November 11, 2005

"We will be able to control what goes on ... in Ave Maria Town."

There are a lot of reasons to move from Ann Arbor to Florida. Personally, I like Ann Arbor, though I haven't been there in decades. My mother grew up in Ann Arbor, and, like a lot of people, I went to college there. Florida? I've been there many times, and if you were trying to entice me to move to Florida, my first question would be where in Florida. I realize it can get very cold in the north and it's usually really hot in Florida -- that's a tie in my book.

But what's this plan to move Ave Maria Law School from Ann Arbor to somewhere in Florida?
"We'll own all commercial real estate," [Tom Monaghan, founder of the school and of Domino's Pizza] declared, describing his vision. "That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We're going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won't be able to get that in Ave Maria Town."
What a creepy vision! I wonder how different the set of students that applies to the Florida version of the school will be from the set that applies to the Ann Arbor school. Obviously, Ave Maria is a school designed to attract Catholic students, but I should think a different sort of student is going to be attracted to this super-sanitized environment than would want to be in Ann Arbor. And what about attracting and retaining faculty? One alumnus complains about the shift in the school's mission, which he'd understood was "to create attorneys who were well versed in Catholic social teaching and the law, who would engage the world and not retreat from it."

Do you think there's something tainted about wanting an untainted environment?

UPDATE: I want to say that I'm not against individuals deciding they want to live in retreat from the world. We all retreat to some extent. I think calling Ave Maria Town a "Catholic Jonestown" is offensive. I deliberately left that catchy epithet from the linked article out of my post. It's plainly wrong to lump all religious retreats together and label them with the name of the very worst one you can think of. It is not inherently wrong to want to live in a convent or a commune. It's not wrong to want to separate yourself from worldly temptations. Not every individual who chooses the life of a hermit should be called a Ted Kaczynsky. Religious (and nonreligious) enclaves should be judged on their own merit.

I have two big problems with Ave Maria Town:

1. Ave Maria is a law school. You can't practice law separate from the real world. You can't retreat and purify yourself. You have to become involved with the complexities of life, not shrink away from them.

2. Ave Maria has an existing faculty and student body who came to the law school that exists now in Ann Arbor. To move the school to Ave Maria Town imposes a radical change on them. Their opinions about whether the move is a good idea need to be taken very seriously. This isn't a matter of an individual deciding to go into retreat. Monaghan is deciding that others, who have adopted one way of life, need to live in a more purified environment.

43 comments:

Too Many Jims said...

Before I even clicked on the link I thought "Jonestown".

My question is why teach them law then. If they want to insulate themselves they should learn something that requires less contact with the outside world, such as farming and woodworking do for the Amish.

Henry said...

Before I saw jim's message, I thought "Disneyworld".

I think it will be hard to attract faculty and quality students, but that's not the point, I guess.

Brigham Young University, where I went as an undergrad, had excellent teaching faculty, but, at least in my program, had a hard time attracting graduate students.

They've also had a hard time hosting academic conferences. Not allowing coffee or cigarettes will do that.

I wouldn't want to ever go to Ave Maria Town, but it doesn't bother me much. It actually reminds me of the pronoun-optional communities that huddle under the umbrella of women's studies programs (described in one of your earlier posts). Both seem to fit Nozick's libertarian idea of utopia. There's enough land, and colleges, in this country for all sorts of voluntary social communities.

Richard Fagin said...

Indeed there is something tainted about wanting an untainted environment. It's a not too subtle way of showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten. If the Ave Maria Law School believed in its own mission, then it would not be afraid to train competent lawyers in a secular environment, while believing that they could easily and successfully resist the temptations of the secular world. Instapundit linked to a post today that referred to the proposed move as wanting to create a "Catholic Jonestown." Indelicately put, perhaps but probably more accurate than ought to be comfortable.

Of course, I think law school is largely an "untainted environment" in the sense of this discussion. Other than the odd part time program, law schools for the most part are full of recent college grads with no real work experience. Professors have a great time bullying students who think the worst thing that could ever happen to them is to be called on in class.

alkali said...

"We will be able to control what goes on ... in Ave Maria Town."

This could be a Sondheim lyric.

F said...

This is insane. Honestly. How does one treat lawyers in such an agnostic environment? Laeyers are supposed to question and challenge themselves and others,not to reside in some kind of vatican-approved-bubble. What kind of service can these lawyers do their clients?

