Punditry: A Reply to Michael Novak re Ave Maria Law
Michael Novak’s writings on economics, Catholic social thought, and theology were a major influence in my journey to Catholicism. So it saddens me to be swiped at by him in his critique of the MOJ statement on the situation at Ave Maria law school (HT-Reynolds):
Recently, however, I came across a link (one to a Professor Bainbridge) that accused the dean of Ave Maria School of Law (AMSL) of “bad faith” in turning down two (out of five) tenure petitions and dismissing a tenured professor “for cause.” Some “Catholic and other Christian” law professors (of whom Bainbridge is one), in particular members of the “Mirror of Justice” website, signed an open letter in support of allegations against the dean — even though many noted that they did not know all the facts.
The statement to which he refers is here. First, even though we were careful to couch our language in terms of allegations that had been made, we were collectively confident that we have a good handle on the key facts surrounding the issues. Second, the signatories of the joint statement are not just “some” Catholic law professors - they are some of the most prominent Catholic (and, in a few cases, non-Catholic Christian) legal academics in the country. I disagree with many of my MOJ colleagues on many issues, but I have no doubt that they are leaders of Catholic legal education.
Novak raises the issue of Ave Maria’s planned move from Michigan to Florida, but this is a red herring. Nothing in our statement went to the issues surrounding the move. Instead, we focused on governance issues:
In April of 2007, the Association of Ave María Faculty, which represented a vast majority of Ave María’s faculty, publicly stated that the AMSL Dean had employed “threats and retaliation to try to silence members of the faculty from voicing concerns about his leadership and that of [the Chair of AMSL’s Board].” They further alleged financial punishment, the monitoring of faculty email and voice mail, and “manipulation of the promotion and tenure system.” They also reported that “[o]ne tenured faculty member has been repeatedly threatened with termination based upon bizarre allegations” and that “junior faculty members have been threatened that their careers would be harmed if they associate with disfavored tenured faculty.”
Novak joins issue with those claims as follows:
The [professors] two who have been denied tenure (a normal event in a law school) have been given a year’s leave of absence on full pay. “Mirror Of Justice” calls this a “suspension,” but it seems to me a generous offer by their Board, which will carry them from now until the late summer of 2008, better even than a sabbatical year.
This is wholly spurious, of course, because Novak utterly fails even to acknowledge the very serious process flaws the MOJ statement raised. We relied on the the ABA’s sample “Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” the “1958 Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings” (a joint statement of American Association of University Professors (“AAUP”) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (“AACU”), and the “1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure” (a joint statement of AAUP and the AACU) to inform our judgment. But we also relied on Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, together with general principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which can be found in abridged form in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to further guide our judgment. The statement provides a compelling case that both the secular and Catholic standards have been violated. But Novak fails to join issue with our analysis on the merits, instead simply accusing us of being “prosecutorial.”
Some very good people have gone public in this dispute. It seems important for all to listen more systematically to those on the side opposite to their own.
I agree. I just wish Novak had applied that principle to the MOJ statement.
I have tremendous respect for Michael Novak. I have routinely cited his work in my scholarship. I am a Catholic today in large part because of his influence. I will continue to respect and admire him going forward, but I stand by the MOJ statement and my fellow signatories.