When a faith-based college isn’t

I was just reading about a unanimous decision by the trustees of Marymount University, a small, liberal arts college in Virginia, to cut the following majors: English, history, math, art, economics, philosophy, secondary education, sociology, and theology and religious studies. These are being cut due to the low number of students enrolled in these majors and have been deemed less essential than other more in-demand majors. This decision has united a broad variety of students and alumni, most of whom did not even know about this until the decision had been made. It seems that their anger is as much about the secrecy as it is about the cuts.

I understand the pressures that small institutions of higher learning are under; it is hard to compete with state-funded schools (they are in trouble too) and gigantic schools like Penn State. And there are probably majors that have been cut in the past, like home economics. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for these schools to navigate the changing world that we are all dealing with; but still. When a church-related school doesn’t have a major in religion or theology, can it really say it is faith-based anymore? Do the foundational beliefs of Marymount matter anymore? I have no doubt they believe they are still a Catholic institution, but this cut seems to say otherwise.

I have attended four church-related colleges and universities, and I can tell you that their individual commitments to their founding faiths have varied. Some, like Alvernia University, take their roots seriously, making sure that every student takes at least one religion class, regardless of the individual’s faith background. This might be seen as self-serving, and it might be; but it is also central to their identity as a Franciscan institution. My Quaker undergraduate college (Wilmington) did not have this kind of rule, and there weren’t many of us majoring in Religion & Philosophy, but the school has stayed true to its Quaker values in creative and inspiring ways. And Wilmington is a quarter of the size of Marymount, so allocating precious resources isn’t any easier. It is about priorities, pure and simple.

There are lots of organizations that use religion as a selling point, even if they aren’t really deeply religious. They use God to sell widgets, convincing parents and students that they really, really, really are a faith-based institution. I don’t know if this is true about Marymount; they say that they are not turning their back on their faith tradition. And they might be telling the truth. Jesus told His disciples that where their hearts were, that was their true treasure. It is always about priorities; for colleges, families, and communities of faith. Put your money where your mouth is. If you tell me one thing, but do the opposite, it’s hard for me to believe you.

Prayer – Teach us to be honest with ourselves; show us what really matters in life; guide us as we seek Truth. Amen.

Today’s art is “Good News!” by Faith Ringgold.