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Confronting the Future of Technology with Biblical Truth | Bill and Alexis Haughey

April 25, 2024 Classic Learning Test
Confronting the Future of Technology with Biblical Truth | Bill and Alexis Haughey
Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
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Anchored by the Classic Learning Test
Confronting the Future of Technology with Biblical Truth | Bill and Alexis Haughey
Apr 25, 2024
Classic Learning Test

On this episode of Anchored, Jeremy is joined by Bill and Alexis Haughey, the founders of the Catholic Institute of Technology, an American, Catholic technical university opening in Italy this fall. The three discuss the university’s inception, courses, purpose, and future goals. They also unpack the importance of training up religious students to participate in the work the Vatican is already doing in confronting a technology-driven future.

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Anchored, Jeremy is joined by Bill and Alexis Haughey, the founders of the Catholic Institute of Technology, an American, Catholic technical university opening in Italy this fall. The three discuss the university’s inception, courses, purpose, and future goals. They also unpack the importance of training up religious students to participate in the work the Vatican is already doing in confronting a technology-driven future.

Jeremy Tate (00:02.058)
Folks, welcome back to the Anchor podcast. I am so, so excited about the guests we have today. There's been a lot of buzz in the Catholic world and the education world about the new Catholic Institute of Technology, Catholic Institute of Technology in Italy, an American university in Italy, which is being launched. And I think is positioned to really solve one of the greatest threats and challenges of the moment we are living in.

where you have unparalleled amazing technology in the hands of folks that have often had no ethical or moral formation whatsoever. And we are here with the founders today, married couple, Bill and Alexis, hi Bill and Alexis, welcome.

Bill Haughey (00:51.248)
Thanks Jeremy, thanks for having us.

Jeremy Tate (00:53.862)
So Alexis, I understand you are an MIT grad, is that correct?

Bill Haughey (00:58.79)
Yeah, I went to MIT as an undergraduate, studied mechanical engineering, and now I'm doing my PhD in the business school, and specifically I study management of technology and innovation.

Jeremy Tate (01:12.43)
Okay, okay, fantastic. And when did you, you look younger than I, than myself. When did you two meet? How long have you been married?

Bill Haughey (01:23.682)
We met three years ago. I coerced her into teaching high school confirmation with me, and she fell for it. And that's kind of where, around then, that's when this idea started coming into formation. We've been married about a year. We were married by Colonel Sean O'Malley here in Boston. And then on our honeymoon is when we found our campus in Castle, in Guindolfo, actually.

Jeremy Tate (01:30.204)

Jeremy Tate (01:44.072)
Wow. Okay.

Jeremy Tate (01:50.914)
No kidding. And it is mind-blowingly beautiful. The pictures of this place, I want to get into the campus and all of this. In some ways, when I started to think about Catholic Institute of Technology and the vision here, it struck me how odd it is that it doesn't already exist. How is the church not leading the conversation around ethics and morality in this age of unprecedented technology? But I want to hear from y'all, what were the conversations like three years ago,

started to imagine this kind of crazy idea of like let's start a university.

Bill Haughey (02:28.074)
Yeah, we thought it was a little crazy at the start. And we did our due diligence. We did our research. We did a lot of praying and discerning on it. And we were like, well, I think we can do this. First and foremost is a need, as you said, right? The church historically, so by and large, throughout the centuries, we've been at the forefront of scientific innovation. It's only recently that the institutional

academia has pushed out the faithful from these conversations. So we have great universities around the world that had a lot of these disciplines. It's definitely theology and philosophy is our bread and butter. And that we have great ethicists, we have great theologians that work on these matters. But the research capacity of these universities kind of fell by the wayside. So it's...

We're honored to be leading the charge. It's been a lot of work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but we're privileged to be. Yeah.

Jeremy Tate (03:26.222)

Jeremy Tate (03:33.866)
Yeah. Now, when you think back about how these conversations evolved, who was the first one to say, why don't we just start this thing that we wish existed?

