Reformation and Reform: Martin Luther and Marc Racicot

William Plank
Contributing Editor
Eastern Montana College

The papacy in the 16th century sought to redefine itself in terms of temporal power and as a result built up a bloated ecclesiastical administration which spiritually starved the faithful. Charles Stinger (The Renaissance in Rome) points out that this bureaucratization resulted in the dramatic growth of Curial officials. Under Pius II, the papal court was still so few in numbers that the "Signatura could meet in the chestnut groves of Monte Amiata and the pope's affixing of his seal could be interrupted by hounds chasing a stag." By the 1520s, counting the honorific and venal offices, "its numbers surpassed two thousand."

Whole colleges of new offices were created and the need for office space became so great that Julius II envisaged the building of a huge Palazzo dei Tribunali. It never got beyond ground-floor construction, but we have enough of Bramante's plans to show the extent of the architectural expression of the implacable authority of the papacy. Administrators historically have needed office space, even in Montana.

FindIng one's way around in this hierarchy and getting it to respond to spiritual needs or even to venal ambitions enraged insiders as well as foreigners. Then in 1527, the troops of the Emperor Charles V, under the lead of the Duc de Bourbon, sacked Rome, killing thousands of Romans. Among these troops were the notorious Swiss mercenaries, the landsknechts, the ancestors of the modern papal Swiss guards. Not only were they looking for booty, but they were Germans and Lutherans, hot with the indignation of Martin Luther. A contemporary writer, Luigi Guicciardini (The Sack of Rome) wrote that "a priest was shamelessly and cruelly killed because he refused to administer the most holy sacrament to a mule in clerical vestments."

Luigi's brother was Francesco Guicciardini, the author of the excellent History of Italy, and at the time of the sack the general of the papal armies. Writing in the Ricordi, Francesco expresses his frustration at the ambition of the clergy in the following terms: "In spite of all this, the positions I have held under several popes have forced me, for my own good, to further their interests. Were it not for that, I should have loved Martin Luther as much as myself--not so that I might be free of the laws based on Christian religion as it is generally interpreted and understood; but to see this bunch of rascals get their just deserts, that is, to be either without vices or without authority."

Although I cannot claim such a Iove as Guicciardini did for Luther, if Governor Racicot can reform the Montana University System then I could have enormous affection and respect for him--not so that I might be free of my duties to higher education, but to see that the administration devotes itself to educating the public rather than to preserving the 2400% increase in the commissioner's budget since that office was set up, rather than to preserving a university system which has as many administrators making more than $50,000 as the rest of state government, which is three times larger.

Two systems vs. one system

The proposed restructuring of the MUS is largely an illusion providing little significant change. If reducing six units to two systems is good, then following the same logic, reducing the six units to one system is even better. There will be significant results of such a dual system: (1) It will degenerate immediately into a relentless civil war of student recruiting as the two systems battle at the taxpayers' expense, for enrollment driven funds--as they have always done. With the dual system, that struggle will be better coordinated and more expensive. All the units recently resumed recruiting, even after the regents announced caps on enrollment. (2) It will apparently justify the survival of the office of the commissioner as the necessary coordinator of the two systems. About a dozen universities in the country have 50,000 students with one president--we would have two universities of about 13,000 each, with two presidents and a commissioner and a board of regents.

Institutional loyalty

The two-system rather than the one-system proposal is the result of political fear based on energetic complaining about the importance of "institutional loyalty." I'll tell you what institutional loyalty means. It is a warm feeling of identity and belonging that alumni and alumna get when they go to the big game, when they remember their college days, when they sit around the bridge table in the afternoon, while they complain at the same time about increasing taxes and the growing bureaucracy. "Institutional loyalty" may be the fund-raiser's joy, but it is a cheap emotional thrill based on a misunderstanding of the goals of public education.

On August 1, 1535, John Calvin wrote a letter to Francis I, king of France, a letter which he used as a preface to his Institution de la religion chretienne. "You are too much impressed by the walls," the preacher claimed, "you think you can find God's church in the beauty of the buildings, thinking that the union of the faithful can be contained therein." Calvin claimed he felt nearer the union of the faithful in the mountains, the woods, the lakes, the deserts, and the caverns, and that those people were in error who could recognize the church only when it had "some visible and pompous exterior which struck the eye." Calvin was criticizing "institutional loyalty" which existed at the expense of spiritual wealth and comfort, an institutional loyalty which led to contests to collect the largest number of saints' bones.

A few years ago I asked one of my students, Duane Dorn, why he was going to graduate school at the University of Washington. Without hesitating he answered, "To educate the public and find the meaning of life." I never forgot that because it put the project of higher education in such succinct and uncompromising terms. I repeat it every time I get the chance. The goal of the Montana University System is to educate the public and find the meaning of life, and it is not in the cheap thrill of the "institutional loyalty" of people who gripe about rising taxes and student fees while they display window decals, bumper stickers, and personalized college and university license plates. The university is not in its buildings and in its little towns and cities strewn by history and politics around the mountains and high plains of Montana. The University of Montana is in the minds of its students and professors and alumni. Our loyalty must be to the goals of public education and not in the memory of freshman beer parties and sorority dances. Granting agencies, public and private, must give us their money not because of our institution's name but because of the quality of the professor's grant proposal. The one central president of this system, wherever he or she is housed, must know where the university is or be simply another politician, another recruiter, another cannibal.

Over the last couple of years I have come to know many of my colleagues at MSU and UM and to have enormous respect for them. I'll tell you frankly that, with occasional exceptions, the colleges in Montana do not measure up to the universities in Montana (I am a prof at EMC). Lest UM and MSU begin to feel too grand about that opinion, I must say that, with occasional exceptions, they do not measure up to the big mid-western state universities and the Ivy Leagues. But if we put all the six units together into one real system, if we can overcome the educational jingoism of institutional loyalty, if we can stop fighting with one another for funds and students at the taxpayers' expense, if our struggle is rather with the forces of ignorance, if our clan of administrators will get out of the way, if we try to educate the public and find the meaning of life, then we can produce a college degree envied by other states. Then perhaps the Montana University System, whose students average between 940 and 980 on the SAT, will attract some of those who make between 1350 and 1400+, who go to the Ivy Leagues.

Surely the MUS does not have to continue to be thought of as the shirttail relative of the Ivy Leagues and the great public land-grant universities. We could all elevate ourselves with some cooperation and reorganization and do the country a favor--not to mention the students and taxpayers of the state we rather naively call "The Last Best Place." And we will get short shrift if we continue to believe that the biggest yearly educational event in Montana is the Bobcat-Grizzly game!

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