Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Ave Maria Chronicles: Lawyers, Pizza, and Money

The saga of Ave Maria College/University/Pizzaria is starting to take on a life of its own. We have reports from several fronts:

At the Bettnet Forum, another guy named "Tom" gives a summary of the crisis, which outlines a number of proposals, including moving the college in Michigan to the university in Florida (which even now are two separate legal entities), and/or renaming the Michigan location as "Newman College." Unfortunately, there are also reports that the Michigan school's accreditation status is at risk, endangering the investment of students and parents alike, and calling into question the committment made by faculty, many of whom are unwilling to relocate to Florida.

A recent piece in the Detroit Free Press underscores concerns over the uncertain future of AMC among students and staff.

In a stunning editorial, Michael Rose of Cruxnews asks "Is Tom Monaghan dismantling another Catholic College?" Rose gives an account of Monaghan's previous experience with controlling the outcome of educational institutions for which he is the major benefactor.

Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, chancellor of AMU, gives his own account of recent events, including attempts to ensure continuity in the transfer of the institution, and a defense of the chapel design heretofore criticized by Rose elsewhere in Cruxnews.

Rose responds to Fessio.

"Vincent," a student at the Michigan campus, offers a scathing evaluation of the Ave Maria leadership in the comments section of Sed Contra, dated April 21. Some of it is very serious, and demands some kind of proof.

But wait, there's more...

Conor Dugan of TriCoastal Commision produces an anonymous memo from a source reported to be close to the Ave Maria: "Some of those he has persuaded to join him, particularly the faculty and staff of AMC Michigan have made great sacrifices to help Monaghan achieve his vision. But many of them believe that some serious mistakes are being made in pursuit of that vision, ones that may, indeed, jeopardize the project itself...

Parents of Ave Maria students have started their own website, in an attempt to make their voices heard, and appeal to the powers that be. It could get ugly, according to one canon lawyer: "If my son is not allowed to graduate from Ave Maria College, with a degree from Ave Maria College, based on courses taken at a functional Ave Maria College, we will sue. Period."

The drama unfolding is not untypical of the sort of political shenanigans that arises within the halls of academia. A quick read of a periodic journal produced by any institution of higher learning, is complete with photos and accounts of old geezers with lots of money and titles, with very little space devoted to the students that attend there. As anyone who spends four years in college will tell you, the food chain on campus is like this: academic research first, athletic programs second, and student welfare dead last!

Be that as it may, stories of high-handedness on the part of the Ave Maria leadership are not new, and have been related to yours truly in the past. There is one account of an otherwise exemplary student, who was expelled from AMC for being found carrying a six-pack of beer to her OFF-CAMPUS residence, after having been followed by school authories. While possession of alcohol by a minor is against state law, the beer was going to be shared with a real live adult also living at the residence, and the incident occured off-campus (yeah, we said that already, didn't we?), and was thus outside of the school's jurisdiction.

There is also concern that a listing of those appointed to teach economics at the Florida campus, reads like a who's-who of neo-conservative laissez-faire capitalism, the kind criticized by even the Holy Father himself. Chesterton and Belloc certainly won't be required reading in that curriculum.

Should this trend continue, millions will be invested in yet another attempt to equate Catholic orthodoxy with the ability to talk a good game, and the money to have one's way about it. In the face of "the best laid plans of mice and men," it is best to remember the warning given by Christ Himself concerning Solomon's temple: "Not one stone will be left upon another."


Domenico Bettinelli Jr. said...


Ave Maria has responded to the some of the allegations made against them. I have posted the open letter on my site.

Ambrose said...

Hello David,

"There is also concern that a listing of those appointed to teach economics at the Florida campus, reads like a who's-who of neo-conservative laissez-faire capitalism, the kind criticized by even the Holy Father himself. Chesterton and Belloc certainly won't be required reading in that curriculum."

In fairness, this seems like a gloss on your part, and an unnecessary and distracting one to the developments at hand.

Tomy knwoledge there are only two econ professors on staff at AMU Naples at this time: Gabriel Martinez and Guillermo Montez. I confess I know almost nothing about these gentlemen, but some quick searches reveal some rather esoteric works with few sniffs of a "neo-conservative laissez faire" bent - whatever that is.

