The UD Bubble. I don’t know where the phrase comes from, or when it became common parlance around here. No one used it when I was a student in the early 1980s, and Dr. Moran tells me that no one used it in the early ’90s, either. I don’t even remember hearing it when I first arrived here in 2000, but I could have been clueless back then, as I was busy figuring out how to teach the Core. So it seems a phrase of rather recent vintage.
And I hate it.
I’ve told my students never to use it in my presence (like “lifestyle,” or — shudder — “impact” as a verb) — and that they shouldn’t use it among themselves, either.
Now, I get what the phrase might be trying to convey in a positive sense: that American society does something extravagant and wonderful, giving us four years of college away from the getting and spending, the hurly-burly of the world, to have time to think, to ponder, to explore, to philosophize, to wonder.
“Leisure,” says the title of Josef Pieper’s book, which I read in my first philosophy class, really is “The Basis of Culture.”
But there’s something that irks me about the phrase. It suggests not just that we are here to pull back from the world, briefly, to think and ponder, but that the University of Dallas is a place where one is cut off, insulated, where students are protected from the nasty, brutish, evil world that is out there, menacing us, just waiting to gobble us up the day after graduation.
Or, conversely, it suggests that UD students are too tender, too naive, too idealistically-Catholicky-conservativey-whatever for the big, dynamic, fascinating world that they just can’t handle.
And, in either case, it becomes an excuse and a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more students use the phrase, the more it sticks in the mind and begins to shape how UD students think.
And it’s wrong. The world beyond UD is fallen, but it’s not irredeemably evil. And UD students don’t need to be protected from the world; they already live in it, vote in it, volunteer in it, pay taxes in it. And they get out there and do quite well in it, thank you very much, after graduation.
UD was never meant to be safe; it was designed to be dangerous. Dangerous to tidy, simplistic thought; dangerous to dreary, politically correct biases; dangerous to students who had not encountered such significant, challenging thinking before; dangerous to a world that would soon encounter our graduates, who will challenge, and transform, the world out there. My friends and I used to mock other sweet little Catholic schools, calling them “A Safe Place to Send Your Daughters.” Send your daughter to UD, and she might come back a feisty Flannery O’Connor, who didn’t put up with “cant” for a minute; send your son, and he might return a rollicking Chesterton, his huge bulk on a horse and a sword in his hand.
The curriculum was designed to create a university that would challenge its students to think through the tradition, not so they could hide from life, but so they could engage with the contemporary world — and transform it.
UD students, Monsignor Thomas Fucinaro once said to me, have a vocation to the world. That’s why so many of them, he said, run off to Washington D.C. for internships and jobs: they want to get out there to the heart of influence and make things happen for the better.
With apologies to my beloved Cistercian friends, I must say that UD wasn’t meant to be a monastery or to produce monks — not that a monastery is supposed to be merely a protective bubble, either. The curriculum, the school, was meant to be more like a priory: the students being the friars: living in community, building one another up intellectually, morally, spiritually, but getting out there in the city, staying up all night debating with Albigensians, or preaching like St. Francis more with their actions than their words. The friars were city-dwellers, in the midst of the people. They were the newest, most modern shock troops of reform that the Medieval Church invented, and they did it by getting out there and mixing it up with the world.
You’d never catch Dominic or Francis saying their brothers should, or do, live in a bubble. Neither should UD students.