♦ A student-run, university-funded lecture series at Georgetown University invited Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, to speak on campus. University officials took the Pontius Pilate approach, arguing that the invitation was a matter of student autonomy and free speech. Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl rebuked the university: “It is neither authentically Catholic nor within the Catholic tradition for a university to provide a special platform to those voices that promote or support” actions clearly condemned by the Church. “Students, faculty, and the community at large are all impoverished, not enriched, when the institution’s Catholic identity is diluted or called into question by seemingly approving of ideas that are contrary to moral truth.”
♦ An archdiocesan news release was particularly pointed in its criticism of the student group that invited Richards. “One would prefer to see some recognition by this student group of the lives and ministry, focus and values of people like Blessed Oscar Romero, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Francis in place of that group’s seemingly constant preoccupation with sexual activity, contraception and abortion.” But that’s the point, isn’t it. Georgetown is a rich, elite school—and the sexual revolution is a top-down, elite project, which is why it preoccupies students at elite universities and not at your local community college.
♦ As the Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn noted on his Facebook page, Cardinal Wuerl’s strong words apply to Notre Dame’s decision to award the university’s Laetare Medal to Joe Biden. According to Notre Dame, the Laetare Medal is meant to honor those “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.” I have a warm spot in my heart for Biden. He can be an overinflated windbag, true, but when interviewed by Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, the conversation turned to the death of his son, and he displayed a genuine appreciation for the Church’s sacraments. But as a public figure, Biden has been an advocate of unrestricted abortion and, more recently, gay marriage. These stances have “enriched the heritage of humanity”?
♦ Biden hasn’t just endorsed gay marriage. Like so many others, he demonizes opposition. Speaking to the Human Rights Campaign last year, he denounced those who attempt to prevent the revision of marriage laws as engaging in “appeals to prejudice, fear, and homophobia.” The rhetoric is sadly typical. Progressives in the culture wars get a free pass. They’re allowed to use strong, divisive language, while conservatives are singled out as uncivil, intolerant, and judgmental.
♦ In a gesture of anti-Solomonic wisdom, the leadership of Notre Dame tried to counterbalance Biden’s obviously anti-magisterial public advocacy by splitting this year’s Laetare award, giving a Laetare Medal to former House Speaker John Boehner as well. Notre Dame President John Jenkins sells the decision as championing bipartisan public service. “In recognizing both men, Notre Dame is not endorsing the policy positions of either, but celebrating two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise.” See why I’m against dialogue?
♦ Abortion and gay marriage as policy decisions? In some political cultures, a case could be made for that description. (In Europe, for example, the abortion license is limited and is not framed as a right.) But in America, the Supreme Court has turned both into fundamental rights. When has Joe Biden ever objected to the Supreme Court’s definition of both the abortion license and gay marriage as fundamental rights? Notre Dame is honoring someone who thinks people have inviolable rights to things the Church teaches to be intrinsically wrong, a state of rank contradiction that suggests an incoherence at the core of that important university’s Catholic identity.
♦ Jordan Schnitzer is very rich. He lives in Portland, Oregon—when he’s not at his house in San Francisco, or the one in Palm Springs, or the one on the Oregon coast. He’s had children, two daughters. But at age sixty-four, divorced for more than a decade, he wanted a son. Very rich people are used to getting what they want, so Schnitzer got his then-girlfriend to donate eggs, lawyers to write up contracts, another woman to serve as the surrogate to gestate the embryo, and doctors willing to sex-select the male embryo for implantation (for the record, the doctors work at OHSU Fertility Consultants in Portland). The desired son was conceived, implanted, and born. Complication: the former girlfriend is litigating for her parental rights. Schnitzer is counter-litigating to deny them. Welcome to the world of children as luxury goods.
♦ Oregon law allows for surrogacy contracts that pay surrogate mothers. Why are the states that compliment themselves as progressive the most likely to provide legal frameworks for the strong to prey upon the weak? It is because twenty-first-century progressivism is the social and political movement that best serves the interests of the strong at the expense of the weak.
♦ Zubik v. Burwell is the name of the case before the Supreme Court that consolidates a number of petitions by religious organizations that ask for an exemption from the contraceptive mandate. The Little Sisters of the Poor is one of the parties. Here’s how the editorial page of the New York Times sums up the legal issue at stake. “The question in the Zubik case is a simple one: Do religious objectors get to disobey the laws they dislike, even when that places burdens on others?” Dislike? Would the New York Times editors “dislike” laws that limit the freedom of the press or free speech?
♦ The question in the Zubik case is not simple. It’s complicated and involves, among other things, determining whether organizations started and staffed by religiously motivated people, in order to fulfill what they regard as their religious duties, should receive the full protection of the First Amendment.
♦ Never forget! It’s a common imperative, one strongly associated with the Holocaust. David Rieff sees good reasons to sustain historical memory, but not always. His recent book, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies, makes a case against remembrance, at least in some circumstances. The bloody battles in the early 1990s over territory in former Yugoslavia illustrate the curse of memory. One need not agree with all of Rieff’s judgments about history to find one’s thinking about the meaning of the past deepened.