Bill Haughey (03:47.602)
I don't think I know the answer to that. Who was the first one to say? I don't know. We talked to some people at the Vatican Observatory, and they were like, yeah, this is great. Of course we need this. And we wanted to put together, we didn't think we'd be bringing it to the finish line. We thought, like someone more qualified than us. Alexis, obviously, brilliant academic. I'm kind of just like an average guy. I went to an inner city school.

Jeremy Tate (03:48.087)

Bill Haughey (04:15.794)
I saw the need for a good quality education that I didn't quite receive. I joined the Marines at high school, went to work as a carpenter, went to school at night. And then we found ourselves as Catholics with the means to do this. I own a construction company here, we're civil engineers. And we just felt the Holy Spirit calling us, calling us to carry our

It's incredible, I think, how much I feel like God gave us together the skill sets that we needed to carry this out. This is not something that either of us could have even contemplated and certainly not carried out by ourselves. But we're just so complimentary in a way that we bring such different skill sets and somehow it's everything we found we needed.

Like, what do I know about starting a research university? I'm like an entrepreneur. I'm like, let's just do it and see if it works. And by the grace of God, it has. We're opening our doors in the fall. We have a brilliant class of undergrads that are going to be joining us in some of the best academics in their fields in the world. We have four MIT PhDs, one from Stanford. Yeah.

Jeremy Tate (05:32.238)
Wow. Unreal. Incredible.

Incredible. And not just such a needed concept, but like in the most amazing place possible. I just visited in November Castel Gandolfo. This is where, you know, the Pope summer residence has been for a long time. I'm not sure how long, but this whole trip we just did to Italy, Castel Gandolfo was probably the most amazing part of that trip. I mean, it's an incredible location. Talk to us about the location itself if you would.

Bill Haughey (06:07.174)
Yeah, so we really see Catholic tech as having, you know, three great ways that it's able to evangelize. First, of course, by educating students in science and engineering in the face so that they can go out and be evangelists, but also to kind of teach the church about these new emerging technologies that help us to say we don't need to be afraid of technologies. We just need to be good stewards of them.

so that it can increase human capacity and make the world a better place. And kind of touching the Vatican, and we have great partnerships we're developing with the Pontifical Universities and things like that, which we really hope to provide opportunities for people within the institutional church, priests and religious that we encounter in Rome, to be able to go out and...

be an authority on these issues because they not only understand the ethical implications, but they're the best in their field in the sciences. We refer to ourselves as a research university in the heart of the church. Historically speaking, this is the location of the Vatican Observatory. So this is the only church-funded scientific research has always been happening in Castel Gandolfo. So we want to build on that rich history.

by building like a technology ecosystem that has an asset to the church. It's kind of hard to ignore us when we're in the backyard.

Jeremy Tate (07:43.91)
Totally. Okay. Well, it's exciting. Then you're on your honeymoon a year ago. You weren't there to try to acquire an amazing campus, but it happened. I mean, tell us this story, and I've seen the pictures. I mean, you're not like renting property in some like offshoot place in Rome. It's an incredible property that you've now acquired as your campus.

Bill Haughey (08:11.934)
Yeah, so it's truly providential how we did find it. We had a tour of the Vatican Observatory. We know one of the Jesuits that works there. He was gracious to give us a tour on our honeymoon and kind of see everything. And we fell in love with the town and it was like, wow, how amazing would it be if we could be here, right? Right in the heart of the church where there's so much history that supports what we're doing.

And as we said this, we walked down the hill and saw a for sale sign on the old North American College's summer residence. So literally, an American style campus located down the street from the Pontifical summer residence, the center of town and the observatory. And we just fell in love with it. You know, we have 300 bedrooms, we have five chapels, two Olympic-sized swimming pools, tennis courts.

I wish I could have gone there. I still want to like lounge by the pool and I think I will. And interestingly before the Orsini sold it to the North American College, they built a big chapel on the grounds, actually on top of some room in ruins. And the chapel that they built is to St. Albert the Great, who's one of our two patron saints. So we just see these like amazing little details about...

Jeremy Tate (09:31.859)
Well, beautiful.