And you know the scariest thing? They'll get students. They mightn't be a the cleverest or the brightest or the ones with the most potential but they'll roll in those doors.

F said...

BTW Henry - I wondered whether the people at BYU had cottoned on to why people don't go there for conferences no matter how impressive and interesting the conference topic is!

Ron said...

I think they've never gotten over Ann Arbor rejecting their desire to put the world's biggest crucifix....Oh, if they could only live in a place where they controlled everything, than annoyances like that wouldn't happen...

Jacques Cuze said...

I wouldn't worry about it. They will always be able to cook meth on their stoves, and teh Intarweb will take care of the rest.

Icepick said...

Alkali wrote: This could be a Sondheim lyric.

I'm thinking Talking Heads, myself. That line wouldn't be too out of place on "Don't Worry About the Government".

R. Fagin wrote: Indeed there is something tainted about wanting an untainted environment. It's a not too subtle way of showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten.

This doesn't follow. Not wanting a tainted environment might, and probably does, indicate a distaste for the proscribed items.

I want an environment untainted by cigarette smoke, so I don't allow smoking in my home, car or office. It's not that I'm worried I might become a corrupted soul and a smoker. I grew up with smokers and never took it up, after all. I just find the smell to be disgusting. As they say, "We don't sh-t in your ashtrays, don't throw your butts in our toilets." It could simply be about not wanting to deal with other people's sh-t.

EddieP said...

It's a creepy idea, but this country handles creep fairly well. If it makes them happy, and they don't choose the Horst Wessel for an anthem, it's not that worrisome to me.

Tom said...

I wonder if there will be a Pizza Hut in Ave Maria Town. Or a Papa John's.

whit said...

I don't think it's creepy at all. I think there are many people who are disgusted by popular culture. This could be the beginning to a 21st century counter culture.

whit said...

Geez, no sooner do I post a comment on "Ave Maria Town", I scroll down and see "Fetish Night."
This is what I mean.

Where is exactly is this town?

bearing said...

Disclaimer: I'm Catholic and loyal to the teachings of the church. I detest pornography, whether print or video. I believe contraception is wrong and a bad idea in general (the corollary, of course, is that I also believe extramarital sex to be wrong and a bad idea in general). I hope I live to see the day abortion is outlawed.

And... yes, I think this attitude is more than a little bit creepy, and I agree with Richard Fagin that it smacks of "showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten."

Don't get me wrong: Individual specific questions of "blue laws" (should we restrict porn? should we ban strip clubs? should we restrict alcohol sales? should we restrict smoking?) are very much within the rights of the community to decide.

In particular, I applaud the goal of greater restrictions on pornography --- the coarsening of images in the public sphere is real, dangerous, and, well, bad for everyone, men, women and children.

But the attitude of total control of the environment is pretty misguided here. It's appropriate for a seminary, not for a law school.

Jeff said...

It's only human to want an "untainted" environment. The difference is how large one tries to extend the untainted zone, from the home to the neighborhood to the hemisphere. What constitutes "taint" is an open question but not unusual.

This country was founded by such people at Plymouth Rock, and has had them ever since. They've never been more than a fringe movement since the mid-18th century. The tide of modernism and popular culture is too strong to allow these people to gain sufficient numbers to seriously impose their ideas on us.

I think that in the context of our national culture as a whole they are a positive force, if only to act as counterbalances to extremists on the opposite side. These people exist on both the right and the left, as well as off the charts altogether. The Amish and Kouresh's compund in Waco are two sides of the same coin. I ride my bicycle past the Orthodox Jews of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) every day and they have yet to threaten my hard-won decadence!

Slocum said...

Ann Arbor isn't been a good fit for Tom Monaghan's schemes. The role of Ave Maria (and the associated 'Thomas Moore Law Center') in the Michigan gay marriage ban didn't go down well here nor has the continuing legal push to assert that the gay marriage ban should also outlaw same-sex-partner benefits. A lot of Ann Arborites will be happy to see this particular institution depart.

vnjagvet said...

Utopians have been part of American life since the first colonists arrived on these shores.

Shakers, Quakers, Puritans, Amish, The Brethren, Mennonites, Latter Day Saints, Hassidim, Amana, Trappists, and many others have long been free to set up their peculiar communities here. Many still remain. All have had influence on American thought in one way or another.

