National Catholic Register

Education

The Few, the Brave and the Unbowed

The pro-life professors of University Faculty for Life

BY ANTHONY FLOTT

August 20-26, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/21/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Jane Gilroy knows the impact of words so it was with some chagrin that the English professor at New York’s Molloy College heard the confession of a fellow faculty member.

“He whispered to me that he was with us,” Gilroy recalls, “but didn’t want to be connected with ‘bombers.’” Abortion protesters, that is. Gilroy would prefer the term “pro-lifer.” Often, though, that’s a dirty word in the hallowed halls of universities across the United States.

Jeff Koloze, a college chair for the University of PhoenixColumbus, Ohio, campus, also has heard the hushed tones whenever a professor professes the “p-word.”

“When someone finds out you’re pro-life, they’ll say, ‘I’m pro-life, too,’” Koloze told the Register. “They almost whisper it as if they’re fearful that the administration will find out. And I think that fear is justified.”

Professors Gilroy and Koloze hide nothing. Both belong to University Faculty for Life (UFL), an ecumenical advocacy group offering members pro-life fellowship and scholarship. Founded in 1989, the organization promotes research, dialogue, collaboration and publication among faculty members of all disciplines who respect the value of human life from conception to natural death.

Gilroy joined in 1992. “I was very impressed with the scholarship of faculty members,” she says. “It was heartening to realize that, contrary to what was generally portrayed in the media, many of those who held pro-life positions were prominent in their own fields.”

Today the group has about 250 dues-paying members from more than 100 universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. Most members are Catholic, a reflection of University Faculty for Life’s Jesuit roots. But there are Protestant and Jewish members, too, and a push has been made to recruit evangelical Protestants.

The group’s formation was spurred 16 years ago by the Supreme Court’s review of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, a case many pro-lifers thought could lead to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. At the time, though, serious pro-life scholarship was thought to be lacking, notes University Faculty for Life President Richard Myers, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“There were isolated academics who had written on the issue,” he says, “but there really wasn’t an organized presence in the academy.”

The organization was formed as a response led by Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer (now president of Gonzaga University, then at Georgetown), and Jesuit Fathers Thomas King and Paul Quay.

The group recently drew the praise of Father Richard John Neuhaus in his First Things “On the Square” blog of July 6. “The proceedings of the 15th annual conference,” Father Neuhaus wrote, “is packed with some of the sharpest thinking about the theory, practice and prospects of the pro-life cause.”

Timely Topics

The work is wide and varied at University Faculty for Life’s “Life and Learning” conference, an annual forum where members address pro-life issues from numerous perspectives: philosophy, theology, history, law, the social sciences, politics, statistics. Paper titles from this year’s conference, held at Villanova University in June, are illustrative: “What if Roe Had Not Happened? An Historical Counterfactual with Contemporary Relevance,” “Ethical Alternatives to Embryo-Destructive Research,” and “Cinematic Treatment of Abortion: ‘Alfie’ and ‘The Cider House Rules.’”

Other presentations explored embryo adoptions, the effect of state parental notification laws on abortion rates, and how Catholics should vote related to pro-life issues.

The studies can be surprising. Koloze’s work, for example, examines abortion, infanticide and euthanasia as they occur in literature and the arts — from novels, short stories and poems to rap music.

At times, University Faculty for Life goes beyond presentations. Recently, for instance, the group filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of New Hampshire’s parental-notification law.

Its main thrust, though, is academics. “UFL is intended to be a scholarly organization, and so I would foresee its greatest impact to be in the scholarly world,” says Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski, board secretary and editor of “Life and Learning” proceedings. “I hope that our scholarship will also be of great help to the larger pro-life community.” (The papers are available for reading at uffl.org)

Seekers of Truth

For many faculty, finding print media willing to publish such work — or even a sounding board for works in progress — can be daunting. Many administrations and faculty turn deaf ears and blind eyes to pro-life scholarship, no matter its merits.

Gilroy has spent most of her career at Dominican-run Molloy College, but she’s also taught at a secular university. “The stance toward life issues is mixed,” she says, “even at Catholic colleges, with faculty and students who call themselves pro-choice being more outspoken about their views.”

Campus attitudes, says Father Koterski, range “from indifferent to hostile,” creating an atmosphere that can stifle pro-life work even before it begins.

“There can be a lot of peer pressure to conform, especially on questions where taking a certain stance will help one to get ahead or to be accepted,” adds Father Koterski, a philosophy professor at Fordham University. “One has to learn how to resist the ‘wimp factor’ — the desire to be liked and accepted at all costs. On the life questions, there is much pressure, especially on younger scholars, to conform to the views of the established scholars.”

Or else. Koloze says a fellow faculty member at Cuyahoga Community College once commented that Koloze would be hired full time if only he didn’t list so many pro-life papers in his curriculum vitae. Because of similar work at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio, Koloze says, his contract was not renewed. “I think it was because of my pro-life work.”

Recently, controversy has swirled at Baylor University, which denied tenure to philosophy professor Francis Beckwith, a Christian and outspoken pro-life academic. Beckwith was a plenary speaker at the recent UFL conference.

Students Rally

University Faculty for Life’s biggest impact might be among students, not faculty.

Gilroy pointes to student pro-life groups helped founded by UFL members at Molloy and Nassau Community Colleges. She and Koloze each year also sponsor an essay contest in which students comment on some aspect of life issues.

“It’s certainly not true among academics, but I think among young people there’s a kind of rise in pro-life sentiment,” Myers says. “To have a group out there doing the intellectual work helping to support those folks is important.”

“The future is promising,” he says. “I think that the intellectual arguments of people in favor of abortion rights are not ultimately convincing to people.”

Thanks, in part, to University Faculty for Life speaking out.

Anthony Flott writes from

Papillion, Nebraska.