For decades now conservatives have sought to argue against "diversity" claims in higher education. It turns out all along that they should have been defending actual diversity against the faux diversity of those contemporary proponents of diversity that actually seeks to culminate in monoculture. That is, contemporary mainstream arguments for diversity seek to make every institution of higher education to be completely identical - populated by tolerant liberal individualists. The argument for diversity masks an agenda that seeks homogeneity.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico gets to the heart of this claim in his argument on the "Catholic identity crisis" at top Catholic institutions of higher education. These institutions have the opportunity - and the history and some remnant of culture - to afford actual diversity in higher education.
Rev. Sirico forcefully concludes: "We have come to the point that the most significant contribution Georgetown or Notre Dame could make to society’s diversity would be to become, once again, Catholic — and not be embarrassed about it. The Church in general and the Jesuits in particular have in their own history heroic examples of martyrs refusing to submit to secular authority and dying for the faith (such as Edmund Campion, S.J., at the hands of Elizabeth I). The least these campus authorities can do is not take active measures to undermine their own identity."
Now, he notes that the distinctively Catholic position makes it fall into what is now an increasingly politically incorrect or what is deemed by many to be an insufficiently-progressed view toward many hot-button issues. Nominal Catholics, he writes, "are embarrassed by the distinctiveness of their more faithful brethren who observe fast days, don’t approve of abortion, think marriage is what their grandparents thought it was, and hold conservative views on the other hot-button issues that Catholics in public life frequently get asked about by reporters." For a wide swath of not-so-committed Catholics - not to mention those outside the fold - these particular issues, mostly connected to issues of sexuality, comprise the narrow core of what it means to be Catholic.
A significant challenge faced by those who would argue on behalf of a far more robust and distinctive Catholic identity (to start with, at schools like Georgetown and Notre Dame) is to show how these "hot-button" issues are part of a more comprehensive web of Catholic belief. There is a danger that, in defining Catholicism in terms of specific culture war issues, the faith becomes too narrowly focused on sexual matters that many people regard as nothing more than a matter of individual choice. However, when framed in the wider context of the fabric of the society in which we live - the call for responsibility, people of good moral character, generational obligation, a belief in the governance of nature and the need for responsible stewardship of the natural world - suddenly those issues relating to family and sexuality become part of a much larger fabric and are not viewed in isolation, as tends to be the approach by mainstream discussions of the faith. Similarly, Catholic education is not reducible to classes on Catholic doctrine, but involves a very different approach to education overall that avoids the kinds of narrow specialization that dominates most college campuses. For this reason such an education would be based on a very different standard of excellence - centered on the education of the whole person, including not merely an academic training, but the moral character of our students, the kind of character that should be lauded in the wake of the moral turpitude of so many of the graduates of elite schools who were responsible for the financial collapse - than that all-too narrow and divided conception of "excellence" that dominates at the secular schools of the nation.
In sum, leading Catholics must themselves be more clear and more forceful and comprehensive when they address what it is they are defending and what it is they are promoting. Lest it be understood to be the religion of sexual prudery, leading Catholic voices need to do a better job of telling the whole story. It's a great story, and a powerful one, but right now it could use some better storytellers.