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Catholic Colleges and Universities

Educating peacemakers


When speaking at colleges, I often do a spot quiz. I hold up a $100 bill and offer it to any student who can identify six people whose names I call out: Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, Paul Revere, Dorothy Day, Jeannette Rankin and Helen Green Balch. All hands go up on the first three, rarely a hand on any of the last three. In 20 years, and before hundreds of audiences, no one has won the $100. Whether at Notre Dame, Georgetown or Holy Cross, it’s always safe money. Peace illiteracy is rampant. Students have been well educated about peace breakers but not about peacemakers.

Peace education is far from flourishing on U.S. campuses. Less than 10 percent of the nation’s 3,000 colleges and universities are offering any courses in peace studies, with fewer than 100 offering degrees. Typically, Catholic colleges offer more courses in war making than peacemaking. The University of Notre Dame undergraduate course catalog uses four pages to describe 34 ROTC military courses ranging from “Amphibious Warfare I and II” to “The Evolution of Warfare I and II.” Peace Studies receives less than a fourth of a page.

Peace studies programs -- whether they offer majors, minors or concentrations -- are small, low-budget operations, led by professors whose commitment to peace extends well beyond the classroom. The purpose of what generically can be called peace education is roughly the same: to offer students the opportunity to learn the methods, philosophy, history and politics of effective nonviolent solutions to conflict.

Within that broad definition are large numbers of specific interpretations. Peace education at one school may emphasize the practical elements of dispute resolution. At another, diplomacy and security issues are the focus. One school may be intent on stirring students to become the next Dorothy Days or Phillip and Daniel Berrigans. The next school sees its role as a training center for professional conflict solvers. A few are still groping for a direction.

Peace studies professors have had to defend themselves against faculty carpers who dismiss the program as intellectually soft, ideology-driven or a ruse for reliving the ’60s. Scrounging for off-campus grants can be as wearying as begging for departmental funding to expand the program.

Students at schools with only a concentration or minor in peace studies are told to be happy with those crumbs, while students majoring in peace studies are told by perplexed parents that there are no jobs in peace. Students also wonder why their schools routinely confer honorary degrees on the famous, wealthy and secure but seldom on peacemakers and agitators.

In the mid-1980s, John Dear, a Jesuit priest currently directing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, helped found the peace studies program at Fordham University. “The program is alive today,” Dear said, “but I wish it was promoted more strongly. Meanwhile, military training and recruiting continues at Fordham. The problem remains that Catholic schools readily teach people how to kill, through ROTC programs. How can we teach peace and uphold the peacemaking life of Jesus on one hand, while on the other support the Pentagon and train our young people to kill in future wars? We need to abolish all ROTC programs, and then develop and build our peace studies programs.”

To learn more about the state of peace education in U.S. Catholic colleges, I sent inquiries to some 20 directors of peace studies programs. A fair number of the program directors in peace studies responded with lengthy and detailed accounts of their efforts. All were grateful, and some surprised, to be asked about their work, as if it should be a rare day when anyone from the media has the curiosity to flush them out.

The following are among the schools that responded in depth to my queries:

University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. Planning for the Justice and Peace Studies Program began in 1985, with approval for a major coming in 1991. Since then, 50 majors have been awarded and 55 minors.

At St. Thomas, Fr. David Smith, a professor of theology and director of the program, said that his main “satisfaction is seeing students transformed and committed to making a difference in the world. The main frustration is lack of time. I do not have a secretary assigned to the program. I have been using work-study students instead. The theology secretary helps when she can.”

Smith, who is exploring the possibilities of creating a master’s program in peace and justice studies, is a pacifist “but with the proviso that it is better to resist evil with violence than not to resist it at all. I agree with Gandhi that the best way to resist evil is with Satyagraha,” which means “truth force.”

Of the Air Force ROTC presence at St. Thomas, Smith said that his faculty and students “differ on whether such a program should exist on a Catholic campus. My position is that eventually Catholic campuses should support trained, well-resourced politically supported organizations for active nonviolence as a replacement for armies. But so long as the Catholic community believes there is a place for military defense, it is hypocritical to say ‘not in my backyard.’ ”

Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y. The yearly budget for the Peace and Justice Program is $10,000. Out of a student population of 2,600, an average of eight students annually receive minors in Peace and Justice Studies. Michael Hovey, the program director, has a full-time paid position in the Center for Campus Ministries. After five years in the Navy, Hovey sought and received in 1976 an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector to war. Since then, he has been an active member of Pax Christi.

