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Indoctrination at Xavier By: Jacob Laksin and Jordan Michael Smith
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Numbering among America’s oldest Catholic Universities, Xavier was also one of only 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the country. Of late, however, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based school has increasingly fallen under the sway of a different kind of faith: radical leftist politics.

For evidence of this development, one need only consider Xavier’s Peace and Justice program. To judge by its mission statement, the program makes no effort to disguise the left-wing activist agenda—including a reflexive aversion to war and a palpable hostility to free-market capitalism—that underpins the Peace and Justice curriculum. "Using spiritual and intellectual resources, the programs work toward global economic justice, basic human rights, a culture of non-violence, and a more orderly and humane way of making decisions on an international level," it explains.

In this, Xavier’s Peace and Justice program borrows directly from the program’s founder and co-director, Fr. Benjamin J. Urmston. It was Urmston who, in 1981, inaugurated the Peace and Justice program. A Jesuit minister, Urmston is also a devout radical. In fact, Urmston’s personal website at Xavier is a veritable windmill of leftist propaganda.

Aside from reproducing fringe conspiracy theories invoking the "Israeli lobby’s neo-conservative network," Urmston regularly rails against free market capitalism, globalization, and what he calls the American "military-industrial complex." Thundering like a Hebrew prophet, Urmston makes clear his view of the United States, stating, "We can change sinful economic and social structures." He is equally contemptuous of the idea of a nation state, asserting that "a single nation state or a group of nation states are incapable of judging fairly or acting promptly." To replace the nation, Urmston calls for an expanded United Nations. In addition, Urmston, who has called for every country to create a "Council of Conscience," is an enthusiastic supporter of the United States Department of Peace extolled by far-left Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Urmston’s views on terrorism, meanwhile, call to mind the lunatic ravings of Ward Churchill. "What goes around, comes around," Urmston declares on his website, "A nation which inflicts violence and injustice on others cannot expect to live in peace and security within its own borders. Its victims will find some way to inflict violence and harm on it."

Urmston’s disdain for the United States is equaled only by his enthusiasm for the communist cause. It is no accident that one of the earliest programs sponsored by Xavier’s Peace and Justice program, under Urmston’s direction, was a discussion series called Comprehending Communism. The unambiguous aim of the discussions was to sell Xavier students on the proposition, then in vogue among the pro-communist Left, that anti-communism was far more pernicious than communism itself. At one such discussion, as Urmston recounts on the Peace and Justice website, Dr. John Fairfield, a history professor at Xavier, "stated that the US fought Communism with all the ferocity of Stalin's totalitarianism, that the thought control of anti-communism was often as oppressive as what it said it was fighting." Urmston remained an eager celebrant of communist revolution in Central America throughout the 1908s, taking "study trips" to "worker cooperatives" in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba.

Even today, Urmston remains committed to the Cuban revolution. While he concedes that "Cuba is not heaven," Urmston holds the United States accountable for the fact "that Cuba does not handle dissent well." The blame for Cuba’s intolerance of dissent, as Urmston sees it, properly rests with the U.S. antagonism toward the Castro dictatorship, which has produced a "bunker mentality" within the Cuban regime.

Urmston’s radicalism is reflected in the classes offered through the Peace and Justice program. For instance, a class entitled Challenge of Peace in the Contemporary World, taught by one Dr. John Sniegocki, frames "peace" within the context of leftist politics, wherein it is "understood holistically as social justice, ecological sustainability as well as absence of violent conflict." In accord with the radical pseudo-Gospel that globalization is the leading cause of international poverty, the course also surveys the "impacts of economic globalization on social conflict." The books selected by Dr. Sniegocki are clearly intended to reinforce these views. Among them are Tinderbox: US Foreign Policy and Roots of Terrorism, by radical San Francisco professor Stephen Zunes, which explains anti-American terrorism as a logical consequence of American foreign policy toward the Middle East; Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History, by antiwar activist Elise Boulding on capitalism and corporations; and The Essential Gandhi.

Gandhi is also required reading for another Peace Studies class, called "Prophets and Non-Violence." The purpose of the class is to introduce students to such "prophets" as the Catholic socialist activist Dorothy Day, and examine the "spiritual foundation of non-violence." Similarly, the express theme of another class, "Theology 310," is that "Conflict resolution is not about winning a battle." Against this background, it should come as no surprise that several stridently antiwar books are now staples of Xavier’s Peace Studies program, including The Power of Non-Violence: Writings by Advocates for Peace, a collection of anti-war polemics compiled by far-Left "historian" Howard Zinn; and the Norton Book of Modern War, by longtime antiwar activist Paul Fussell.

As with the classes, so with the professors. The Peace Studies Committee, comprising Xavier professors who oversee the Peace and Justice program, is a nest of faculty radicals. Dr. Paul Knitter, a professor of theology at Xavier, is an apostle of so-called Liberation Theology, a fusion of Marxist ideology and revolutionary fervor repeatedly attacked by Pope John Paul II, and an apostle of eco-theology, which combines environmentalist activism with religious teaching.