♦ In an odd way, the postmodern West cultivates a debased Christian form of remembrance. We are dominated by what Jeffrey Olick calls “the politics of regret.” We call to mind our collective sins. Racism, colonialism, sexism, oppression—the list can be very long. It’s as if we are examining our collective conscience in preparation for collective confession, but with no hope of forgiveness. A perpetually guilty conscience characterizes our historical memories, at least as cultivated and passed down by elite institutions throughout the postmodern West. As David Rieff points out, most of the people in the aspiring world—some of whom come to Europe—have no interest in this inheritance. They are not remotely eager to join the collective mea culpa, which seems to provide the West with a strange but powerful moral self-satisfaction. Is it any wonder that assimilation does not go well?
♦ Adjunct professors at Duke University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Minnesota have unionized. I’d have voted to unionize if I were in their positions. The disparities in academic pay are extreme, and getting worse. The national average pay for adjunct work is $2,700 per class. At four classes each semester, the typical full-time adjunct load, that’s nearly $22,000 for the year. Full professors at public institutions earn an average salary of $116,000, and at private schools the average salary is $148,000. Very few of these professors teach four classes per semester. At Duke, Chicago, and Minnesota, most teach two classes per semester, or even fewer. The hypocrisies of higher education never cease to astound me. The self-congratulating progressive culture in academia has developed a system of instructional peonage over the last two decades.
♦ On a number of occasions, I’ve advocated a tax on outsized university endowments. We should use the proceeds to fund free community college education. It seems an obvious step to address an obvious problem. The concentration of wealth in the top fifty university endowments is nothing short of extraordinary. It seems our politicians may be waking up. The leaders of the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Ways and Means Committee recently sent letters to fifty-six private schools with endowments in excess of $1 billion, asking for information about how these funds are managed and spent.
♦ Tom Reed, a congressman from New York, has proposed a bill requiring institutions with endowments greater than $1 billion to devote 25 percent of investment income to lowering tuition for students from lower-income families. Nice intention, but misguided. These elite schools attract the very best students. These are the kids most likely to succeed in our meritocracy. It’s perverse to lower costs for students who are scoring in the top 1 percent on the SAT when everyone else is facing rising tuitions and lesser prospects. What’s needed is greater support for kids lower down on the meritocratic food chain. We should tax rich schools to subsidize education at poor schools rather than rejiggering the way rich schools spend money on themselves.
♦ The Connecticut legislature faces difficult budget problems. One solution: tax Yale’s $25 billion endowment. A bill before the legislature in the Nutmeg State proposed to do just that. Yale’s associate vice president for federal and state relations called the bill “a specific attack on independent higher education.” No, it’s not an attack. It’s a sensible application of the basic principle of progressive taxation. The proposed bill will tax endowments of $10 billion or more, which in the state of Connecticut means Yale and only Yale. Only one of the world’s richest institutions will be taxed.
♦ In recent years, Yale and other super-rich universities have received record donations. They have also gained excellent returns on their investments. Yale’s investments returned $2.6 billion last year. The University of Connecticut’s entire endowment amounts to less than $400 million. Editors at the Wall Street Journal mock a concern that such disparities amount to an inequality that should worry us, and they intone the usual line from the conservative catechism that treats “redistribution” as a swear word.
♦ I’m increasingly frustrated by the lazy way in which commentators speak about the racism of Trump supporters, as if there’s no other reason to resent lax enforcement of immigration laws. Moreover, the facts suggest the opposite. White Americans with only a high school degree are among the demographics most likely to vote for Trump. They’re also the demographic most likely to cohabit with or marry non-whites. The rate of black-white intermarriage is inversely proportional to socioeconomic status.
The same is true in other areas of life. I dare say the only white children who attend majority-black public schools are poor white kids: the children of the people most likely to vote for Trump. Rich white families—the kinds of people who are quick to denounce Trump supporters as racists—are overwhelmingly likely to live in neighborhoods with no, or very few, black families. Forty-nine percent of community college students are white; 22 percent are Hispanic; 14 percent are black. Elite universities? Black enrollment has actually declined over the last two decades and now stands at less than 6 percent.
I could go on. By every measure, it’s the supposedly racist white working class that actually shares institutions, communities, and marriages with African Americans and Hispanics. Their morally superior betters? Not so much.
♦ Our own Alexi Sargeant, Junior Fellow at First Things, will be directing a production of Karol Wojtyla’s play, The Jeweler’s Shop. Written in 1960 by the future Pope and Saint John Paul II, it is subtitled “A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Passing on Occasion into a Drama.” The action turns on three couples and a jeweler whose store evokes the supernatural truths of marriage.
The performance will be Wednesday, June 8, at the First Things office (35 East 21st Street, New York, NY, 10010). Drop us a note if you’d like to attend, and we’ll reserve you a seat (email@example.com).
♦ In this month’s Public Square I discuss Yuval Levin’s new book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism. I also recommend a recent book by James Piereson, Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order, which makes a different but complementary argument that we’re at the end of an era. For social scientific analysis that dramatizes how much things have changed over the last two generations, consult Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, and Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. I have my own contribution to this growing literature of diagnosis, along with a specifically Christian way forward: Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society. The manuscript is with the publisher and it will be out this summer.
♦ Apologies to Alan Jacobs. We wrongly changed “brahmin” to “brahman” in his review of Laurus in the March issue.
while we’re at it sources: Archdiocese of Washington: adw.org, March 7, 2016. Biden at HRC: onpolitics.usatoday.com, September 25, 2015. Birth control in the court: nytimes.com, March 21, 2016. Yale’s endowment: wsj.com, March 24, 2016.