A chief problem of Newman's age was "an ethical atheism" which for many had become "a lived reality of which one is convinced and for which one is willing to die," she said. Many colleges and universities today are either "factories" dispensing degrees for potential employees, or hotbeds of anti-Catholic social theories, Rowland said.
The professor argued that most elite institutions have devolved and distorted senses of the liberal arts.
"In so many of these institutions the liberal arts have morphed into social theory subjects like gender studies and the objective is no longer to produce gentlemen but to form social activists, people who act like trained assassins against the last vestiges of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian civilization."
This, she said, is far from Newman's vision of a university.
"A residential university college, limited to a couple of hundred students, can thereby be an 'alma mater' as Newman understood it," she said. Other models that could work today could be Catholic programs at secular universities, such as the University of Chicago's Catholic Studies program, she said.
Rowland praised a few specific institutions: Christendom College in Virginia, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, St. Mary's University in London, among others.
In Newman's university, she continued, a student receives more than "knowledge of great Catholic literature and music, philosophy and theology," but is also "someone whose soul has been nourished by the sacraments," she said.
That kind of formation would foster an "integrated personality," she said, "a personality that is
driven by a fully Catholic heart, intellect, memory, will and imagination, all nourished by
sacramental graces, all seeking to participate in that which is true, beautiful and good."
A Catholic university must educate students in the Catholic intellectual tradition, she said, but must also equip them to understand modern disciplines like "feminist theory and its spin-offs, queer theory and gender theory," in order "to understand the chaotic dictatorship of relativism into which they have been born."
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Having learned to engage various thinkers with "their memories, their intellects, their
wills, their imaginations and above all their hearts," Rowland said, such students will be "able to
operate with equally high levels of competence across a range of social positions" when they graduate.
"In the final analysis a genuinely Catholic University" according to Newman "would be an alma mater, not a foundry, mint or treadmill, or what we today call a sausage factory, because it would dare to form the human soul with reference to all that true, beautiful and good," Rowland said.