Bill Haughey (09:35.37)
and think, oh, this is absolutely the place that Catholic Tech was meant to be. Yeah, there's like American flags that were painted on the ceilings by the North American College. There's, so Opus Dei had purchased from the North American College in the 70s. The second prelate of Opus Dei is a chemical engineer. And he was the first one to purchase this property and to be there.

And one of the chapels now dedicated to Jose Maria Escriva was the Engineers Chapel. So we see God working in this every day, right from when the Orsini's built St. Albert the Great Chapel to modern day. And it's just going to be a beautiful place to study, to worship and change the world.

Jeremy Tate (10:08.782)

Jeremy Tate (10:24.806)
Okay, I wonder if you could kind of share with our readers and probably half of our audience, not Catholic, a lot of our Protestant brothers tuning in here. The church speaking authoritatively regarding emerging technologies. Is that frequent, infrequent? What has that been like?

Bill Haughey (10:45.442)
What we do as Catholics, right, and what the church does very well is to,
develop theological theory, right? And how we can tackle the changing world and what it means to be human, to be Christian, in everyday life that's constantly changing. So we do have brilliant, especially artificial intelligent ethicists that work in Rome. Two gentlemen that are on our research ethics committee is Father Philip Larray and Father Paolo, who is a Viorgarian.

And they are doing some brilliant work. They've been working with Pope Veritas very closely on answering these questions that just keep coming up and the faithful are looking for some guidance. So that is done well. We're building on that. But what Cali Tech is trying to do is to give them the resources as far as scientists and engineer that are actively working in these fields to help aid in those conversations.

Jeremy Tate (11:57.154)

Jeremy Tate (12:02.892)

Jeremy Tate (12:11.726)
Okay, okay, okay.

Bill Haughey (12:13.642)
So not just Catholics hear it when the Pope speaks, but the world.

Jeremy Tate (12:18.126)
Okay, well let's dig in and talk kind of course of study, meat and potatoes here. So this is, marrying the liberal arts, marrying the humanities, marrying the educational tradition of the church, giving students the right framework to think about technology, but also you're bringing in the top, some of the top MIT professors.

In terms of a core curriculum, the course of study that every student at Catholic Institute of Technology will be sharing together, I think it's some of the partners CLT has that are known for their core, the core at the University of Dallas or others like that, what will the core be that all students will be sharing and then what are the opportunities for specialization in terms of majors going to be like?

Bill Haughey (13:06.898)
Yeah, so we follow a cohort model, which is actually very similar, I think, to the University of Dallas and Thomas Aquinas and a lot of those schools. So all of our students in the beginning are taking the foundational math and science courses, Italian philosophy and theology, and then eventually Latin altogether. So they're following the progression through the different years of study together.

And then early in year three is when they first decide on a particular concentration. So that could be biology or biomedical engineering and then kind of the three core engineering disciplines. Civil, mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science. And that's when they get the opportunity to really dig into their specific areas of interest.

and also to do research in those fields and do a capstone project that works with our partners in industry. So they really do have a hands-on perspective of what those fields are like at the end.

Bill Haughey (14:23.93)
Yeah, and I think, you know, having a holistic liberal arts education is incredibly important to us. You know, technically trained people is our expertise, but as Catholics, we're looking to form them to be brilliant scholars and scientists, but to be saints and to give them the tools they need to go out and evangelize these spaces. Yeah, I think that's actually the most important thing to us.

Jeremy Tate (14:24.546)

Jeremy Tate (14:38.242)

Jeremy Tate (14:47.784)

Bill Haughey (14:51.394)
People go out and are evangelizing and become saints. And we invest so much. I always joke, we have the highest priest to student ratio of any campus, maybe certainly in the US, maybe in the world. And it really is about that kind of personal and human formation, which gives people not only the knowledge, but the fortitude to be able to go out and fight those tough battles.

because it is an uphill battle, evangelizing science and engineering and academia and big tech. And we want our students to be prepared for that.

Bill Haughey (15:35.054)
Yeah, I think like the excitement we see in the laity is one thing. And that's something we almost we were hoping for, but anticipated to an extent. What was surprising to us was the excitement in the church, in clergy and religious that wants to be involved. Our president is one of the foremost academic bishops in the United States right now, Bishop Arthur Kennedy. And he's

He's the president of a startup university because he sees the need and knows it will do good.

