Volume > Issue > The Dismal State of Most Catholic Colleges & Universities

The Dismal State of Most Catholic Colleges & Universities


By Anne Hendershott | July/August 2003
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego, and author of the recently published The Politics of Deviance (Encounter Books).

For those who are committed to revitalizing Catholic higher education, the news about student culture at Catholic colleges and universities, as reported by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA earlier this year, was alarming. The Institute compared the results of a survey administered to incoming college freshman in 1997 with a survey given those same students as graduating seniors in 2001. The results? Catholic seniors at Catholic colleges showed sizeable increases in support for legalized abortion, premarital sex, and same-sex “marriage.”

After four years at a Catholic college, Catholic student support for legalized abortion increased from 37.9 percent to 51.7 percent, for premarital sex from 27.5 percent to 48.0 percent, and for “gay marriage” from 52.4 percent to 69.5 percent. The increases are about the same for Catholic students at secular colleges. It would seem that if you want your child to absorb Catholic morality, there’s not much point in sending him to a conventional Catholic college.

With the release of the data, liberal Catholic organizations attempted damage control. Others dismissed the findings outright. Monica Hellwig, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said, “The question is whether the task of higher education in our pluralistic, changing society is to lock students into rules — or to teach them critical thinking.” For Hellwig and most liberal Catholic scholars, one is apparently not supposed to direct one’s “critical thinking” against the reigning libertine bromides.

When professors at Catholic campuses attempt to teach from a Catholic perspective, they are often marginalized by their colleagues. Indeed, for those of us who have spent the past few decades toiling to reverse the secularization process that is occurring on our own Catholic campuses, the results are often discouraging.

The re-education of students in sexual morality begins as soon as students arrive on campus. On my own Catholic campus, during the first day of Freshman Orientation, first-year students are given “welcome packs” that contain pink “gay pride” triangles to display in their dormitory rooms. The triangles proclaim the students’ room to be an “Open Zone” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. During Orientation Week, orientation team leaders all display the pink triangles on their O-team folders and encourage freshman to display their triangles also. Similar pressure is applied to faculty members.

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