San Francisco Trustees Urged to Block Reorganization

Outcry at University Over St. Ignatius Institute

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, MAR. 23, 2001 ( Trustees at the University of San Francisco are under pressure from students, alumni and academics across the country to overturn a decision by the school´s president to reorganize the campus´ St. Ignatius Institute, the Washington Times reports.

In January, Father Stephen Privett shocked many at the 7,600-student private Jesuit university by changing the leadership at the institute program and proposing a stronger relationship between the institute and the university´s Catholic studies department.

Father Privett fired its longtime director and associate director, and appointed his own choice to lead the program, which has long drawn acclaim for its Great Books program.

His decision drew swift outcry from some members of the institute´s faculty who teach full time at the university. Six have said they will resign their classes at the institute if the decision is not overturned. Supporters also have appealed to the Vatican to intervene.

In a letter, the professors said the institute had remained «faithful to the vision of its founding Jesuit priests,» but said they have watched as «certain individuals» have tried to undermine its integrity. «Representative of that liberality which can abide all things but orthodoxy, they have employed every means available to discredit the program and its personnel and to deny it resources,» they wrote, noting that the termination of their bosses signaled that administrators planned «to alter fundamentally the character of the institute.»

Father Privett is known for his commitment to social justice and as a liberal activist. He defended his changes at the institute in a letter to alumni as necessary to consolidate programs for «the strategic concentration of our limited resources.»

Responding in a question-and-answer format to alumni concerns, Father Previtt added, «Let me put it bluntly. I don´t see any basis for questioning this Jesuit community´s loyalty to the Catholic Church.» The responses are available at on the Internet.

About 150 of the school´s 2,200 liberal arts students take classes at the institute. USF Provost James Wiser said Father Privett based his decisions on academic, financial and student access issues related to the institute. He said he is concerned by the criticism and notes that much of the response to the president´s decision has been negative.

Some observers, however, claim Father Privett´s decision caps a long-simmering feud between different factions of the Jesuits at the university, which was founded in 1855. Opponents of his changes say they fly in the face of the Vatican´s call for Catholic universities to return to their traditional teachings and mission. They also call his decision an affront to true diversity and a usurpation of academic freedom.

Winfield Myers of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Delaware, called it «a blow against curricular integrity, intellectual honesty and tradition.» He added: «It´s a slap in the face of [John Paul II´s apostolic constitution] Ex Corde Ecclesiae since the St. Ignatius Institute´s role in a Jesuit university was to support the mission of the Church in higher education.»

A group of outraged alumni of the institute have campaigned vigorously against the president´s changes, organizing a letter-writing campaign to the school´s 40-member board of trustees who were expected to meet today for one of four yearly meetings.

Last Sunday, a group of prominent thinkers and scholars, including papal biographer George Weigel, First Things editor Father Richard John Neuhaus and former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett, signed a letter that appeared as a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle.

«As part of a liberal education, even secular schools ought to expose their students to religious views,» the letter said. «But when even a nominally Catholic institution like USF refuses to allow one small center of traditional Catholic learning to exist in the form it has for 25 years, we believe it truly is an educational crisis.»

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