Save The Catholic University of America

** Please see our June 6, 2018 update, “After the Vote

We are a group of concerned faculty (current and emeriti), students (graduate and undergraduate), staff, and alumni of The Catholic University of America. We love our University and we are proud to work and study at the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States.

We affirm, support and cherish Catholic University’s mission as “a comprehensive Catholic and American institution of higher learning, faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed on by the Church.” We are truly proud of this august research institution, which was founded and sponsored by the Catholic bishops with the approval of the Holy See in 1887, and has continuously worked to “discover and impart the truth through excellence in teaching and research, all in service to the Church, the nation and the world” (Mission Statement, The Catholic University of America). For us, the University’s mission represents not just words on a page, but rather our deeply held beliefs and – for many of us – our life’s work.

Yet we are also gravely concerned about Catholic University’s immediate future. Since 2010, we have watched the University’s administration under President John H. Garvey respond to steadily falling enrollment by making ever deeper cuts to the budget; by calling on staff and faculty to take buyouts and early retirements; by repeatedly raising student tuition; and by firing staff members and adjunct faculty, sometimes at the cost of expensive legal settlements. We have watched our buildings and our infrastructure crumble, and we have seen departmental and research budgets frozen and graduate support severely compromised.

Meanwhile, the salaries of our top administrators have risen at an outrageous pace. Over the last seven years, the pay for the President and his top seven lieutenants is up a shocking 86%, while faculty and staff salaries have increased 12%.

All of this has happened as our peer institutions have remained financially stable or even grown their enrollment, and as the D.C. metropolitan area, and our historic Brookland location in particular, have become ever more attractive places to live and study.

Over the past academic year, our provost, Andrew Abela, has put forth a plan called “A Proposal for Academic Renewal.” The proposal purports to solve our enrollment problems by a) firing tenured and tenure-track faculty, as well as full-time contract faculty; b) classifying academic units as either research, professional, or teaching units, each of which would have a different status and teaching load; and c) reorganizing separate schools into combined units without providing a rationale or sufficient funding.

We reject the Proposal for Academic Renewal, on the grounds that it is based on flawed data, a flawed model, and a fundamentally flawed premise. Furthermore, we contend that:

  • Threatening to fire tenured and tenure-track faculty without cause and without declaring financial exigency will irreparably damage the academic reputation of The Catholic University of America and will contravene the legal meaning of tenure as defined by the AAUP. (The Provost has erroneously stated, in the Academic Senate meeting of April 18, 2018, that tenure guarantees nothing more than the exercise of freedom of speech.) Proceeding with the Proposal will expose our University to public censure, including by the AAUP, and will expose the university to litigation by understandably aggrieved long-serving members of the university.
  • Splitting academic units and increasing workloads for some, while reducing them for others, will tear at the fabric of our close-knit and collegial community by creating a de facto caste system; will damage interdisciplinary collaboration; and will undermine the quality of undergraduate education by increasing class sizes, increasing the number of adjunct faculty, and reducing the amount of contact hours between faculty and students. For graduate education, the proposal will result in the closing of successful graduate programs, and will decrease the ability of the faculty at large to serve as graduate mentors and committee members.
  • Making cuts to faculty and staff positions while repeatedly raising administrators’ salaries is both unjust and unwise. It flies in the face of solidarity, a foundational principle of the Catholic social teaching, and contravenes Catholic social teaching as enunciated in key papal documents.
  • Rebuffing multiple good-faith efforts by the faculty and staff to assist in solving the financial and academic challenges faced by the University also runs roughshod against the tenet of subsidiarity, another fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching. Furthermore, this plan has already greatly harmed faculty, student, and staff morale, as evidenced by their comments in the recent Town Hall Meetings held on campus.

We believe that it is necessary to make comprehensive changes and new investments in order to attract students, improve the economic outlook of the University, and sustain its reputation as a world-class research institution. We propose that the Board of The Catholic University of America take the following steps to close its current $3.5 million dollar budget shortfall:

  • Increase enrollments with new marketing plans;
  • Intensify development initiatives;
  • Implement the recommendations contained in the consulting report produced by the Art & Science Group, which was presented to the faculty on January 30, 2018;
  • Approve deficit spending for FY 2019 in order to provide the required time for a more considered plan to be developed in collaboration with members of the faculty, staff, and student body that achieves a balanced budget in a manner that is also congruent with the University’s aims to maintain high-quality instruction on the undergraduate and graduate levels and to fulfill its self-identification as a global Catholic research university.

We believe change is urgently needed; indeed, we embrace change. But we also believe that the changes we make must be the right ones. The actions taken under President Garvey have significantly weakened the financial situation of the university and damaged our ability to recruit students. We have no confidence that the Provost Abela’s Academic Renewal Proposal will make the university’s situation better. Indeed, we are quite certain that it will deepen and compound our challenges.

If we want to regain our financial stability and have some chance of fulfilling our noble foundational mission as a Catholic research university, we need leaders who have a vision truly consistent with our mission. We need leaders who can authentically lead the faculty in a judicious and collegial manner. We need leaders who are willing to acknowledge our problems for what they are—and not blame their own failings on “demographics” or “economic conditions.” We need leaders who understand that a marketing plan should appeal to a broad rather than a narrow segment of potential applicants. We need leaders whose first instinct when faced with a problem is not to hire consultants but, rather, to draw on and build up the resources we already have, especially the talents of the faculty and staff. Finally, we need leaders who understand that a university is not simply another business enterprise, and cannot be treated as such without risking the education and formation of the students, who are the school’s raison d’etre.

This website is designed to present information for the broader community of people who care about the Catholic University of America. We have tried to make the materials as user-friendly as possible; we will be adding more information as it becomes available. You may be surprised by what you see.

If you would like to help save the university that we know and love, we would appreciate your comments, which you can leave anonymously. We will compile them and forward them to the Board of Trustees; we may publish comments on this website, as well. We believe that it is important for the Board to hear from the entire Catholic University community – faculty, staff, students, and alumni – and not exclusively from executive leadership.

Please pray for us and for the University as we strive for humane and considered solutions to the current situation.