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Mark Hutchinson


University Blues

Lessons from Catholic higher education.

Imagine. You are in Paris in 1901 where, impacted by the death of his friend Casagemas, Picasso is about to exhibit the product of his "blue period." Now imagine that the entire city has been struck (à la John Wyndham) with chronic color-blindness. Science fiction? Not entirely. While, over the longer term, Picasso's "blue" paintings became among (to use Paul Levy's words) his most "easy to love," the immediate reaction to the stark representations was negative. Paris, apparently, took some time to overcome its color blindness, while other places had their own filters. G. K. Chesterton expressed the broad British reaction when he described a 1911 work as "a piece of paper on which Mr. Picasso has had the misfortune to upset the ink and tried to dry it with his boots."[1] It is an experience shared by many writers and scholars when, having trained and developed their particular "voice" over many years, the "age" is rendered—by its politics, its ideologies and parties, or simply by becoming lost amidst commercial massification—color-blind to their productions.

This is the setting in which many Christian scholars and institutions work. As Christian Smith points out in his recent "unofficial reflections from the University of Notre Dame", the particular, the unique, the "blue" in which Christian institutions paint is either tacitly filtered out of public discussion or actively rejected by the academic powers that be. In Building Catholic Higher Education, Smith is mainly interested in the internal effects of such dynamics: after all, every staff member hired by an intentionally Catholic institution such as Notre Dame has to come out of that secularizing "public square." Moreover, the seemingly conflicting aims of the institution—to become a "world leading" institution in each of the areas of undergraduate education, research, and Catholic ...

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