Given that the econ departments of many Catholic schools are overrun with Marxists and socialists of various stripes, I'm wondering what a Catholic econ department should look like, and whether the Holy Father would find AMU's any more exceptionable than, say, Georgetown's. If I didn't know better, I'd think that your ideal would be one filled with distributists. If any could be found.

But I would be surprised if neither of those distinguished Catholic figures gets at least a passing mention in AMU coursework.

Anonymous said...

For those interested, here's a message from the AMC President:

Dear Members of the Ave Maria College Community,

As many of you know, the Ave Maria Board, faculty, and administration are exploring ways to continue the Ave Maria educational mission beyond spring semester 2007 when, according to earlier decisions, the campus would relocate to Naples, Florida, and join our sister institution, Ave Maria University. Taking cognizance of the enthusiastic desire of benefactors, parents, and clergy to continue AMC in Michigan, however, the Board through a special committee is researching ways that AMC could be continued, either as AMC or possibly as Newman College, to further orthodox education for the Lansing diocese and Catholic families throughout the region.

As President, I think that this is a generous, inspired reaction by our Trustees to the deep level of support that has been evinced by the College community. To help us all consider ways that AMC could be continued in some way, I would like to stress the following:

1. The Board of Trustees as a whole, I strongly believe, genuinely supports continuing the College and wants to further its educational mission if possible. The challenge of our present situation is to determine the best plan, given various extremely complex legal, accreditation, and financial aid issues. Again, the consensus of the Board, in my judgment, is to determine an arrangement whereby the College can continue in some way, but determining what kind of institutional organization is appropriate will still take some time. For this reason, the Board is seeking outside advice and counsel to map out an appropriate strategy.

2. The AMC community must understand that while Mr. Monaghan and the Ave Maria Foundation have been extraordinarily generous, financial support for the continuation of the College will not be possible beyond 2007. Those of us working for AMC/Newman must appreciate that financial support of the College will become our responsibility—a responsibility which also allows us, of course, to chart our own destiny. As he has done with other initiatives, Mr. Monaghan has given us a great start for which we are genuinely grateful; we must now take responsibility for the future of the institution. If in the future we are in need of resources, we cannot expect to fall back upon the Foundation.

3. In this environment, it is understandable how uncertainty has led to considerable speculation and various interpretations of what the future holds. Recent publicity has brought the College into the public eye, but, unfortunately, this publicity exaggerates tensions and emotions in a counter-productive way. While we are earnestly searching for a good outcome, please consider that stressing the positive is the most helpful.

Please remember also that the College must be the work of the Holy Spirit if it is to be successful. We are counting on your prayers and support with the confidence that God’s will shall be realized.

In Christ,

Ronald P. Muller

Anonymous said...

Here’s one Ave Maria faculty member’s experience:

Nick Healy and Fr. Fessio have consistently treated me with kindness, consideration, and respect. I am (probably) the most junior faculty member in Ave Maria, yet they have consulted me and deferred to me in matters of my expertise – maybe because I have deferred to them when it comes to running the University.

One other point: I read that “AMU faculty who came from AMC were pressured, coerced, and lured to move.” Yes, I was lured to AMU. I was lured by the brightest promise for American Catholicism. You see, small Catholic colleges that concentrate on classical learning are greatly needed: but we already have many such colleges. AMU is different.

What AMU offers is a major university, engaged with the world, of the highest academic quality, and loyal to the Church. We are building a university that truly responds to Pope John Paul II’s call to “train truly Christian leaders in the different spheres of human activity, and in society, especially in politics, economics, science, art and philosophical reflection,” men and women who will lead by being faithful and excellent, and so “play an outstanding role in promoting the inculturation of the Gospel” (Ecclesia in America, par. 71).

AMU is a joyful and serious effort to engage in a fruitful, two-way dialogue with the academic, cultural and scientific world where God found us and called us (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 37; cf. Fides et Ratio), because Christ prayed not that we be taken out of the world but that we be kept from evil (cf. Jn 17, 15).

