Postcard from Florida
Great news, high praise, and a lost opportunity at Ave Maria University


That was the high praise — the really great news — for a campus only seven years old. And that’s only the beginning of what AMU is working to build. Its faculty and administration view Ave Maria as an Explorer of the Future, striving to outline a new future for American education and indeed for the culture of the West. Exactly in this vein, however, the university has lost an enormous opportunity.

The great research company and network Jackson Labs has been much wooed by developers around the United States during its search for a location to build a new campus for computer-based research. There was for a time a good chance that Jackson Labs would locate close to Ave Maria, and that the university community would receive this huge intellectual lift, however controversial the coming of Jackson Labs was deemed by some. But as of the last few days, it appears that the company has agreed to an offer from a developer in a different part of southwest Florida, to the north in Sarasota.

AMU’s Department of Theology is fortunate in the presence of the distinguished theologian from Cardinal Schönborn’s Vienna, Michael Waldstein, certainly one of the theologians most highly sought by the major universities. Waldstein recently delivered a stirring public defense of the great good fortune of having a frontline technology company settle just four miles from AMU’s campus.

Waldstein bewailed the too frequent Catholic habit in recent centuries of bemoaning secular scholarship, while hiding one’s head from it, not engaging it, attempting to wish it away. That is the way, he argued, to fall farther and farther behind.

Waldstein welcomed the near-coming of Jackson Labs to the university area as a dream he had long devoutly prayed for — a chance to engage with cutting-edge explorers on the frontiers of new knowledge, learning from them and raising new questions that might not normally come into their view. The results of this engagement, he argued, would be enormously advantageous to him, in bringing him new knowledge immediately and at first hand, not as later reported in distant, and possibly polemical, journals. It would make him and other fortunate theologians much more sharply versed in the leading methods and findings of contemporary research, as well as in its assumptions, some of them perhaps dubious. The presence of Jackson Labs would force theologians like himself to design sharper statements of more appropriate basic assumptions.

For others at Ave Maria who opposed the coming of Jackson Labs, the fear was that while Jackson Labs does not currently conduct human-embryonic-stem-cell research, it has not ruled out the possibility of doing so in the future. The local Ordinary, Bishop Frank Dewane, took this approach, and there is merit in these concerns, however speculative they are at this time. This concern is shared by Waldstein and others at AMU.