I would not be attracted at all to Monaghan's view of the ideal community. But I was never attracted to live in a monastery either. Some are, and I have no problem accepting them here.

That is an accepted tradition in this country. I believe it should continue.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

By Florida standards I guess they're a bit tainted. In Vermont they'd fit right in.

Reader said...

Everyone pulling their hair out over a "sanitized environment" needs to visit Ann Arbor. It's a cutesy little town professors love because there is little crime, hard-core drugs, gangs, prostitution, etc. Anyone living in, say, Detroit or Camden would see very little difference between Ann Arbor and Ave Maria Town (or, I might note, Madison).

Icepick said...

Paul's comment reminds me of an old state slogan down here:

Florida: The rules are different here!

Of course, that's from back in the 1980s, when 50% or so of the world's cocaine traffic passed through the state....

Ron said...

Sorry Reader, I was born and raised in Detroit, and have lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years now. There are big differences between Ann Arbor and Ave Maria Town, (Ann points them out nicely) and the sooner they can leave here and go to Florida, the better.

Tony said...

Heh, such "wholesome-phobia" from people who really would have no desire to live there. I don't believe the next step is to gather up all "heathens" in cattle cars, ship them to Ave Maria and force them to pray the rosary.

If you don't like the community standards in Utah, San Francisco or Ave Maria, don't move there. If community standards evolves in a way you don't like, you're free to move.

With the sustained attack on Christianity by "secular" society, do you think it's unusual for Christians to want to go back to the catacombs? And I think this is just high tech catacombs without the dead bodies. I think it's time for a blog entry.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Many communities (Jeff pointed out the Amish and Hasidim) form their own enclaves, and are usually permitted to do so without too much criticism.

To bring up Jonestown is absurd, and flies in the face of present and historical reality, given the number of people in the past who have formed communities around certain ideals without managing to end the day dressed in matching track suits, sipping Kool Aid or waiting for UFO's to resurrect their dead bodies on some hill.

When was the last time the Amish in Pennsylvania and Ohio were compared to a cult, or disparaged? When was the last time anyone critiqued the conservatism of the Orthodox?

The snide comments are usually reserved for Christians and Catholics, and one suspects it's because so many of us consider ourselves "Christian" in some way, and yet, grow concerned at the idea that perhaps we are not really living what we profess.

Fervent beliefs make us feel uncomfortable or defensive, as in, "Oh, you don't have to do that to be a good person" (failing to realize that being a good person and being a Christian are not interchangeable concepts).

Invariably you can express strong Amish tendencies, and people will love watching Harrison Ford visit you on the big screen. They will drive through and buy bread or canned fruit from you, a shoe fly pie or two, and it is all so quaint, so adorable. But let a Christian set up a community and it's the rebirth of Waco.

Even Israel itself is an experiment in creating a society commited to a certain set of ideals, some of which are applicable to a very small community. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, for one is not compelled to live in such a community.

So he wants to create a variation on Utah, and with a Catholic focus, and move his own law school there. Is that any different than what Pat Robertson has done with his law school or his American Center for Law and Justice (which has successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court)?

Indeed if we are to believe the Bible (and I am not saying we should), even God himself has restrictions for his community, restrictions only made flexible via the crucifixion of Christ.

The self contained community is not wholly absurd or creepy or cause for concern. If such is the case, we ought to be watching all those old folks in Sun City walking about in matching pink jump suits.

wildaboutharrie said...

My favorite Simpsons' line is when
Homer complains about a proposed family vacation: "Florida? That's America's wang!"

In any case, I think our new Pope would love this. Seperate, isolate, control...

...but I do like the no porn part...

bearing said...

Many communities (Jeff pointed out the Amish and Hasidim) form their own enclaves, and are usually permitted to do so without too much criticism...

This makes me wonder: If Monaghan's vision succeeds (and I respect his right to create his enclave, even if I think it's a little misguided, see above), will it attract gawking tourists?

JSU said...

Hah. Slocum's and Ron's comments are an nice sign that Monaghan isn't the only one who wants to live in a more purified environment.

Reader said...

Ron, if you left Detroit 20 years ago, you should go back for a bit (to the city itself, not the burbs). The Ave Maria folks probably won't seem so different after a little submersion into someplace that's not squeaky clean like Ann Arbor. (I know AA has some pretty hip coffeehouses, but let's try keep an eye on the big picture here.)

