DALLAS — What is happening at the University of Dallas?

It is a question many seem to be asking after the April 9 resignations of the entire full-time staff of the university's 15-year-old Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies (IRPS) program.

The resignations include those of director Douglas Bushman and associate directors Timothy Herrman and David Twellman, and took effect May 11.

On April 8, Ave Maria College of Ann Arbor, Mich. announced that it is launching a master's degree in sacred theology through its Institute for Pastoral Theology which will be modeled after the University of Dallas program, and directed by the resigning Dallas faculty. Both programs are designed for adult lay Catholics, and include weekend sessions in several cities around the country.

Bushman said that he thinks there is a great deal of evidence that “the current administration [of the University of Dallas] is antagonistic to the IRPS in its present form and there is a desire to change direction. That is the prerogative of the president and the [university's governing] board.”

“It placed me in the awkward position of inviting hundreds of students and several bishops to make a significant commitment to a program that the university did not support,” he said. “I felt I could no longer fulfill my responsibilities with integrity.”

Bushman said the program was marked by “rigorous fidelity to the texts of the Catholic tradition” and stressed “the universal call to holiness.”

Associate director David Twellman said that Bushman's approach is key. He “has a vision for teaching what the Church teaches. He was instrumental in my own conversion to the Catholic Church as a United Methodist pastor.”

Bushman said that such conversions come naturally from the program. “A principal objective,” he said, “has always been to lead students to appreciate the interdependence of truth and love, doctrine and pastoral practice, and thereby to overcome the false oppositions between them.”

He has directed the program since 1992 — when it had an enrollment of about 67 students and was losing money.

Today the program operates in the black, has an enrollment of 200 students, and has satellite sites in Irving, Texas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Stevens Point, Wis., and Tulsa, Okla. Future sites were being planned for Omaha, Neb., in the fall of 2001, and Atlanta and Syracuse, N.Y., in 2002. The program has received the support of several bishops, including Bishop Edward Slattery in Tulsa, Cardinal Francis George in Chicago and Bishop Raymond Burke in La Crosse.

Bushman “teaches the truth and has invited me to work with him,” said Twellman. “If he has the opportunity to teach what the Church teaches elsewhere I am going to follow him.”

The President

In response to the resignations, University of Dallas President Msgr. Milam Joseph told the Register, “The IRPS provides pastoral theology within the diocese and the region. We are in constant dialogue with our bishops about the content of the program. The program will continue.”

He said the case was simply a matter of professors changing universities.

Ave Maria College president Dr. Nicholas Healy disagreed. “Why would three senior administrators of a prestigious program leave the University of Dallas for a startup?” asked Healy. “It wasn't for the money.”

Ave Maria College was founded on March 19, 1998 by a lay board headed by Tom Monaghan, Domino's Pizza founder, to offer a liberal arts curriculum rooted in the Catholic faith.

“At any university there are individuals taking jobs elsewhere,” said Msgr. Joseph answered.

“The issue is that the members of the IRPS program have decided to take another job. There is no story or agenda beyond that. They feel they can get a better deal elsewhere, I guess. That's all I have to say.”

Said Healy: “I did not initiate Doug Bushman's decision to leave Dallas. I never would have talked to him had I not heard that he was looking for a job. When I learned of Bushman's work and accomplishments I was convinced of how important this is for the Church in America and how good these men were in executing a program. I spoke with students and other faculty, and they confirmed this too.”

Whatever the reasons, the resignations leave current students of the program wondering about their future.

“Initially, I was shocked by the resignations,” said second-year student Cathy Hennessey of Abilene, Texas.

“There is grief that I have to let go of what I had been anticipating. However, the program has instilled in us a trust in the Lord.”

While Hennessey admitted that it is too early to say what she will do, she says her instinct is to pursue the program through Ave Maria. “We are each at UD for different reasons. I am there for those professors and if there is any way possible, I would like to follow them.”