for a free computer?

While the madness rages the usual denizens of these technological dens are I sit at a Mac and not my usual PC, not too far away from the great blog Queen Darragh - typing not my overdue paper but my inaugural post on the fine web-log.

"Why? Why?" The sane and rational person asks. "Why are you doing this to yourself? It is nearly 1 AM and you should be sleeping! Not sitting in a pit of filth writing some incoherent babble on a blog!"

Good points.

But ignoring them and returning to the crimes of the cluster...

Can't we behave ourselves and use a little common courtesy?

Apparently not. But I'll allow my fellow students to plead insanity in their defense. After all, returning to the sane and rational person's question, I myself have no answer but to shamefully admit that my only defense for my self-torture is to plead the same: insanity.

"The finals, the finals! It's all because of them!"

But you know what happens when one person starts pleading insanity?

Yeah, Twinkies.

LaFortune Cluster, meet "Real-World" Insanity.
"Real-World" Insanity, welcome to the LaFortune Cluster. I hope you enjoy your havoc-wreaking visit. But don't stay too long. We can only consume so much caffeine , sugar and onion-covered quarter dogs before we go out and start shooting people...all for the sake of learning.

Hmmm go think about all of those implications over a latte - or fair trade hot chocolate, if that's what you prefer - I'm going back to my 'studies.'

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Rover Effect

Three of the last four issues of the Rover have featured Brian Boyd's excellent analysis of every aspect of the issue of Catholic faculty at Notre Dame. Brian delved into every topic, looked into every possible scenario, and talked to everyone who is anyone. Each part of his three-part article appeared on the Rover's front page and received favorable feedback.

Not soon after the last of the installments, the Scholastic came calling, asking for leads and sources from Boyd's article for the front-cover topic of their latest issue.

And today even the Observer is getting in on the act, with a piece previewing Wednesday's Faculty Senate meeting and including a summary of the events following Provost Burish's report on the diminishing percentage of Catholic faculty.

Let's hope that the diffusion of our ideas continues -- we're still waiting for Time and the New York Times to call.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Contraceptives? Really?

As I was walking out of Flanner last week, I grabbed an Observer and was shocked to find the ND Health Services now provides contraceptives for "medical needs." I never thought I would live to see the day where a Catholic school directly supplies its students with contraceptives that are explicitly against Church teaching. As I read the Observer article on the issue, I was even more blown away with the order in which it presented the information. First, the article states that "If a student comes in asking for birth control for the purpose of contraception, 'we're not going to ask a lot of questions,' said Ann Kleva, director of University Health Services. 'We'll say point blank, 'I'm sorry, we don't supply those services on campus because we abide by the teachings of the Church." Basically, if a girl were to go to health services to get birth control in order to have sex, she would of course be turned down. Who, after reading this article, would be unintelligent enough to go to health services and ask for birth control for sex when they know they could get it for "health reasons?" After saying you can only obtain it for health reasons, the article then goes on to list the specific health reasons you could give to get birth control. Reasons offered were, "irregular or painful menstrual cycles, no menstrual cycle or abdominal pain." I am confident that pretty much every single female has had some sort of abdominal pain at one point or another during her menstural cycle. If every single female has these "medical reasons", then every single female on this campus qualifies for birth control! Just to recap....first the article states that you won't get birth control if you ask for it on the grounds of sex, then you will get it if you ask for health reasons, then it lists the health reasons that qualify you, and finally one or more of them applies to every single female able to menstruate. This is basically a call for all women who want to have sex without responsibility to come get their contraceptives from Health Services. Along side this, the article also mentions that if you want to get your home prescription for birth control filled here, all you have to do is tell your doctor to include a note that it is not for sexual activities. Another degrading feature of this article is the mere fact that it compares Notre Dame to other "Catholic" institutions such as Georgetown University or Boston College. It uses their practices as an example of what Catholic schools do with respect to the issue, as if we should be emulating their Catholic character. What kind of Catholic school supplies its students with the means to break the Church's explicitly stated doctrines?

Website stuff

The website has been updated again. Now, everything but Cheers/Jeers and Sports are new. If there are any problems or spelling errors, or whatever, please leave a comment and I'll fix them. I was watching some movies as I updated, so it is very possible that I misspelled some headlines and started going off on phasers and Klingons. Cheers/Jeers and Sports will probably not make it up for another few weeks because, as it goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" . . . finals stink