Last time we looked, the Vatican -- to put it delicately -- frowned on abortion. This fact has apparently escaped the attention of the faculty at one of the nation's major Catholic universities, Villanova, near Philadelphia.
While thousands took part in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. on January 22, few were from Villanova. With few exceptions professors refused to excuse students to attend the march. Instead they chose to put the sternest interpretation on the university's attendance policy, which reads, "For students beyond the first year, attendance policies are determined by the instructors of the various courses. Enforcement of such attendance policies lies with those instructors."
Students asking to be excused for the day to go to Washington to march in opposition to abortion faced a variety of nay-saying instructors. A woman Nursing major said, "(My professor) told me I shouldn't go; I would get a 'zero' for the day." She said her professor was "dead set" against her going and warned her she would be the subject of a punishment report if she missed class.
Another student, like most, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals from professors, told the independent Villanova Times, "As a Catholic school we should be supporting the March for Life. I was a little naive. I assumed she would say, 'Go for it.'"
A male freshman reported, "My Core Humanities professor told me I should concentrate more on my academics and less on my extracurricular activities."
"Two of my closest friends were unable to come because the professor did not consider the March for Life to be an excused absence," according to a male sophomore student. Another told the Times, "My hall mate was unable to attend because her professor would not let her get out of lab."
Villanova Times founder Chris Lilik summed it up this way: "The students I interviewed were shocked that Catholic university professors would punish them for attending a national pro-life event."
Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which has long provided centers for Catholic students at many universities, expressed dismay at this turn of events at Villanova. "One might expect a Catholic institution to be especially flexible when it comes to major events that express core beliefs."
Perhaps the reported cases of students being stiffed by their professors were coincidental. Perhaps. And perhaps it was coincidental that the next day Villanova welcomed one Patricia Williams, a Columbia law professor, as a guest speaker. She is a columnist for the left-wing Nation magazine and is a board member of the National Organization for Women's (NOW) Legal Defense Fund. While her topic was not abortion, the irony was not lost. One student said, "I don't know why NOW board members are invited by the administration to speak, but anyone remotely conservative is called 'anti-Catholic.'"
Last February, Charlton Heston's speech on the campus was protested by the Center for Peace and Justice, the College Democrats, and a number of professors because of Heston's opposition to gun control.
Across the Delaware River, in New Jersey, the latest form of Political Correctness involves not a current issue, but history. The Department of Education mandarins in Trenton periodically rewrite the state's history-teaching standards. The draft of the latest version omits George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the Pilgrims, but wants to make sure teachers tell students all about Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina and Sarah Grimke. This trio opposed slavery at the time of the Civil War.
The mandarins take the position that a sort of intellectual osmosis will cause teachers to automatically talk about the nation's founders. "We don't intentionally exclude certain names. But how long should the list of names be? Who do we include or not include?" asks Jay Doolan, the acting assistant commissioner of New Jersey's Division of Academic and Career Standards.
David Saxe, a Pennsylvania State University professor of education who reviews such standards nationwide for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, calls this "historical irresponsibility." He notes that if a state omits certain names and events from its standards, teachers then fall back on textbooks -- written and/or approved by committees -- as their guides. That's not very reassuring. One widely used textbook, United States History: In the Course of Human Events, lists Washington as one of fifteen "People Who Made a Difference." He is described as a man of "ordinary talents" who was more of a symbol than a genuine hero.
Hmm. It was on Christmas Day, 1776, when he led his exhausted Army back across the Delaware to launch a surprise attack on the British garrison at -- ready? -- Trenton. This daring and courageous move resulted in a stunning victory and a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Without it there almost certainly would not have been a United States of America or, for that matter, a State of New Jersey Department of Education.
(Peter Hannaford is the author of The Essential George Washington.)
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