Another member of the committee, humanities professor Richard Gruber, is a perennial presence at the Peace and Justice Studies Association Conference. Most recently, he has used the occasion of the conference to deliver two anti-American lectures. One was called "Stop the Merchants of Death;" another "Dismantle the Empire." An analogous argument was advanced by the Rev. Kenneth Overberg, an advisor for undergraduate students at Xavier, who in the wake of the September 11 attacks ascribed the blame for terrorism to the United States and Israel, insisting that it was up to America to "end the root causes of violence" and "pressure Israel" to make a deal with the Palestinians. Then there is Mary Schoen. An associate director of the Peace and Justice programs at Xavier and a member of radical leftist group Voices in the Wilderness, Schoen in 2003 traveled to Iraq to declare against the country’s U.S.-led liberation.

Where Xavier’s Peace and Justice program departs from others of its ilk is the fact that indoctrination is not confined to classroom. In the run-up to the Operation Iraqi Freedom, for instance, the program sponsored a weeklong anti-war protest called "Decision Iraq Week." By the Urmston’s own admission, the aim of "Decision Iraq" was to assail the morality of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. This faculty members like Urmston proceeded to do by claiming that the U.S. invasion was driven by "economic" interests. Instead of pursuing regime-change in Iraq, Xavier faculty demanded that the United States embrace "long-range alternatives such as economic democracy and a democratic world authority," a leftist encryption for socialism and an all-powerful United Nations. In conjunction with "Decision Iraq," the Peace and Justice program invited three antiwar speakers to campus and sponsored an antiwar exhibit called "Eyes Wide Open," in which combat boots were meant to signify the deaths of American troops. When several Xavier students, writing in the campus newspaper, complained that the overtly propaganda was disrespectful during wartime, faculty at the Peace and Justice program dismissed their concerns. Irene B. Hodgson a professor of modern languages at Xavier and a member of the Peace Studies Committee, sneeringly explained in a letter that the initiatives were justified because "many others have died since in our nation’s attempts to avenge that attack and in our ‘preventive’ invasion of Iraq."

Yet another attempt at leftist indoctrination through the Peace and Justice Program is illustrated by the partnership between Rev. Urmston and the Cincinnati Central Labor Council. A newsletter published by the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NCWIJ) reports that Urmston "brings labor leaders and workers into his classroom to talk about unions and the struggle for justice and respect on the job, and brings students to union meetings to watch as business is conducted." The students are also "exposed to worker struggles." NCWIJ reports that approximately 50-60 Xavier students "find the experience enlightening, recognized the ties between union ideals and Catholic teachings, and gain a greater appreciation for organized labor." In the past, Xavier students in the Peace and Justice program have participated in meeting of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council. As one might expect, Urmston’s efforts to inculcate support for labor causes among his students have met with applause from union leaders. The executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council has noted, "This type of outreach could prove very beneficial for the labor movement. The experience of these students not only shapes their views on unions, it changes their perspective on politics…many students volunteer at the Labor Council as community activists."

Faced with a relentless onslaught of leftist propaganda, both inside and outside the classroom, it is hardly surprising that many Xavier students become unquestioning disciples of radical politics. Many don’t even realize the extent to which they’ve internalized the radical framework urged upon them by Xavier faculty. Asked whether she thought the Peace and Justice programs were partisan in nature, Sarah Scheibe, a junior at Xavier studying Social Work, recoiled at the charge. "Peace is not a partisan issue because it is not just about political issues," Scheibe said in an interview. However, she added, "I think environmental issues, or looking at the world from the eyes of minority individual or third-world nation is not left-leaning, but important to all humans." A self-described pacifist, Scheibe has taken part in several of the antiwar protests sponsored by the Peace and Justice program.

Kevin Fitzgerald, another Xavier student, has reached a similar conclusion. Fitzgerald who has taken a Peace and Justice course called "Ecology and the People," explains that the course is primarily concerned with the advocacy of sustainable agriculture, a favorite cause of the environmentalist left. But Fitzgerald brushes aside the suggestion that the class might be pushing a particular political agenda. Instead, he says, "they are just presenting facts."

A glance at student testimonials about the Peace and Justice program indicates that the effort to enlist students into the service of leftist politics is by no means new. Mary Shriner, a 1987 alumna of the program, gushes that it has "de-romanticized war." Mark Zedella, a 2001 graduate, credits the program for instilling in him an antiwar perspective that he has taken to a graduate program in Washington D.C.: "We get quite a lot of opinionated people in DC, especially in the current debate over war in Iraq. I would say Peace Studies gave me the other perspective that I may not have been taught by my hard-nosed National Security professors." Kirsten Barker, another veteran of the Peace and Justice program at Xavier, enthuses that "Being a Peace Studies Minor allows me to see the possibilities of nonviolence and inspires me to believe that a positive peace is possible."

Its easy to see where Xavier’s students get their inspiration. The program grandly promises to teach students how to achieve peace: "One of the tasks of Peace Studies is to examine criteria for attaining positive peace. It asks questions about what values are necessary for peace to exist and possible." Meanwhile, Xavier faculty members like Rev. Urmston routinely appeal to their students "to help preserve economic freedom and economic equity." Urmston further assures his students that they can effect revolutionary change: "Changing corporate structures may seem like a gigantic task, but change is usually initiated by a small group of committed citizens," he says.

Xavier’s Peace and Justice program is replete with such soaring promises. About the only thing the program denies students is the opportunity to hear another side of the argument, or fit in with the academic program if they disagree.

Jacob Laksin is a Frontpage columnist. Jordan Michael Smith is a Graduate Student in Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.




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