08 May 2010

Vandy Catholic College

I am always surprised when the end of the semester comes. To me, Vanderbilt is a very boring place when students go away, especially undergraduate ones. Everybody else is so narrowly focused as not to be very interesting unless one shares the same narrow interest. Vanderbilt is a multiversity rather than a university. But what is the "uni" in a modern secular university? I am very happy that Vandy Catholic operates in some ways as a college in the university. We have a "uni" to draw us together. We have all sorts of undergraduate students, but more and more graduate ones as well, who know each other and are involved with each other, not just personally but professionally as well. When a graduate student in history took a course in the Divinity School, the professor asked her: "what are you doing in my class?" It happened to be a seminar on Aquinas. Should any scholar have to apologize for being interested in Aquinas?

Going negative a bit here -- I believe the lack of any absolute principles is the reason that Vanderbilt has been unable effectively to stand up to the hook-up culture. We have been through the trauma here of one of our students doing what the university cannot do: offering a rational critique of the promiscuous sexuality that is so rampant on college campuses. This university is so tied to the relativism of the age that it cannot even speak out when a student is attacked for daring to offer a rationale that the hook-up culture is bad for students. It was not always so at Vanderbilt. In Nashville, there is a publication that prints old newspaper articles from different years past but which occurred in the same month. It is a funny concept, and I cannot fathom how it is profitable. There surely cannot be enough people like me who are nostalgic about "old" Nashville. Anyhow, in the May edition there is an article from May of 1952 about panty raids at Vanderbilt. The Chancellor at the time had no difficulty in denouncing the perpetrators in the most uncompromising terms. Of course, at the time Vanderbilt was complacent about racial segregation so I guess it all depends on where your blind spots are. Today the Chancellor of Vanderbilt would have no difficulty in denouncing smoking but would have the greatest possible difficulty in addressing fornication. The point is that there is no rationale beyond current fashion. Vanderbilt, like the other "universities," is simply a smart and wealthy voice of the present moment. It cannot step out of the intellectual fashion of the moment. To do so would risk the scorn of it peers, and when its excellence is largely based on reputation it cannot afford to do that.

OK, back to the positive! I think that Vandy Catholic is a place where students can be really liberal -- really free, especially of the present moment. I don't want students who all think alike, and I don't think that they do. They do think. And they think from the same first principles (-- that is the hallmark of our "college" and may there be other "colleges" that really think from first principles!) Those principles lead in the same general direction, but the divergences are fun. We have a "saving trees/saving souls" debate that resurfaces every couple of years when a new crop of leaders cycles through. Ah, this brings me back to the beginning: the transitoriness of being a university chaplain. But isn't transitoriness reality for a Christian in this world?

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