Saturday, February 03, 2007

Corrupta Mater

We use the term "alma mater" (nurturing mother) to describe our schools. The most natural thing in the world is to love one's mother, to appreciate all that she has done for us, to want to support her even when we are no longer under her immediate care and protection - a sentiment that carries over into the metaphorical academic motherhood as well. This may explain why we tend to be so fiercely loyal to our "almae matres" - sometimes nearly to the point of insanity during football season. And this is also why schools seek funding from graduates and alumni.

One of the institutions I've attended has dealt me a great disappointment. Although a school is only figuratively maternal, I find myself almost mourning over the matter, given that my school has truly been personified as a mother. I'm taking this disappointment personally, not merely being let down by another bureaucratic institution. For I thought of my school as something other than an "institution." Maybe that was a mistake on my part.

A former student (whom I have known for many years) has been treated very unfairly by the school and by its administration. The actions taken by the school, as well as the way in which the manner was handled, has tainted my esteem for my "mother." In fact, in doing what she did, she has shown to me that all of her "academic" maternal instruction regarding integrity does not hold up in the realm of "real world" politics, donors, and the preservation of jobs. See John 11:50.

Integrity is something that is proven under trial, and my alma mater is sorely wanting. And in adopting this new pragmatic ethic, she has sacrificed one of her most brilliant children in a way not terribly different than a woman pregnant with an unwanted child has an abortion of convenience. Ironically, the "child" she aborted was a loyal son, a child of promise - but perhaps one that was set to be born in difficult times. The mother took the easy way out, and will never know the cost of her actions. She also seems utterly lacking in remorse at this point. She has gotten on with her life.

This institution has lost sight of her mission, and is losing touch with the very people she is obliged to serve by her very existence. She no longer has one main mission with a few subordinate functions, but rather she is holding her moistened finger in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing, seeking to fulfill the fantasy of those who are paying her for the night. This is so diametrically opposed to her attitude when I was at her academic breast that I almost wonder if my mother is suffering from mental illness. But alas, institutions don't have personality disorders or imbalances of the brain, but rather carry out the mission as envisioned by those running the institution, those who serve on boards, those who have influence, those who set policy, and those who pay the bills. She only appears to be an organism, when in fact, she is the product of her leadership.

Times have changed. Practicality has replaced integrity. Survival has replaced service.

I woke up one day to discover that my metaphorical mother is no lady. My mental picture of her is no longer true - if it ever was. This is a hard lesson, and it hurts in a way not unlike when a human being disappoints. Institutions are, after all, comprised of human beings whose motivations can be quite complex, if not baffling, at times.

While I have no intention to call my alma mater a prostitute in public (note that I am not mentioning any names here, but no doubt, some people familiar with the case will infer what they will), nor do I have any intention of going on a campaign or condemning her in any outspoken way, I really believe I am conscience-bound to no longer promote this institution, recommend students to this institution, or send or encourage the sending of money to this institution. I really wish this weren't so.

This isn't out of anger or out of any strategy of forcing the school to change. It's much simpler than that. I just can't in good conscience support what they are doing. If there is confession and repentence, I will be overjoyed, and will again rally around my alma mater. But unless such a thing happens, I'm not going to support this institution. I will not and I can not.

I don't think I'm alone on this. There seems to be a lot of unhappiness over the general direction of late, and I'm sure this latest incident will only further tarnish the school's already less-than-sparkling reputation. And although misery loves company, it offers no comfort at all.


Pastor Brett Cornelius said...

I agree with your assessment of the student. He does have a lot of promise. I'm not sure how or why the problem arose. I don't know that it was political, but it is sad.

Lawrence said...

The mother took the easy way out, and will never know the cost of her actions.

hmmm... my last two 'alma maters' (both where I worked, and the first from which I graduated) follow a similar pattern regarding their employees as well as students. Hence why I moved on from the first to the second, and am now at my third. I have since become callused to the way things work at these large institutions.

Whether a student, faculty, or administrative type like me, this kind of behavior from our beloved institutions occur much more that we would like to imagine.

It is sad, really. I can no longer hold these institutions in as high esteem as I did in my younger days. It becomes tedious sometimes and work satisfaction comes less and less. Yet, the rewarding times still come along, when the institution actually does the right thing for any given individual.

I often think this how a pastor feels when shepherding his congregation through times of trouble.

Or maybe I’m just rambling.

solarblogger said...


I'm very sorry you're going through this. The one mother who won't disappoing is the Jerusalem which is above. But to have an earthly Jerusalem disappoint, well, it just shouldn't happen. Even in a fallen world, sin shouldn't happen. No matter how much we have been taught to expect it, it does, and should, disappoint.

Keep standing by the one who was wronged. He needs it. It might be "Band of Brothers" time.

Pastor Beisel said...

Fr. Hollywood,

I assume letters have been or are being drafted to send to the seminary?

Father Hollywood said...

Thank you for your comforting words, everyone.

Paul: the alma mater in question knows where I stand. I pleaded on behalf of the student - as did many others - but to no avail. I don't think it's a secret that there is a great deal of disappointment, disillusionment, and even shock over this situation.

I certainly have no power to twist arms. In an academic world where huge grants from corporate giants keep the lights on in the classrooms, there's not a whole lot individuals can do to change the outcome by sending letters.

I do believe, however, that we should pray. I especially pray fervently for the student who was wronged. I can't in good conscience send my alma mater a check, but whatever money I could send them is only a drop in the bucket anyway.

I do believe there will be ramifications for this (and other similar things) in the form of divine judgment. If and when this happens, there will be no "winners" - only "losers." This is part of the reason for my angst. It's like watching a train wreck happen before one's eyes.

The proclamation of the Gospel is being sacrificed.

What else can we do but pray the Kyrie and the Jesus Prayer and say with faltering lips: "Thy will be done"?