As for tourists visiting Ave Maria, I think people are blowing it way out of proportion. We're talking about living without porn, not centuries-worth of technology.

RichC said...

As said over at the thread on this at the VC, whenever I read a story like this about a group that wants to be pure and untempted, all I can think of is Twain's excellent The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.

Sean said...

Gee, by your logic, should some of the law schools expose their students to military recruiters? Is Yale creepy? Don't ask your colleagues these questions, or you won't be very popular.

Joe T said...

alkali said:

"We will be able to control what goes on ... in Ave Maria Town."

This could be a Sondheim lyric.


Reminds me more of an Iggy Pop lyric.

Charles Chapman said...

I doubt that Monaghan's plan would legally effective. Consider his statement:

"We'll own all commercial real estate. That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won't be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town."

So I purchase non-commerical real estate, and apply for a zoning change or variance to put in the Bada Bing Erotic Dance Emporium, Bookstore, and Magazine Shoppe. Monaghan and his hand picked Zoning Board and City Counsel deny my application. I sue in Federal Court for violation of my First Amendment rights. Result?

I've only done some quick and dirty research because this caught my attention, but see generally Renton v. Playtime Theatres, 475 U.S. 41, 106 S.Ct. 925, 89 L.Ed.2d 29 (198) and Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976), 427 U.S. 50, 96 S.Ct. 2440, 49 L.Ed.2d 310 (1976). My understanding is that regulation of commercial pornagraphy establishments must not be aimed at suppressing the content of the material shown or sold. See Renton v. Playtime Theatres, supra, 475 U.S. at 47-48, 106 S.Ct. at 929-930; Young v. American Mini Theatres, supra, 427 U.S. at 67, 71, n. 34, 96 S.Ct. at 2450, 2453, n. 34 (plurality opn.); id., at 79-80, 81, n. 4, 96 S.Ct. at 2456-2457, 2458 n. 4.

Moreover, in the Eleventh Circuit, where Monaghan intends to move his school, "zoning ordinances that target the social ills associated with adult entertainment are constitutional if they are narrowly tailored to further a substantial government interest and 'allow for reasonable alternative avenues of communication.'" Ranch House, Inc. v. Amerson, 238 F.3d 1273, 1286 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Renton, 475 U.S. at 46, 106 S.Ct. at 928).

I doubt that a zoning ordinance specifically and effectively designed to prevent "reasonable alternative avenues of communication" satisfies this standard.

Like I said, the above is only quick and dirty research, and I have to get back to work. But I do think there is an issue here. Some would say there is a business opportunity.

Slocum said...

Reader said...

Ron, if you left Detroit 20 years ago, you should go back for a bit (to the city itself, not the burbs). The Ave Maria folks probably won't seem so different after a little submersion into someplace that's not squeaky clean like Ann Arbor.

Hey 'Reader' here's a blog right up your alley:

http://www.annarborisoverrated.com/

Duncan said...

Ann Arbor wouldn't give Tom Monaghan zoning permission to build his University so he went to Florida and decided to bring his law school with him.

Those who doubt that Floridians can engage with the world should be informed of the invention of the printing press. It's perfectly possible to learn about the world without living in Ann Arbor. I also understand that some people use some new-fangled electrical gizmos to keep in contact with the outside world as well. I'll have to look into that...

Balfegor said...

Re: Richard Fagin: "It's a not too subtle way of showing one's own lack of confidence in one's ideas to persuade and enlighten."

Really? And it's not a matter of, say, thinking that what's good for you and what's good for other people . . . no, wait, let me rephrase that.

What's good for you and what other people want may not just be . . . different? Some people want to live in an environment in which they are not forced to struggle for virtue every day, but would prefer (at least while they are still at school) to live in an environment where the temptations of the world (e.g. the temptation to set cars and trashcans on fire) don't rear their ugly heads, because the opportunities don't present themselves. Or the opportunities come loaded with a heavy cost. And I expect that many of them (not Ave Maria Town specifically here -- just planned-community-planners in general) believe that their ideas, stated merely as ideas will not be attractive to people -- they'll seem uncomfortable, restrictive, hidebound, creepy -- but those ideas, translated into a real society, will shine. People will see what a lovely society results when you accept those restrictions. And they'll attract people that way.

Pogo said...

What's all the fuss about? It's surely no secret that college campuses have served as islands of enforced lefty liberalism for 30 years. One campus that goes in the opposite direction, and people shudder as if touched by a hand from the grave.