Iona’s program began in 1977 when it was among seven schools that were nudged by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to host pilot programs in peace and justice education.

Hovey said Iona’s administrators have plans to create both a major and an autonomous Department of Peace and Justice Studies. “The administration and faculty are far ahead of the students in both understanding why peace and justice is so integral to our mission and in supporting the programs we run,” he said. “It is the clear consensus of the Iona community that peace studies and related programs are a key element in the college’s Catholic identity.”

Christian Brothers University, Memphis, Tenn. In his fourth year as director of the peace studies program, Peter Gathje, an assistant professor of religion and philosophy, said that “the overall budget for the program is zero, unless one would pro-rate faculty salaries based upon the teaching of the courses designated as part of the peace studies minor. So, we have no college funds to bring in outside speakers or sponsor student activities off campus.”

The program was begun by Gerard Vanderhaar, whose books on nonviolence are regarded in the field as troves of practical wisdom. In 20 years, approximately 40 students have chosen peace studies as a minor.

Gathje is heartened every semester on seeing that “the peace studies courses are regularly filled to the maximum.” One frustration is that “we have yet to develop and offer a course specifically dealing with conflict resolution. I think those skills and the theory of conflict resolution need serious attention by our students.”

St. Michael’s College, Colchester, Vt. In the first semester of her first year, Anne Femenella took a four-credit seminar from Edmundite Fr. Michael Cronogue on peace and justice. The course stirred her intellectually and spiritually. It also aroused her appetite for more. Why, she wondered, isn’t St. Michael’s offering a major, or at least a minor, in peace studies?

“It seems,” Femenella said last spring, “that the academic powers are not interested in expending the resources and energies to help students create an environment that helps their learning through peace education.”

Femenella dug in and took the time to write in November 1999 a detailed outline for creating a major. She submitted it to the school’s curriculum board. Femenella found an ally in her faculty advisor, Cronogue. He has also written a proposal for what would be needed academically to fulfill the requirements for a peace studies minor. While administrators ponder and mull, Femenella won’t be around. She has plans to take her junior year abroad through Vermont’s School for International Training -- to study peace and justice.

Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. The Program on Peace and Justice has roots in the 1960s when Fr. Richard McSorely’s courses on nonviolence were packed to capacity. McSorely, an uncompromising pacifist in the tradition of pre-Augustine Christianity, regularly rebuked Georgetown’s Jesuit administrators for paying only flickering attention to peace education while hosting an ROTC program.

McSorely, author of Kill For Peace? is now in his 80s and not teaching. But others carry on his work. However, Georgetown’s program -- revived seven years ago -- does not offer a major. Its budget of $60,000 is “almost nothing compared to a real department,” said Mark Lance. He is the only professor specifically appointed to teach in the program, with most courses staffed by teachers who have a passion for peace education and who do it as extra work. With more than 100 students pursuing minors, three core courses are offered, along with such electives as “Community Conflict Resolution” and “The Ethics of Nonviolence.”

Lance teaches the latter course. Course readings, he said, “focus on the sorts of social injustice that lead people to form movements for positive change. For me, to think only about the techniques of dealing with conflicts, apart from the social problems that cause them, is both intellectually and politically irresponsible. If people took nonviolence seriously, and the options it provides, it would lead to profound changes in all levels of society.”

College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass. Begun in 1988, the concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies attracts between 15 and 20 students a year, out of 2,700 undergraduates. The concentration requires a one-semester intro course, three electives, and a research paper or internship or a capstone course.

Two of the realities behind the program’s creation were the strong presence of ROTC at Holy Cross and, at the other end, an attempt to meet the needs of students who were pacifists or had ties to the Catholic Worker, either in Worcester or their hometowns.

In March 1997, David O’Brien, the program’s director, wrote a forceful report for the Catholic bishops’ task force on Catholic education and social teaching. In it, he said that among colleges and universities “there are few programs that offer students the chance to pursue questions of social justice in a systematic way. Peace and Justice Studies programs are generally small and beg for faculty and institutional support.”

An idea of what Holy Cross leaders take pride in can be seen in the current 52-page glossy magazine published by the admissions office. Two full pages are devoted to “Alumni/ae of Distinction,” including Christopher Matthews, ’67, the noted television shouter and interrupter; the deputy director of the CIA; the publisher of Glamour magazine; a sportswriter; a vice-president of Goldman-Sachs; and two executives of investment firms. Missing was Philip Berrigan, ’49, the one alumni whose peace-based life could well serve as a model for Holy Cross students seeking to confront American militarism.