Just as importantly, AMU will serve the Church by “preparing men and women who, inspired by Christian principles and helped to live their Christian vocation in a mature and responsible manner, will be able to assume positions of responsibility in the Church,” and “by offering the results of its scientific research … to help the Church respond to the problems and needs of this age” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 31).

This is why so many Ave Maria faculty members have gone to AMU. We believe that the world, the flesh, and the devil will not withstand the attack of the Church: and we attack. We attack with the best “research within every branch of learning, carried out in a truly scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, … so that it can be seen more profoundly how faith and reason bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae, par. 17)

And I am going to AMU because I trust, not blindly but with the experience of an insider, in the leadership of Mr. Thomas Monaghan, Mr. Nicholas Healy, and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.

A world about the mud-slinging: Our Lord prayed, “that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they may also be one in us, that the world may believe that thou has sent me (Jn 17, 21).” Let this be true at least of the faithful Catholics of the United States.

Gabriel Martinez (

Anonymous said...

Updates on Ave Maria University via

Two from the Naple (Florida) Daily News:

1. Out with the glass and in with copper and stone,2071,NPDN_14940_2993393,00.html

The proposed $50,000,000 glass hothouse/greenhouse design for the Ave Maria University chapel has gone “back to the drawing board” for a new design (still in preparation) which will use copper and stone. Tom Monaghan says, “I never wanted it to be all glass,” and Fr. Fessio says that he was not happy with the original plans, reversing previous statements in favor of the glass design.

2. Out with Gregorian Chant and in with country music,2071,NPDN_14901_2844934,00.html

Last December Tom Monaghan paid $5,000,000 for an FM radio station in the Naples, Florida, area and immediately switched the station’s 24-hour all-news format to continuous Gregorian Chant. Under new management (but still owned by Tom Monaghan) and based on a market research survey, the station’s format has been changed again from Gregorian Chant to country music. The new format will last for a few years while the Ave Maria officials build the University and develop a Catholic programming format. Tom Monaghan owns two other radio stations in Michigan with Catholic-themed programs. Why does he not make the Florida station a local outlet for those programs rather than “reinvent the wheel” for the Florida station? Fr. Fessio says that he agrees with the new format.

From the July 1, 2004, Wanderer: Further adventures in the continuing saga of AMC and AMU

Two statements from Nicholas Healy and Fr. Fessio, respectively president and chancellor of Ave Maria University, on the past, present, and future of Ave Maria College and University as well as other educational and religious institutions established and financed by Tom Monaghan at his Domino’s Farm in Ann Arbor, Michigan--and three articles by Paul Likoudis analyzing the statements as well as facts and comments from other sources such as present and former faculty and administrators of Ave Maria College and its former sister institution, Saint Mary’s College in Orchard Lake, Michigan, which Tom Monaghan sold to Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, to become a satellite campus of that university, and members of the Ave Maria College Parents’ group. On June 8th the Ave Maria College Board of Trustees passed a resolution to continue the college through the 2007 academic year and to explore ways to keep it going after that date whether as Ave Maria College or the proposed “Newman College.” Tom Monaghan in a June 11th letter reaffirmed his decision to phase out the college by the 2007 date and to transfer its assets to university. The library collection, computers, laboratory and office equipment and any other portable items will be moved to the Florida campus. Any students, faculty and staff may transfer to Florida, but students must enroll in the university because of the separate corporate status of the two entites. Faculty and staff are not guaranteed positions in the university but must apply for whatever is available. Many positions (especially administratiove) are already filled. Any of the college's financial assets (especially from the sale of its Michigan campus)will go into the university’s accounts. A substantial number of dedicated students, faculty, and staff will have an educational vision and a name (Ave Maria or Newman College) but possibly no physical facilities (unless they can raise funds to rent or buy either the existing Michigan campus (which will be mostly empty buildings)or elsewhere. Also they may not get the existing college charter with its related degree-granting power and accreditation but may have to re-apply for such. It is a separate and long process for each aspect: first with the state of Michigan for degree-granting power as a four-year college and then with whatever accrediting agency they choose: the regional North Central Association for that part of the country and/or the American Academy for Liberal Education for liberal arts colleges throughout the country.