It's hard to get all worked up about this. Such efforts uniformly fail, but I don't fault them for trying to construct a more moral existence. Our modern licentiousness and amorality hasn't quite created Paradise, as far as I can tell.

jinnmabe said...

To leave aside the religious aspect and the Whatever-town aspect for a second, I wonder how hard it is to move an entire law school. People have wished for years that the only law school in Idaho would move from the University of Idaho in Moscow (pop. 21,000-something) to Boise (pop. over 200,000). It would make law students' lives SO much easier. But if you talk to any of the faculty about it, apparently it'd be easier to move the Statue of Liberty to the moon. Anyone have any experience with a law school moving to a different city?

Joe Baby said...

For those who feel college campuses are continuing to slide away from any sort of classical education, it's not a stretch to overcorrect in the hope of restoring a movement toward a serious academia.

And I suspect it feels even more remote for those who aim for a more virtuous campus, even in terms of public virtue.

Ron said...

Reader, who says that I haven't gone back to Detroit to visit? My parents stayed there, and I would go back to see them until they passed away, plus seeing other friends, and not friends in the burbs either. Much of my work has taken me to practically every auto plant in the metro area. I just don't want to live there any more. I enjoy Ann Arbor for a lot of reasons that seperate it from both Detroit and Ave Maria Town, beyond coffeehouses, and having nothing to do with liberal politics.

Wow, the desire to live in a low crime town (and to reject a town that's remarkably sanguine about crime!) is viewed as the same as wanting to live in some religious retreat! Sorry, seen too much Detroit crime up close and personal to romanticize going back to it.

GB said...

jinnmabe: As they say, where there's a will...and fifty million dollars...there's a way.

As for the comparison to Idaho, the situation at Ave is a bit different, in that both the faculty and the students wish to not move. It would not be way easier on law students of a new, up-and-coming school to move from a flourishing college town where they are surrounded by an abundance of academic and cultural opportunities...not to mention the career opportunities...all things the Florida swap does not have.
Also, not of minimal importance, is the instant comparison the new school draws from its neighbor, U Mich…a comparison that has, in its short history, leaned in Ave's favor.
A move to Ave Town would not bode well for this precocious school whose arguably strongest asset right now is its good name and respectability as a legitimate contender with its more liberal counterparts:
It maintains a higher bar passage rate than its neighbor (who is consistently ranked in the top 5 law schools), it has a remarkable rate of judicial clerkships (and may possibly have a Supreme Court clerk, as an Ave grad is currently clerking for judge Alito), its mission and academic quality consistently draws students from the Ivy League applicant pool, it has an outstanding faculty (ranked 5th by the Princeton Review in the “professor’s rock” category), and it earned full ABA accreditation in only 5 years, the fastest time possible.
I think the move, which should be noted is by no means imminent, could reduce the academic quality of its applicant pool, may mix up its outstanding faculty, and would have implications for its accredited status…all things which may tarnish its stellar, albeit young, record.

The Continental Op said...

There is a big difference between the proposed Ave Maria Town and the Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn or the Amish in Pennsylvania (or Indiana, Wisconsin, etc.). The latter live within established municipalities that they don't totally control, they don't "own all the commercial real estate" and they don't prohibit other people from buying what they like. You can buy Playboy or Hustler in Lancaster, PA, and you can buy pork in Williamsburg.

This difference (and not some mythical anti-Christian or anti-Catholic hysteria) helps explain why many people find the Amish or Hasidim merely "quaint", while finding totalitarian communities like Ave Maria Town to be "creepy".

Sean E said...

And all the women will be robots!

The town actually sounds like the first act of any number of horror novels and movies.

"Ave Maria has an existing faculty and student body who came to the law school that exists now in Ann Arbor. To move the school to Ave Maria Town imposes a radical change on them."

Meh. Corporations move all the time. This may be a slightly more radical shift than moving a head office from New York to Madison, but staff (and students) face the same basic choice - move with it or go elsewhere.

Jackjoshua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
NonToxic Chuck said...

Why would you have a problem with this concept? I would think that understanding the damage a pornography addiction can do to a person and a community would make a porn free environment a desirable thing. No condoms, etc.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. If you don't want to live there, don't. I think it's certainly within their rights as citizens to do what they want with their money and land.

Now 55 and over communities. That's creepy. They smell like mothballs :)