Social Justice Focus at Risk, Says Professor

By Donovan, Gill | National Catholic Reporter, April 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Social Justice Focus at Risk, Says Professor


Donovan, Gill, National Catholic Reporter


The decision to split economics at the university into two unequal bodies may jeopardize the department's longstanding focus on social justice, according to Jennifer Warlick, who now serves as the first chair of the new Economics and Policy Studies department at Notre Dame.

She said that the department has a history of emphasizing social justice issues that comes in part from its location in South Bend, Ind., and in part from the school's emphasis on Catholic social teaching. "South Bend was the first city in the United States ... to really feel the effects of deindustrialization," she said. "Studebaker closed in 1965, even before Detroit was beginning to feel the effects of the challenge in the '70s by foreign automakers as a result of the fuel crisis. Singer sewing machine downsized its developments.... We really are the armpit of the rust belt."

Such circumstances were partially responsible for the department's work in labor issues. "Some of our faculty are still very much involved with unions in trying to preserve jobs or help them negotiate pension plans," she said. Work with labor institutions led some department members to become professional mediators.

According to David Ruccio, associate professor, "Splitting off the parts of the department that are most interested in teaching economic and social justice ... seems to indicate that it is not central to economics."

Arts and Letters dean Mark Roche denied the charge that the split of the two departments will lead to a de-emphasis on social justice. In the social sciences at Notre Dame, there has always been "an integration of our initial focus on social justice issues and an integration of more recent quantitative advances without relinquishing that focus. …

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