Sed Contra: College at the Crossroads

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2001

The University of Dallas (UD) has long been counted among a handful of strong Catholic colleges where committed Catholic parents can safely send their sons and daughters. Billing itself as “the Catholic university for independent thinkers,” UD is one of the top liberal arts universities in America. It is one of only eight universities in Texas to have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and one of two to be accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education, which I presently chair. Events of the past ten months, however, have raised questions about the direction of UD under the leadership of its president, Msgr. Milam Joseph, appointed in 1996.

Last fall, Scott Thurow, who came to the university in 1974 and was appointed provost in 1993, was “reassigned” inexplicably to teach in the politics department at UD’s Rome campus. Since Msgr. Joseph lacks an earned doctorate and was suspected of harboring a liberal bent, Thurow’s reputation as a scholar and a conservative helped calm most fears about Joseph’s appointment. Thurow’s seasoned oversight of academic programs was considered by those skeptical about Msgr. Joseph to be crucial in maintaining UD’s academic excellence.

Nonetheless, Msgr. Joseph is clearly uncomfortable with the out-spoken conservatives on his campus. Those who know Msgr. Joseph says he views himself as moving the campus into the Catholic “mainstream.” In doing this, he has strong support from UD’s board, which evidently shares Joseph’s vision for the university, though he has regularly clashed with some faculty and students, including the formidable Professor Janet Smith in the philosophy department.

Famous for her articulate advocacy of Humanae Vitae, Smith is a feisty defender of Catholic orthodoxy and the founder of the Millennium Evangelization Project on campus. As the unofficial faculty watchdog of Msgr. Joseph, Smith was never the president’s favorite person. After a number of contentious episodes, Msgr. Joseph made it clear to Smith that he would like her to resign. He recently got his wish, at least for the near future, when Smith announced that she would be teaching in the coming academic year at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. It is no accident that Smith’s evangelization program is exiting the campus as well.

On the heels of Smith’s announcement came the news that UD’s Institute of Religion and Pastoral Studies (IRPS) was moving to Ave Maria University in Michigan. Whether IRPS was cut loose by Msgr. Joseph or acquired by Thomas S. Monaghan, Ave Maria’s billionaire founder, is a topic of much debate. What cannot be disputed, however, is that IRPS was thriving at UD under the leadership of Douglas Bushman. The program was profitable and provided a sound education in pastoral theology to laypeople in the dioceses of Dallas, Tulsa, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin. It was on the verge of expanding to Omaha, Atlanta, and Syracuse.

The departure of Bushman and his colleagues from UD coincides with the dismantling of the St. Ignatius Institute by Rev. Steven Privett, S.J., the new president of the University of San Francisco (see “The Death of a Great College Program,” “Sed Contra,” April 2001). Guilt by association with Father Privett’s academic bloodbath is something that Msgr. Joseph would probably like to avoid, especially since Father Privett’s action at USF is under scrutiny at the Vatican. It’s ironic for an institution with UD’s conservative traditions to even appear in league with renegade Jesuits.

Credit should be given to Msgr. Joseph for bringing much-needed financial and capital improvements to UD. Financial stability at a small college is hard to achieve, and the situation Msgr. Joseph inherited at UD was fiscally marginal. And when a university president is sprucing up the campus, adding new buildings, and increasing the endowment, it’s unlikely the board will take issue with changes in institutional character.

Thus, the course set by Msgr. Joseph will very likely continue for years to come, and his ethos will likely prevail at UD until future leaders make their own mark. Time will tell if these changes mark a dramatically new course for UD, or whether Msgr. Joseph simply wants to eliminate what he considers obnoxious stridency among campus conservatives. If the letter is true, Msgr. Joseph is making a marketing decision that may come back to haunt him.

Being known as conservative isn’t such a bad thing when you have the market largely to yourself.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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