The statement, drawn up and signed by a group of Catholic educators led by University of Notre Dame president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, had as its purpose defining the relationship between the modern American university and the Church, and between the Catholic university and American intellectual life. Characterized by historian Philip Gleason as a "declaration of independence from the hierarchy," the statement provoked a decades-long debate over the character of American Catholic higher education. For supporters, "The Idea of the Catholic University" was a long overdue statement of Catholic educators' agreement with the tenets of American academia, such as academic freedom, and their willingness to contribute fully to the nation's intellectual life. For critics, the manifesto dangerously divorced the Catholic university from the life of faith and set in motion a deplorable decline in the Catholic identity of American institutions of higher education.