Sunday, May 30, 2004

Ave Maria University Worries Some Catholics

Academics and university interests are closely watching the Ave Maria
University, proposed to be built on the farmlands near Immokalee, Florida.

Thomas Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, is largely funding the new
school as his private educational empire to emphasise his ultra-conservative
views. But, some are worried. Dr. John Hittinger, former academic dean at
St. Mary's College in Michigan wrote "Mr. Monaghan seems oblivious to Church
doctrine on social justice in his treatment of faculty and staff as 'at will
' employees. He also spurns centuries-old academic customs and protocols,
especially those pertaining to faculty status and governance." St. Marys
College in Michigan was bought and sold by Monaghan last year. And now on
the blocks seems to be Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Michael Rose wrote in about Monaghan's plans to dump the
Michigan college leaving some students and graduate wondering what their Ave
Maria College degrees will be worth.

"Ave Maria College, founded in 1998, was once the flagship of Tom Monaghan's
educational empire. When he decided to lead his Ave Maria Foundation down to
Florida's Big Cyprus Swamp in hopes of building a Catholic Xanadu, less than
half of the faculty and staff volunteered to follow the emperor and his
money. two different issues of the college's magazine Annunciation (Winter
2003 and Spring 2003), former President Michael J. Healy clearly and
strongly re-affirmed Monaghan's promise to parents and students that the
incoming class of 2003 would be able to graduate from Ave Maria College in
Michigan. Furthermore, during a November 19, 2002 board of trustees meeting,
it was reported that "the Ave Maria Foundation is committed to fund Ave
Maria College [Michigan] a minimum of $25 million if necessary to cover
operating deficits over a four-year period, beginning fiscal year July 1,

But no. Rather than simply committing to help the college transition to
self-sufficiency, thereby allowing Ave Maria's original educational mission
to continue, Monaghan and his Ave Maria Foundation now appear to want to
dismantle the healthy Michigan campus along with the faculty, staff, and
students who are less than excited to see if his Florida experiment will
last longer than his St. Mary's project.

If Ave Maria Michigan disappears into the structure of another university,
Monaghan might in fact save a big chunk of the promised $25 million.
Moreover, according to several faculty members, plans were laid to cart off
most of the library books and computers from the Michigan college while the
students are home for the summer, working to earn money for next semester's
tuition. "'Everything' is destined for Florida," Father Fessio confirmed.

Monaghan and his cronies seem to have no real conception that a Catholic
college is a vast cooperative enterprise between numerous donors (big and
little), as well as staff, faculty, students, parents, and bishops. It even
includes cooperating with those families who moved into the area to be near
a center of Catholic life and culture, as well as with other neighbors who
just plain wish the place well.

Tom Monaghan seems instead to regard Ave Maria as a banana republic, of
which he is the sole monarch. This is not the attitude of subsidiarity with
which a major Catholic educational enterprise should be launched and
conducted. As John Hittinger noted last year, "the quest for renewal of
Catholic higher education has taken some wrong turns under the Ave Maria

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