Jeremy Tate (16:11.022)
It's amazing. Alexis, I've got to tell you, I've never heard or imagined an MIT graduate talking this way, talking about evangelizing the tech field, the culture. It's really beautiful and kind of a really, really wonderful, just bold, refreshing way. So thank you. I feel like this is exactly what the church needs. And y'all as a young married couple have just really put yourself out there in starting this. And God has certainly answered that.

I can tell you there is absolutely a buzz about this. Non-Catholic students, our audience here, we've got a lot of great Protestant brothers listening to this right now as well. Is Catholic Institute of Technology a good place for non-Catholic Christians who are interested in technology?

Bill Haughey (17:02.93)
Absolutely. We believe in this mission because we think it will be good for the church. But we, first and foremost, technology, the innovation that drives progress, is supposed to be for mankind. We're at a point where humanity as we know it is changing and what it means to be human and what it means to have a fulfilled and happy life. Be it Catholic,

Protestant, Jew, Muslim, atheist, this is about making the world a better place. And I think big tech and institutional academia have had their chance. We need something now that's going to help human beings live more fulfilled lives. So whoever wants to join, by all means. And I think Protestants in particular, we're all Christians, we all share this, you know.

shared understanding that the most important thing is to love God, to love our fellow man, and discover more about God and his creation. The motto of our university is to discover God's creation. And I think that's something that unifies us all. We all want to be closer to him. We all want to know how to serve his people better. And technology and, you know, the sciences.

really is a way that we can unlock the human potential and grow closer to God, as much as philosophy and theology is.

Jeremy Tate (18:42.27)
Let's talk about your first class of students. You're going to be welcoming them first class in August I have a number of questions kind of around this versus you know it may be for a parent listening they may think well this sounds great, but four years in Italy

Casel Gandalfa, this has got to be a big, big price tag. Well, what are you thinking right now? I mean, will Catholic Institute of Technology be competitive with, let's say, other Newman Guide kind of schools in terms of tuition and overall price point?

Bill Haughey (19:15.062)
So right now as a startup, we do have to be mindful of costs. Of course, Alexis and I are some of the biggest supporters. We help get this thing off the ground. We help purchase the property. And we do have many great benefactors, not only Catholic, but ones, but people from around the world that want to make this a reality. By the nature of a technical education, we're a little bit more expensive than some of the Newman Guide schools.

But as far as like an engineering degree goes in the US, we're one of the most affordable. We are competitive with any of the three big engineering universities as far as like Caltech, MIT, Stanford, and then very well established Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Catholic University of America, or Georgetown, that have engineering programs.

We're still. We're committing so many resources to the formation and education of each student and to the point that that's actually being subsidized by other areas of the university. We're a research university, so our professors are getting research grants. We've had some very generous philanthropy. And

You know, these students are the future of the church and the world, and we're certainly making an investment in them, I think, that reflects how important we believe these students are for society and the love of God. The most important thing as far as our business model goes is long-term, we're not a tuition-driven university. Any research university is relying on research.

be that US federal or European Union. We are eligible or faculty come from places where they've been working in the in these spaces for a long time. So we're eligible for a lot of international and US-based funding. So long term we're trying to make sure that every student has an opportunity to go. We haven't turned anyone away as far as cost has been an issue thus far. The best and the brightest.

Bill Haughey (21:38.16)
If they can't afford it, we're being very competitive these first couple of years. We have 20 full rides going out this year, our full tuition scholarships and everyone else I think is about a 50% discount this year.

Jeremy Tate (21:48.415)
Oh, okay.

Jeremy Tate (21:53.746)
Okay, okay, and it's not too late if, you know, in February now folks are just not hearing about this. You know, can they still apply for the incoming class? Is that already filled up? What is that like?

Bill Haughey (22:06.45)
Yeah, so I would say get them in sooner rather than later. We're getting new applications every day to kind of preserve our charism and to make sure we have a great foundation for the first couple of years. Like I said, we're very invested in our first class. We're capping that off 50 students next year. And we have more than that in applications right now. So we really need to make sure.

