Saturday, February 11, 2006

CUA says no to the Talking Vaginas

When performance of the "The Vagina Monologues" at a university becomes a touchstone for determining what is or is not academic freedom, you just have to throw the millennarian doomsayers an extra quarter. Fr. James O'Connell won't have any of it while he's at the helm of America's only pontifical university. The drama queens aren't happy about it.

The same article linked above notes that at the Georgetown Hoya a columnnist was removed from the staff for writing a review that sharply criticized a performance of VM there and his review was never published. But noooo, that's not suppression of free thought. Only those damn papists are capable of infringing on intellectual freedom.

Crescat Sententia wonders whether this issue indicates an intrinsic limitation to greatness for any Catholic university. (HT: Mirror of Justice) I have a soft spot for my fellow Maroons, particularly those who are much smarter than I, but on this is one philosophical point I part ways with the UChicago model of a liberal education. Chicago just never went far enough during its honeymoon dalliance with Thomism back in the day. At any rate, what it would perhaps admit if it did, is that a modern liberal paideia at schools like Chicago cannot tolerate morality or revelation as having any standards accessible to reason. This is its primary intellectual blindspot. Liberal ed holds its students and professors to lofty standards of academic form and content in all its departments, except when it comes to morality, ethics, or religion. There the only standard is tolerance subjectivized and privatized, which is of course a dishonest double standard. Catholic universities, by their very existence and relationship to a Magisterial Church, have always challenged this glaring lacuna at the heart of post-Enlightenment learning in the West.

Fr. O'Connell has simply made it plain and firm that at the Catholic University of America, right reason advises against sponsorship of a play that is of such low quality in terms of its contribution to moral or political discourse as to disqualify it from admission to the school's resources. As a function of intellectual freedom, do grad students have a "right" to put on a performance of The Wiggles? I'd argue no, even though the Wiggles are well known to stand for "family values" (to a fault IMO). They may be great for the family living room but at a university, it's just not up to snuff. Rather than moralizing over the VM problem, I'd argue that this is a "clinical" matter of intellectual and moral standard-setting. Granted, there are no hard and fast rules in excluding the performance of a particular play at a university, but universities can and do make these discretionary calls all the time. To accuse a Catholic university for violating intellectual freedom on these grounds is thus a red herring.

If by "greatness" Crecat Sententia meant the apotheosis of Enlightenment ideals, then I say, let the secularist schools have it. Catholic schools should not be intimidated by these alluring suggestions that they need to sponsor a play of dubious quality to be great. So long as we as a society remain mired in a culture that measures artistic greatness in terms of the amount mud one can splatter on traditions and conventions alone, it will be the Catholic universities that history will hold to be great. Unfortunately, most Catholic universities haven't yet found the cahones to buck the pressure to conform their minds to the world's worst stupidity.