Manhattan College, Riverdale, N.Y. Going back to the late 1960s when he was a young instructor in theology actively opposing the Vietnam War, Joseph Fahey has been the steadfast nurturer, coordinator and defender of Manhattan’s Peace Studies programs. It granted its first degree in 1973 to three students. The peak year was 1976 with 14. Then interest waned. From 1981 to ’95, only 29 peace studies degrees were awarded. Fahey is now retired, and Margaret Groarke is the current director.

In 1990, Fahey wrote in the spring issue of Peace Review, “In the late 1960s when a handful of professors from various disciplines were meeting at Manhattan College to plan the bachelor of arts program in Peace Studies, a former dean of our college said to us, ‘You don’t want these kids to be peacemakers. You want them to be troublemakers!’ Our response was to assure him that peacemaking was at heart a reconciliatory process and that, in fact, we were trying to teach our students not to be troublemakers. But the dean was more perceptive than we were. At heart a peacemaker is a troublemaker.”

Catholic University, Washington, D.C. In one stretch during the 1980s, the Peace and World Order Studies Program was well promoted and popular. By the mid-1990s, administration support flagged and course offerings dropped. This year, with momentum returning, between 60 and 70 students are expected to take one or more of the three core courses that are part of the 18 hours needed for a minor.

There is no peace studies department, and the program has a budget of only $2,000. Without the doggedness of Prof. William Barbieri, who runs the program from his department of religion, and a few other persistent professors, peace studies might vanish altogether. “It’s hard to imagine a more pressing responsibility than to teach students how to both analyze and respond constructively to conflicts of all sorts,” Barbieri said. “This should be a high priority, however much it might cause financial sacrifice or overcoming deep-seated disciplinary prejudices.”

A group of C.U. students interested in founding a campus organization to work on peace and social justice issues recently approached Barbieri for help. “Here and elsewhere,” he said, “the potential is emerging around which successful peace studies programs might be built or expanded -- provided they receive the institutional support they deserve.”

St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, N.Y. For the past two years, Barry Gan, the director and a pacifist for 30 years, has been redesigning the peace studies program so that it focuses more on the philosophy of nonviolence and less on international diplomacy and conflict resolution. The result is the Center for Nonviolence. Last year it sponsored two courses -- the first time that university officials allowed more than one course a semester to be offered. One class had 25 students, the other 15.

When the small peace studies program began in the 1980s, the budget was about $2,000. “When our university fell on hard times six years ago,” Gan said, “the budget was slashed to zero and it has not been restored since despite improved conditions and despite my pleadings.”

What Gan relates about his program is the pattern, not the exception. According to Michael True, a long-time teacher of peace at Assumption College and author of several books on nonviolence, “There are few academic appointments in peace studies, per se, so the programs have been built around people with appointments in other departments. And now, many of those who initiated programs are retiring, often with schools uncommitted to replacing them. So it’s a continual struggle to keep the programs strong, unless someone donates money for them.”

The same reality holds for peace studies programs throughout the country at state, secular and private colleges. What exists now for peace studies is a foothold. Twenty years ago, it was a toehold. That’s progress.

To have any chance at all for a long-term decrease in violence, academic courses in the literature of peace and the techniques of nonviolent conflict resolution need to be taught at every level of schooling.

Every gunman spraying bullets in classrooms or workplaces, every spouse abuser, every politician voting to increase weapons spending or calling for more executions on death row: They were all in first grade somewhere at sometime, then second grade and on up. Had they been exposed to the literature, methods, history, theories and practitioners of nonviolence, perhaps they would have second thoughts -- rejecting thoughts -- about violence.

Every semester, I call on my students to go beyond merely asking questions. Do something bolder and braver. Instead of asking questions, question the answers -- those given by anyone who says the answer is violence. That requires courage, because it means taking on nearly an entire culture long conditioned to accept -- even celebrate -- violent solutions. If the nation’s Catholic colleges could marshal their educational power for peace education, and back it up with money, what a positive force that would be.

Colman McCarthy, who wrote his first article for NCR in 1966, is a former Washington Post columnist. He is the founder and director of The Center for Teaching Peace in Washington.

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2000