On Tuesday, Sept. 5, five presidents of major Catholic universities gathered in McKenna Hall to discuss the history, legacy and future of the Land O’Lakes Statement, a five-page document published 50 years ago on July 23, 1967. The document called to discuss the “nature and role of the contemporary Catholic university,” following the Second Vatican Council and preceding the 1968 General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. was instrumental in the document’s creation.
All panelists — Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. of Notre Dame, William P. Leahy, S.J. of Boston College, Patricia McGuire of Trinity Washington University, Joseph M. McShane, S.J. of Fordham University and Julie H. Sullivan of the University of St. Thomas — took five to 15 minutes to discuss the benefits and deficiencies of the Land O’Lakes Statement.
Section 1 of the Statement was debated during the panel: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”
Leahy addressed the critique that the Statement of “true autonomy” was a move towards secularizing Catholic higher education. He argued that the phrase had more to do with managerial efficiency.
“I don’t think, though, that the ‘true autonomy’ phrase had anything to do with wanting to cut off connections with the Church or deny those realities and that tradition of Catholicism,” Leahy said. “I was saying to someone, it’s too bad it’s called a ‘true autonomy’ rather than a ‘necessary autonomy.’”
In the question portion of the panel, students from Ryan Hall addressed Section 5 of the Statement that states: “Hence, the university should carry on a continual examination of all aspects and all activities of the Church and should objectively evaluate them.”
McGuire argued that Catholic universities have not lived up to this clause. “I think that Catholic universities seem to have been very silent on the whole sex abuse issue,” McGuire said. “I think there’s a whole world of examination there that our universities need to do because that has had a major impact on the Catholic Church in the United States.”
Even with differences on the application of Sections 1 and 5, all panelists agreed that the Land O’Lakes Statement proved a necessary document to the advancement and modernization of Catholic universities.
“American Catholic higher education is evolving because it has to evolve,” McShane said. “In its evolution it will always remain true to two things: one, its mission to pass on the faith, and two, its mission to make it possible for our people, its people, to be successful in the world and on the world’s terms.”