The ACU Ethics Hub is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Ex Corde Ecclesiae with a ‘Masterclass on Any Catholic University’, exploring how various member groups are understood in the Catholic intellectual tradition. In this lesson, Professor Ramsay explores the role of student / campus life staff.


As I write this, university students all over the world are largely separated from each other, their teachers and their campuses. Many learn remotely, socialise in pairs and exercise alone due to the pandemic. My mind returns to my own first year at the University of Edinburgh – it was very exciting, and all of it involved as little time inside and alone and as much time outside and together as possible. I feel desperately sorry for students who will not have similar memories of their early uni. experience.

Brisbane students having a meeting outside on a park bench.

But the essentials are still intact. Students are people who undertake studies. It’s important that we do not reduce study to current practices of learning and teaching, important though these are to student life. Study involves the self-motivated search for knowledge with a disciplined attitude towards that search. Thus, study has an internal, personal dimension – students are motivated by curiosity and personal interest in their work – and an external, academic dimension – students are guided by accepted standards and canons of knowledge, professional best practice and academic expectations. Curiosity disciplined – that is study.

“Catholic universities seek an environment that promotes development in all key human areas – the famous unity of the person…”

Anyone who has attempted study knows it is difficult, and it appeals to one important part of us – curiosity, the thirst to know. But there is much more to being a person: activities directed towards health, appreciation directed towards beauty, socialising directed towards relationships, to name a few. Catholic universities seek an environment that promotes development in all key human areas – the famous unity of the person. And so, we make provision for sports, arts, social life and a whole host of other activities. Much is made today of the student experience: a Catholic university has a particularly rich account of this experience and why it matters, based on the Catholic understanding of the human person.

It would be strange if Catholic universities did not attract at least the statistical share of Catholics represented in the population. ACU of course does so, and therefore has excellent opportunities for student prayer and worship. But it is important too that we embrace students of all faiths and traditions. The student body is, and should be, the world in microcosm. Once again, this is possible where all students share a basic understanding of what makes a Catholic university and have a basic exposure to Catholic intellectual tradition

Student life and success continued….

After schooldays it seems very understandable that young people are intensely questioning – and often rebelling against – things accepted, or imposed, at home, school – and Church. Youth should be filled with passion and with questions. Smart educators will always take questions and give answers, not in a spirit of astonishment that young people would question but in full welcome of their engagement and point of view. Catholic universities should of course allow students to interrogate all Church positions; and of course, they cannot do so unless they hire sufficient numbers of academics knowledgeable about these positions and capable of giving excellent answers. And excellent answers, I suggest, both address the question and encourage follow-up questions.

A youth / mature divide is inevitable and highly visible in universities. And yet universities allow for a genuine covenant or conversation between the generations, perhaps in a way not even families can. Because students and scholars accept the common intellectual framework and purpose of their institution (whatever that is), there is a platform for discussion and an opportunity to encounter and respond to disagreement without fear or embarrassment. Intellectual life is an excellent vehicle for bringing into conversation the genuine questing spirit and passion of youth with the experience and insight of age.

Students are not only energetic in thought and word but also in deed. Catholic universities are always places of service, and young people so often stimulate their elders to recover a sense of solidarity with those in greatest need and a passion for equality. There is media-led belief that the Church does not value equality. Radical equality – uniting people as one across races, sexes, religions, from conception to death, and from goodness to wickedness – is Christian doctrine, and was Christian doctrine long before encountered anywhere else.

While giving students full encouragement to explore social injustices, it is important that Catholic universities explore fairly the overwhelming Catholic contribution to this area. It is easy to accept media caricatures of the Church’s position and so to assume that equality requires rejection of faith.
At a university, the truth about these questions cannot be ignored and can be explored – including exploration of any Church failure to follow its own doctrine. Media and social media make it harder today than perhaps ever before to free ourselves from prejudice and caricature. Catholic universities should be intelligent correctives to prejudice and caricature for their students and should encourage students at all times to explore the facts and think for themselves.

In 2020 we have watched orchestras and sports teams play to empty venues. Play can occur in the absence of others, but there is no education without students. We are nothing without our students. The only possible attitude towards our students is genuine love of their early focus on the questions that first fired us, and absolute commitment to help them realise that, under grace, they are capable of even more than they believe.
Sydney graduates throwing their hats into the air.
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