There are days, and then there are other days. This is one of those other days. I have maintained in a number of postings that the Notre Dame controversy is all about fund raising and not orthodoxy, but the story I read at the National Catholic Reporter website about Ave Maria University simply floored me. Why is Ave Maria using the Notre Dame scandal to poach donations from Notre Dame alumni:
Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, for example, saw a possibility for financial gain. The university, founded in 2003 and pledging its fidelity to “magisterial teachings,” sent out a mailing attempting to lure Notre Dame alumni to send in contributions and make it their “new alma mater.”
It's not like Ave Maria's founder Tom Monaghan is broke, but apparently the University itself is in questionable financial shape. In the linked article from Ave Maria Watch, there is a copy of a memo written by a faculty member questioning the real financial status of the University--and he does this for moral reasons:
"The point is that without an audit and a clear 4-year financial plan, we cannot appropriately invite students/families into a 4-year undergraduate program in which students/families will be investing over $20,000 a year. If we fail in due diligence, or if we know now that there is a problem but bring them in anyway, then we are failing not only in financial stewardship but also spiritually as regards love of neighbor and truth-telling to these young people and their families. The third question then is whether we can receive an audit and 4-year financial plan that demonstrates sufficient liquidity, and does not presume rosy scenarios regarding revenues. Without this audit and demonstration of liquid assets, I fear that all of us (to different degrees) are participating in something that we may later deeply regret, namely selling to young people and their families a 4-year educational product that we do not have sufficient reason to believe can be delivered."
These are important concerns both for potential students and the current faculty and staff at Ave Maria. I have been where they are at, where I have had to wonder if the need to sell a particular university to prospective students hasn't crossed moral and ethical lines. Most colleges are businesses first, selling a product called higher education. They all bend over backwards, like any business, to make the case they have the better product. This is the first time I have ever seen a university make it's case (and attempt to enrich itself) by tearing down a competitor rather than espousing it's own special niche. From the NCR article:
Dr. Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said he “took a dim view” of the mailing. “Ave Maria is stooping to an unfortunate level to try to raise $25 contributions on the back of another institution’s controversy,” he said in an April 17 interview with NCR.
It seems to me that when Ave Maria resorts to this kind of fund raising they are admitting they do in fact, have serious financial problems. When one remembers that Tom Monaghan is also one of the largest contributors to the Cardinal Newman Society the picture gets even more interesting. No surprise that the Cardinal Newman Society lists Ave Maria University as one of it's outstanding examples of a orthodox Catholic university and that it began the attack on Notre Dame.
There are all kinds of issues for parents and students at Ave Maria. This is not a university accredited by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) the standard accrediting agency in the South, but by AALE (American Academy of Liberal Education). AALE is itself on shaky ground with the Department of Education and the DOE controls federal monies, such as work study, allocated to accredited schools. The DOE has issues with how AALE actually determines accreditation for it's member schools. There also numerous law suits from former employees and faculty all of which cite the use of deceptive tactics. A number of these involve the Ave Maria Law School, which surprise surprise, is also having financial issues.
Then there are also other interesting issues involving Ave Maria's inviting the religious group Servants of the Home of the Mother as part of their campus ministry. This is a religious group started by a---get ready---Spanish priest, Fr. Rafael Alonso Reymundo in 1982. It is affiliated with the Diocese of Cuenca, in Spain. It's mission is: 1) The defense of the Eucharist, 2) The defense of the honor of our Mother especially the privilege of her virginity, 3) The conquest of youth for Christ.
Given number three I guess it's not surprising this group is involved in vocation discernment at Ave Maria. Problem is, all those discerned vocations seem to be going to the Servants of the Home of the Mother. There is also another problem. This group is heavily involved in promoting the alleged Marian apparition at Garabandal, Spain. This particular Marian apparition has never been approved by the Church at any level. It has also not been condemned outright, unlike other sites. I guess this would be part of mission statement number two.
However, there are questions as to recruiting and retention and the fact that they seem to be specifically recruiting immature or psychologically damaged youth. Given the problems the Vatican has had with other cultic orthodox groups started by Spanish priests who target traditional youth, one wonders just how many of these groups have to implode before the Vatican says BASTA!
In the meantime Ave Maria University has a plate full of real problems. Targeting Notre Dame Alumni for 25 dollar donations seems silly given their founder is reputed to have billions. On the other hand, Monaghan is the same man who said something to the effect that he didn't see why Catholic education couldn't be marketed like pizza.
I bet there are a lot of faculty and staff affiliated with Ave Maria who wish it would have been the other devout Catholic pizza barons from Detroit who started Ave Maria. Unfortunately for Ave Maria, the Illitch's are involved in trying to resuscitate downtown Detroit and winning a second Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. They can take hope though because the Illitch's did buy the Detroit Tigers from Tom Monaghan, so there is some precedent. Might be the best thing that ever happened to Ave Maria. Poaching from Notre Dame certainly doesn't qualify.