What is the University Concourse?
by Kathleen van Schaijik
Working in the John Paul II Library this summer, we happened to notice that the Concourse was on record there as being “published by the philosophy department.” We do not know how this happened, but we suspect it was not an isolated clerical error. We gather that many think we are an organ of the philosophy department, or some other department at the University. Though we proclaim ourselves in every issue “an independent journal of opinion, published by alumni and students of Franciscan University,” it seems the essence of the idea is still not widely realized.
To set the record straight, then, as well as to acquaint especially our new readers with the history, nature and purpose of the University Concourse, we here briefly lay them out.
It began early in 1996, when a group of alumni and students devoted to the welfare of FUS agreed together that something essential to her nature as a university was missing, namely, an open forum for serious discourse and debate. More than a mere lack, we noticed a sort of localized cultural resistance to the very notion of such a thing—a widespread, misguided nervousness about open disagreement among Christians, which was preventing us from attaining the sharp intellectual vigor of the great Catholic universities of the past. Also, a natural habit of trusting in the wisdom of our leaders seemed to be running to excess, leading to an exaggerated stress on submission to their authority that did justice neither to the limitedness and humanity of those leaders, nor to the essential role other members of a university play in contributing their ideas toward the perfection of the whole body. This tendency was reinforced by a strong pastoral emphasis on avoiding the sin of rebellion, which was, in our opinion, inadequately balanced by a due appreciation of the dangers on the other side—intellectual passivity and spiritual dependency and backwardness.
Every community has its unwholesome tendencies; these, we found, were among ours. We therefore thought it important to try to provide not just a forum for opinion, but an independent forum for opinion: one that deliberately did not seek official approval or rely on official support; one wherein our contributors might feel completely free to express themselves as they saw fit (within the broad perimeters set forth in our editorial policy), even if it meant promoting ideas that are officially out of favor.
But, beside this remedial intention, there were more positive reasons for launching an opinion journal at FUS. We saw, in the special atmosphere of our University, a unique opportunity at hand. The exuberant religious life of our campus, which defies the usual liberal/conservative categories, could, we thought, make for a new and powerful type of intellectual conversation; one wherein truth was pursued as Christ Himself—joyously, ardently, and without party spirit. At FUS, we thought, students, faculty, alumni and others might strive intellectually with each other without bitterness and acrimony, “with our eyes fixed on Truth,” and against the unifying backdrop of our mutual love of God and desire for holiness.
This, in any case, was our hope, and we think the experience of the last three semesters has proved it at least not entirely unrealistic. But, satisfied as we are with our success so far, we recognize that the Concourse still has room to increase in value and fruitfulness for FUS. But this will happen only in proportion with the willingness of the whole community to make good use of it. We therefore urge all our members to make this forum their own; to treat it, not just as an opportunity to practice and display rhetorical skill, but as a place where we can truly influence one another toward the good, by raising concerns, by challenging mindsets, and by generously donating our insights to the local “arena of ideas,” so that by our common efforts, a fuller light of Truth may come to illumine Franciscan University, as well as our personal lives.