We're getting people that are mission driven, but the best and the brightest, and people that really want to change the world. So get them in sooner rather than later, but we'd love to have some more people that really want to get behind the mission.

Jeremy Tate (22:47.554)
What is a good kind of next step for a parent or a student? A lot of the campuses, of course, in the US, they have all kinds of days to visit campus. Is there a day this spring or in the summer where you'll be welcoming folks on campus for them to get a sense of what this would actually be like?

Bill Haughey (23:06.174)
Yeah, so this March, March 8th to the 10th, we have our open house. That is open to students, family members, superintendents of schools. We have a lot of members in the Pontifical Universities and people from the Vatican coming, the local bishop, our faculty and donors. So that is a great place to meet all the people that are involved, see our beautiful campus. The pools won't be open. It's the winter still.

But eat some great food, stay at night on campus, and get to know everyone involved. And you know, starting over the summer when we start to get to campus, we're gonna have admissions people on campus who will be happy to give students tours more or less whenever they're there. And we know people travel to Europe on all different kinds of schedules and one particular weekend doesn't always work for them.

I can suggest that you come when Jeremy's there.

He'll be before you know it.

Jeremy Tate (24:09.235)

I would love that and just getting to know you both, you know, as

kind of inspire me to kind of reflect on even our own story here at CLT where we realized there was something that didn't exist that should already exist, that it was weird that students were taking a completely disconnected admissions test from their home school background or their Catholic school background in order to then go to a passionately Catholic university, this detour to take a Common Core Aligned, essentially public school test.

I love, love just like this. It doesn't exist, let's just do it. Somebody's gotta do that at some point, otherwise things don't come to exist. And I feel like this kind of work is exactly what young people need to be doing. So thank you, thank you, thank you for starting this. I'm so encouraged by the buzz that we're hearing about at CLT. I know that you're getting probably every day, more and more as you said, applications coming in. I think it's gonna be an amazing

freshman class, but what does the future look like? You know, this first class, 50 students will be coming in the fall. Where do you see it in three or five years?

Bill Haughey (25:23.486)
Yeah, so, well, I said our 10-year plan is roughly a thousand undergrads. And based on our level of applications, as long as we keep up and people keep praying for us, I think we'll hit it. But, you know, in roughly five years, our current buildings will be at capacity, if everything goes well. So we can we can house 350 roughly in our current structures. And then we're going to start building.

We have a ton of land, 60 acres, you can get lost in the woods, you know, pray all day, but you know, we're definitely looking to build. We want this to be our home. We want, you know, this to be kind of the hub of morally grounded technological innovation. And with that, you know, we want our researchers to keep doing fantastic work and thriving. We'd love to see, you know, startups and...

Jeremy Tate (25:56.834)

Jeremy Tate (26:09.848)

Bill Haughey (26:21.226)
some like little satellite campuses of big companies to show up around there, because the more that we can bring, you know, all of this innovation into the heart of the church, the more opportunity we have to, you know, guide them and make sure that they're ethically informed. Well, you probably see this with CLT. It's just amazing. And we see God in work in this, right? But it's...

It's amazing. And I don't, you know, we'd love to hear your side, your story here soon, but uh, it's people reach out every day and just like, Hey, what can I do? How can we be part of this? And some, we found some great faculty that way, but also just like, Oh, can you make a connection here? We are building the super road bus, entrepreneurship network with Silicon Valley and people in biotech here in Boston, people just have been looking

Jeremy Tate (27:02.23)

Bill Haughey (27:18.666)
There's been a hunger for something that is grounded in their faith or has a moral compass to help steer this innovation. So get the word out, tell your friends, see you in March and join the fun.

Jeremy Tate (27:35.99)
Again, the name of the new university is the Catholic Institute of Technology in beautiful, beautiful Castel Gandolfo near just south of Rome, Italy. We're here with Bill and Alexis. Hi, Bill and Alexis, so great to see you. Thank you for the work that you're doing. I can't wait to get on campus and I'm excited to hear about this first group of students.

Bill Haughey (27:59.918)
Thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate it.