Academic Freedom and Tenure: Catholic University of America

Published in the September-October 1989 issue of Academe.

The 1989 report of the investigating committee describes the process extending over seven years whereby the published views on sexual ethics of a tenured professor of theology were examined by the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At the end of the seven years the professor, an ordained priest considered to have a canonical mission that authorized him to teach theology in an ecclesiastical faculty "in the name of the church," was informed by the Sacred Congregation that it no longer considered him eligible to discharge that responsibility. He was suspended from teaching in 1987 by the chancellor of the university and given a hearing by a committee of the university's academic senate, which concluded that the canonical mission could be withdrawn only if he remained a tenured member of the faculty and was permitted to continue teaching in the field of his competence.

The board of trustees voted to withdraw the canonical mission. Efforts to provide for alternative teaching broke down when the administration took the view that the professor was ineligible to teach Catholic theology in any part of the university, and the professor pointed out that, being a Catholic theologian, he would necessarily be teaching from that perspective. He has been on leave of absence for most of the three years following his suspension while teaching at other universities.

The investigating committee concluded that the ad- ministration and governing board, by not permitting the professor to teach any course anywhere in the university from the announced perspective of a Catholic theologian, expanded rather than contained the breach in university autonomy and academic freedom brought about by the withdrawal, at the behest of the Sacred Congregation, of the professor's license teach  in an ecclesiastical faculty. This broad application of an externally initiated religious test violated not only the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure but also values of academic freedom and institutional autonomy that the administration had publicly promised to uphold. In addition, the investigating committee found the administration and governing board to have acted in disregard of the 1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings by suspending the professor without showing that immediate harm would result from his continuance.

Since the events described in the report, the Academic Senate has confirmed its commitment to certain principles of academic freedom and due process that were factors in the suspended professor's case, and a joint task force of the senate and the board of trustees is in the process of developing a new university statement of general policy on academic freedom. The administration, however, has not thus far expressed concurrence in a key position on academic freedom taken by the senate, and Committee A is unaware of any re- cent action on these matters taken by the board.

Committee A recommended to the Seventy-sixth Annual Meeting that the Catholic University of America be placed on the Association's list of Censured Administrations.