FEW days ago, Professor Antonio Contreras wrote in his article, "Rethinking University Rankings," that it is “about time [that] universities challenge this whole industry of ranking universities.” His sentiment and observation are on point: “higher education in the world has practically become business enterprises that now compete in a horse race to be at the top, hoping that a well-placed ranking would translate to revenues not just from increased enrolment.”
I would like to weave a discussion from Contreras’ article applying it to the status of Catholic education. What is our basis in determining whether a Catholic university or school is successful? It is not the rankings nor the achievements that it can show-off to society. It is not the number of awards garnered either by its students or employees. Neither is it the number of successful degree holders among its faculty. While all of these are important to the Catholic school as an academic institution, they are not what’s ultimately essential insofar as “Catholic identity” is concerned.
At the core of Catholic education is the very “faith” that fuels everything and anything that is called “Catholic.” This faith is the product, an existential affirmation if we may, of an encounter with a significant figure in history. This is expounded by Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, and thus a reminder to everyone and anyone who has forgotten what it truly means to be a Catholic (Christian).
The matrix and therefore the measure of Catholic education’s achievement is no less its ability to produce graduates whose lives are transformed by the “convictions” underlying the very educative process. But in addition to this, another measure is the ability of the graduates to also transform the society where they belong or at the very least their colleagues in the workplace.
Apparently, these things are not new, and we even find their repetition superfluous and sometimes “corny” and “cheezy.” The ideals of our Catholic schools have become marketing taglines and branding materials. Although it is easy to argue that vis-à-vis the market a Catholic university or school is left without any choice but to also create an entrepreneurial strategy of its own species, but this itself is a significant data for deeper reflection on the part of anyone and everyone who “believes” that she/he is “Catholic.”
The good thing with rankings is that they push schools to innovate and recreate their educational models. Through this, Catholic universities would have more opportunities to creatively communicate the faith to their students and parents. But if there are metrics and tools to improve academic performance especially in research and community extension, shouldn’t there be one also for Catholic identity? On what basis can we say that a Catholic educational institution is truly Catholic other than its name or the religious affiliation of the administration?
True, Catholic universities and schools should also respond to the challenges of the time. After all, we also see the demands of the Gospel in those regions of humanity where faith intersects with secular interests. However, Catholic schools should also keep in mind that there is a danger of forgetfulness that though we are “in the” world but we are “not of it.”
The mission of a Catholic educational institution is evangelization and not any entrepreneurial activity with profit as the end in mind.
November 29, 2022
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