Sandra M. Estanek, Robert S. Meyer, Laura A. Wankel and Edward P. Wright, editors: Reading the Signs: Using Case Studies to Discuss Student Life Issues at Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States

(Information Age Publishing, 2008, 128 pp)

For Student Affairs professionals and many other administrators, I've long argued that case studies are one of the very best ways to explore how Catholic identity issues can be creatively and thoughtfully addressed on campus. The authors of this volume apparently agreed, having worked up 18 case studies that capture a wide range of situations where Catholicism and popular expectations conflict in campus life. The cases are preceded by thoughtful essays on what questions one might bring to the cases from a mission- and person-centered point of view, and on how Catholic spirituality might offer some helpful convictions that make Student Affairs work not only a matter of enforcing rules, but of "conscience formation."

Cases include: a Muslim student association trying to secure a regular space on campus for prayer, though policy for student groups usually limits availability of space to much less than the five times a day the students need it; a student newspaper that publishes a planned parenthood ad which has no mention of abortion or birth control; an effort to relax very strict parietal policies; a group of RAs who demand birth control access on campus; an administrator who disbands a GLBT student group following objections from a new bishop; a discussion about accommodations for transgender students; performances of the Vagina Monologues; a rock band chosen to perform on campus whose lyrics are distinctly un-Catholic.

The cases sometimes overlap in terms of subject matter, but are varied in terms of the locus of decision making or of some key factor that shapes the life and options of the institution. They usually play out in relatively complex but recognizable ways, reflecting both career dilemmas faced by individuals and larger organizational dilemmas. Prominent alumni threaten to cut off donations, trustees insert strong opinions, parents write to newspapers or bishops to air grievances, students make competing demands.

Faculty who serve on student affairs or mission committees will find this to be a great resource to think through some of the issues facing Catholic higher education. It can enable us to develop policies and perspectives that are thoughtful, rather than simply reactive.
—Thomas M. Landy