University Accused of Sponsoring Courses Which Encourage Students to Convert to Medieval Catholicism
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University Accused of Sponsoring Courses Which Encourage Students to Convert to Medieval Catholicism

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The Jewish Community Relations Bureau, (JCRB) of Kansas City has accused the University of Kansas of sponsoring a series of humanities courses in which students are encouraged to convert to medieval Catholicism. A memorandum issued by the JCRB said: "Moreover, a disproportionate number of former IHP (Integrated Humanities Program) students are now in the Benedictine monastery at Fontgombault, France."

In a phone interview, David Goldstein, JCRB executive director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it is "generally conceded . . . that in the Abby, there are nine (former IHP) students" of whom three are believed to be Jewish. Goldstein said he is certain two are Jewish, after their identities became known when they returned home to visit their parents.

According to the JCRB memo titled, "A Warning About the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas," which was sent as an alert to various Jewish communities, "The Catalogue (explaining the course) does not discuss the student trips to this monastery organized by the IHP faculty, or the 1976 student trip to a remote island in western Ireland where instruction in Roman Catholicism, using a Roman Catholic catechism, was given."

According to the JCRB, the program at the state school in Lawrence, Kansas, is described by the catalogue as a freshman-sophomore program" devoted to an introductory study of great philosophical, historical and literary books of Western Civilization from Homer to Dostoyevski. It consists of four six-credit-hour courses taught by Professors Dennis Quinn, Franklyn Nelick, and John Senior.

The memo adds: "While the IHP faculty deny they are ‘brainwashing’, it seems evident to many observers that the great books are used to introduce young students to only one point of view, that of medieval Roman Catholicism. . . All published reports agree that contrary views are not aired in the IHP classes. Memorization is stressed, but not dialogue and analysis. The Bible is read, but without scholarly methods of study. Students are not permitted to take notes in class or to ask questions. They are told not to read even the footnotes and commentaries in the editions of the books they use. They are warned against television, radio, newspapers, magazines and drama."


Contacted by the JTA, Theodore A. Wilson, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Kansas, said: "It is a very ambiguous issue involving claims of academic freedom and involving questions of the separation of church and state." He added: "The statements in the release (JCRB memo) are accurate."

Wilson said the university has difficulty separating what goes on in the classroom from what may occur outside the classroom as regards the student-professor relationship. The professors offer personal counseling, Wilson said. Yet, there is "no evidence the professors have stepped over that line (dictated by the separation of church and state)," within the classroom. It would be difficult to prove, as no written records exist of the classes since note-taking is banned, he said. In addition, Wilson said the university would have to change its position on academic freedom before it could monitor the classes.

The courses are not required, Wilson said, but are electives which satisfy the humanities requirements. The professors have been teaching the program for "about eight years". Students receive no credit for their monastery study, he said.

While the university is not investigating in class activities, Wilson said the administration has interviewed students about their outside activities. Although he did not elaborate, he said: "I think the allegations that have been raised are serious."


According to Goldstein, students sometimes have lunch at professors’ homes, which, he said, in and of itself, would be a constructive activity. But Goldstein alleged that an atmosphere encouraging conversion to Catholicism exists at the lunches. Furthermore, he said, students and professors sometimes go to mass together, "presumably to help them in their Latin (ecclesiastical Latin, not classical)". And although the trip to Ireland was "presumably a voluntary activity," Goldstein asserted that there was "a lot of pressure to take it."

Wilson said college credit for the Ireland program has stopped because of reports of proselytizing. According to Goldstein, about 300 students were in the IHP last year. Wilson said". . . at its height, 100 students out of 20,000 students at the school," were taking the course.

An interfaith committee called "The Committee for Academic and Religious Freedom" has been formed, Goldstein said, with its primary goal being to inform potential students about the actual program. Beyond that, Goldstein said the committee would like to see the program modified so that opposite points of view are aired. He said: "This is not in any way a Jewish issue."

One well-informed observer said he felt there was a reluctance to challenge state officials publicly because of, what he believes to be, grass-roots support for the program from many small town parents who fear their children will become "hippies" or radicalized when sent away to college. Although their children may convert from being Baptists to Catholics, they view this as being a far lesser evil.


That observer added that a low-keyed approach is preferred to prevent the issue from becoming so controversial that students will take the course out of curiosity. Wilson also said the program has "very strong defenders," particularly parents whose children (with, for example, drug problems) were straightened out.

One university official close to the issue, who requested that his name not be used, said: "The administration is taking a position of benevolent neglect. By gradually withholding support for the program . . . the prospectus over the next year or so is that the program will decline . . .," as it loses its publicity and "sense of special ness," which is "its main motivating force". Beyond that, the official said, the university would drop the course if legal action showed the professors were proselytizing.

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