Illiberal Education

To advance true liberal education, a brand new college was recently born. Campion College will open this fall as a two-year institution with an integrated liberal arts curriculum based on study of the great books. Campuses will be located in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. It is designed to prepare students to transfer into a four-year university and offers a single degree in Catholic Humanities.

Students will drink deeply from the magnificent well of the past, studying Homer, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others. Modern writers like Tolstoy, Dostoveski, and John Henry Cardinal Newman will also be read. Each campus is expected to start with 15 students.

One would think that an educational enterprise with such modest goals and numbers wouldn’t pose a threat to anyone. But one would be wrong. In fact, the creation of Campion College has sent shivers of pure terror through the “progressive” Catholic educational establishment, and some powerful Herods are determined to strangle this holy innocent in its cradle.

A little background: In February, 2001, the University of San Francisco’s new president, Jesuit Father Stephen Privett, all but abolished the St. Ignatius Institute, a widely-respected great books program within USF known for its faithfulness to Catholic teachings. Father Privett fired the Institute’s longtime administrators, John Galten and John Hamlon, subsuming the program in the misnamed Catholic Studies Program, where its formerly unique character was lost. Privett’s coup capped years of hostility toward SII from USF’s left-wing theology faculty. In protest, six SII professors resigned from the university.

Truth be told, SII was a profound embarrassment to USF’s catastrophic attempt to ape secular universities’ devotion to “dumbing down” their institutions by pretending the past never happened. Although enrolling only about two percent of the student body, SII – where students studied classical works in literature, history, philosophy, and theology – regularly attracted a disproportionate number of the university’s brightest students.

Furthermore, the program’s students repeatedly took home USF’s top academic honors. In 1998, SII received an award from the prestigious Templeton Foundation declaring it one of the finest great books programs in the country. It was home of several distinguished Catholics, including the founder of SII and the Ignatius Press, Father Joseph Fessio, and noted theologian Erasmo Leiiva-Merikakis.

Naturally, then, SII had to be crushed. But as Jesuit hobnail boots stomped the life out of SII, a seed took root that gave life to Campion College. Father Fessio teamed with fired administrators Galten and Hamlon to found an institution that, according to Galten, “represents something new.”

According to its web site, Campion College was founded as “an independent program embodying both the spirit and the curriculum of the original St. Ignatius Institute, free from the constraints of a larger university that does not share its goals.” Of the new institution, Galten says, “We will have the ability to do our own recruiting and will have control over our own destiny.”

Well, not quite. From the moment Campion College was announced, USF went on the attack, attempting to destroy the fledgling school. USF released a statement saying: “The University will not support a program that duplicates its own,” adding “parents and students must clearly understand that Campion is not accredited.”

Yet, the college has the wholehearted endorsement of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, who said Campion “will be a beautiful enrichment for the vast field of Catholic education. It will provide an excellent formation in the best tradition of Christian humanism. Campion College is truly full of promise.” Further, even before its doors open, three universities – Michigan’s Ave Maria University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria – have agreed to accept its credits.

The USF assault continued: “Students may be disappointed to find that Campion lacks the myriad benefits a full University can offer — including a fully stocked library, state of the art computer labs, the ability to join an ethnic club, play on an intramural team, participate in Third World immersion experience, or join student government.” As if that thin gruel makes up for the meat and potatoes regimen of studying the masters of Western thought.

Then, on March 11, Father Tom Smolich, Father Fessio's Jesuit superior, ordered Fessio to break off his public and private ties to Campion College. Smolich exiled Father Fessio from San Francisco, forbade him from any further contact with Campion administrators, and demoted him to the post of assistant chaplain to a Southern California hospital.

The Solzhenitsyn-style muzzling of Father Fessio by the Jesuits – a once-proud order that’s being driven into a death spiral by far-left ideologues – again reveals the totalitarian fangs lying beneath the “progressives’” happy-face smiles. It’s interesting that the Left – constantly flapping on about “tolerance” and “diversity” – rarely practice what they preach.

A true advocate of diversity and academic freedom would welcome Campion College. Instead, narrow-minded USF administrators can’t stand to see it live.

© Copyright 2002 Catholic Exchange

James Bemis is an editorial board member, weekly columnist and film critic for California Political Review.

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