North America’s Only Thomistic PhD Program is Under Threat of Closure (UPDATED)

By Jon|May 17, 2017|Personal|

Two years ago I posted that I would be leaving Chicago for Houston to attend this program. Now the broader university to which it belongs wants to close North America’s only center for Thomistic studies, basically because it wants to spend money elsewhere. Each year, fewer and fewer students are accepted – not because of lack of interest – but because funding is being repurposed.

The school is moving in the direction that most other Catholic colleges did in the 1980’s, a direction which CTS was trying to counteract at the time. Now, financial support for an integrated Catholic liberal arts curriculum is drying up at the University of St. Thomas in favor of a new primary goal: getting students jobs. The evidence is found in the recent decision to reconsider, for financial reasons, the contracts of tenured philosophy and English professors subsequent to constructing a multi-million dollar facility last year.

Faculty usually receive and return their renewal contracts for the following academic year by May 15th. That date has passed and not a single one of the 11 members of the Department of Philosophy has received their contract (the same is true of the English department). Instead, a note was distributed that the philosophy program could be eliminated.

It seems to me that, in general, religious orders of priests used to be a principle of unity at Catholic universities. They were individuals naturally disposed to value theology and philosophy because of their seminary training and spiritual outlook for souls. At the same time they had responsibility for fundraising and administration. But now the orders struggle to support and govern Catholic education because they have fewer members. Lay faithful have stepped up, but appear more inclined to value honor or even mere profit because they do not have the integrated and broad perspective that the priests had, but only the practical side. This results in conceding to over-specialization and technocracy producing immediate and visible results rather than the long-term and virtue-oriented results tht was the hallmark of Catholic education.

There is little I can do for CTS besides hope and pray for the sake of the church that it is not starved or sterilized. I will get-on in life alright after $30,000.00 out-of-pocket and leaving a [ironically] comfortable career, but the church around the world, I believe, will suffer more if CTS is allowed to collapse. Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, for example, explains why this particular type of philosophy is important for Christianity. .

Here’s a few facts about the Center

  • CTS is the only graduate philosophy program uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the US
  • CTS’s nine faculty members have published eight books, 31 articles, and given dozens of presentations at scholarly conferences in the past year alone
  • CTS faculty specializes in many areas, including bioethics, political philosophy, virtue theory, and Islamic philosophy
  • CTS graduate students were recognized last year at national conferences for their outstanding philosophical research
  • CTS is home to the national office of the American Catholic Philosophical Association
  • CTS sponsors the annual Aquinas Lecture, which has featured many of the greatest Catholic scholars in philosophy and theology of the 20th and 21st centuries
  • CTS’ Order of St. Thomas recognizes outstanding scholars, teachers, and philanthropists.  Award recipients include Avery Cardinal Dulles, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, George Strake, Jr., Michele Malloy, and Dr. Peter Kreeft
  • The Center for Thomistic Studies Report

Another report:

More details about what I explained above can be found here:

UPDATE 1: A number of faculty from the University of Notre Dame wrote the following open letter:

Some of us in the Notre Dame philosophy department have written an open letter to the University of St. Thomas Houston administration in support of their philosophy department. Text as follows: feel free to share.

May 23, 2017

Open Letter To President Ivany, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Aquila, Dean Evans, and the University of St. Thomas Board of Directors:

As philosophers and individual members of the University of Notre Dame Philosophy Department, we write to express our strong objections in response to published reports (here) concerning the endangered situation of the philosophy department at the University of St. Thomas, whose faculty includes two graduates of our own philosophy program at Notre Dame.

The philosophy department at the University of St. Thomas is highly respected within the Catholic philosophical community in the United States. Not only are its faculty responsible for the American Catholic Philosophical Association, but they are also to be found taking a leading role wherever scholarly work is being done that is of interest to the Catholic philosophical community, including—to mention just a few areas—the International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas, Corpusthomisticum, the “Aquinas and the Arabs Project,” and others. They have made signal contributions to the field of medieval Christian and Islamic philosophy and contemporary Thomism. Their publications and professional activities bring distinction to the University of St. Thomas and contribute positively to its international reputation.

We are particularly concerned by the jeopardy in which the philosophy PhD program reportedly stands, in the absence of any appropriately paced program review and opportunity for faculty input. This vibrant and unique program offers students excellent resources for gaining expertise in Thomistic studies, drawing on the strengths of its internationally-regarded faculty. We remain deeply concerned by the documents made public in the above reports, which show events unfolding in such a way as to throw abruptly into doubt (1) the positions of tenured scholars, and (2) the futures of continuing and newly-accepted PhD students. The integrity of the scholarly enterprise depends on the ability of scholars at diverse career stages to trust the promises made to them by their home institution.

We object in the strongest possible terms to any course of action that would resulting in the eroding of tenure protections, the jeopardizing of lifetimes of scholarly work, and the placing at risk of vulnerable junior members of the philosophical community.


The following members of the Philosophy Department of the University of Notre Dame:

Patricia Blanchette, Professor of Philosophy
Therese Cory, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Richard Cross, Rev. John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy
Brian Cutter, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Mic Detlefsen, McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy (II)
Fred Freddoso, John and Jean Oesterle Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Don Howard, Professor of Philosophy
Lynn Joy, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Sean Kelsey, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Janet Kourany, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Alasdair MacIntyre, Rev. John A. O’Brien Senior Research Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
John O’Callaghan, Associate Professor of Philosophy (2016 Archbishop J. Michael Miller Lecturer, University of St. Thomas)
Adrian Reimers, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Kristin Shrader-Frechette, O’Neill Family Endowed Professor of Philosophy and Biological Sciences,
Jeff Speaks, Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair
Jim Sterba, Professor of Philosophy
Nicholas Teh, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Stephen Watson, Professor of Philosophy
Paul Weithman, Glynn Family Honors Collegiate Professor of Philosophy

PDATE 2: It appears that all faculty have received their contracts

About Jon

Jon connects leaders and organizations to Catholic philosophical resources to battle for the soul of the western world.