One of my colleagues sent me this YouTube video link today. At first I didn’t care for it because it seemed to be making fun of young people, but the longer I listened the more I liked it. What do you think?
We’re off to a phenomenal start this year. It’s hard to keep up with all the good things happening at Dominican.
We announced the name of our new publication, The Constellation: A Journal of Undergraduate Research. Our first issue will appear in the spring under the leadership of our terrific student editors. I can’t wait.
The first in our weekly Recipe Box Café series begins this week. This has been a wonderful Rosary College tradition for over 50 years and is part of our Quantity Food Production and Service course. The first café dinner is managed by senior Atinuke Isola featuring homemade tomato soup with a touch of coconut milk, banana-leaf wrapped salmon on a bed of quinoa with tropical fresh fruit salsa, and a dessert of frozen bananas enrobed in yogurt, dark chocolate, and diced dried apricots. Sounds good, and healthy, too!
Our students have started Interfaith Teahouse, to express opinions or values derived from religion, philosophy or elsewhere on various topics, sharing cookies and tea.
My own wonderful students in my Freshman Seminar Dimensions of the Self: Know Thyself! make me laugh and get me to tell them all kinds of things to make their heads spin. In an early assignment I asked them to invent a course they wished students could take and here were a few of their responses:
- In Their Shoes “takes students outside of the classroom to work with different service organizations, and challenges them to see life from other people’s perspectives.”
- Your Community 101 “offers you the opportunity to learn more about what your community used to be like, to learn more than you already know about it now, and more.” This student went on to say that during high school, “I tried to do whatever I could to help my community, not because I was asked, or told, or getting paid to do it, but because I wanted to be a bigger part of the community.”
- Improv would “require students to pair up and act out responses to particular topics or emotions. This will teach students how to use their imaginations and create a story that they will bring to life.”
- Money Mania would teach students “how to manage money—not money that their parents let them use, but money students work for and earn. Students will be shown the expenses of life as an adult from owning a car to bill paying methods, mortgage payments, household expenses, etc. Once completed students will have a more clear idea of the responsibility that comes with managing their own money.”
- Humanities “lets students get exposed to life’s big questions such as the existence of God, what reality is, and how good and evil are developed. By arousing these questions, students are asked to dig deeper than they normally would in order to strive to answer questions that could directly affect their lives.”
A few of my students joined the many other freshmen on a recent Emerging Leaders Retreat.
Tomorrow is our second annual university-wide Caritas Veritas Symposium, where faculty, staff and students will share their research and reflections on how our motto of love and truth translates into a mission of creating a more just and humane world. A great day at Dominican.
So, it’s an exciting start to a new school year. It makes me remember why I love this work, why it’s a privilege to be in conversation with our amazing students. And I haven’t even mentioned the Caritas Veritas tattoo.
August 22, 2011
The other day our marketing department asked me for a short statement about how we integrate faith into our curriculum since a reporter somewhere was writing a story. Here’s what I said:
We are all, in a sense, people of faith — even though we don’t have the same beliefs. We may be Baptists or Catholics, Jews or Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims, Native Peoples or Zoroastrians, ethical humanists or something else. I think of faith along the lines of what David Tracy calls a fundamental trust in the worthwhileness of being at all. Fundamental trust in the intelligibility of reality, so that our research, scholarship and creative investigations strike us as worth pursuing at all. Fundamental trust that we can do something good, do something well, translate our own bests gifts into effective contributions to a world in need, a world beyond our parochial selves and our narrow zones of comfort. Across the curriculum, students at Dominican are invited to reflect deeply on questions of meaning, questions that matter, and to propose their own tentative answers to these enduring questions. They do it in interdisciplinary seminars, in philosophy, theology, history, social sciences, natural sciences, fine arts, and literature courses. And whenever students enter into a deep and sustained dialogue with questions that matter, they are expressing their faith. They are then called to act upon it as ethically responsible global citizens. This is how our curriculum inspires students to think, to do, and to be.
As I think about it more, and as we prepare to start a new school year one week from today, it’s hard to imagine a greater act of faith than what we’re all about to do. We come together from incredibly diverse backgrounds, life experiences, levels and kinds of expertise, and we enter into investigations and conversations that seek and promise nothing less than a transformation and illumination of our lives and the lives of those we encounter. What does it mean to be good, to lead a good life? We don’t need to wait until the LAS Senior Seminar to have that question in our sights. And we won’t.
Education is where it’s at.
In an astounding act of faith in our shared enterprise, and in a telling expression of regard for one another and the desire to do even better on behalf of our students, about 50 of my faculty colleagues came together for two full days last week for an intensive workshop on integrated course design. (We posted some pictures on the RCAS Facebook page.) It was exhilarating and fun and fascinating and just so gratifying to see my colleagues enjoy one another’s company and dream about what their students need most. Our faculty love teaching, and their creativity and sophistication are amazing to me. It’s a privilege to work with people like that.
All of the faculty will come together later this week for another daylong workshop exploring the theme of global citizenship with a keynote from this semester’s Lund-Gill Chair Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core. I am so excited to begin our second year of partnership with IFYC and to continue enhancing an awareness of and respect for religious diversity on our campus. Again there will be breakout sessions, with faculty sharing their passion for teaching and learning and the ways they bring their scholarship and research into their work with students. I love my colleagues. So if a reporter asks me how we integrate faith into the curriculum, I’d say I already have faith in our curriculum because of the phenomenal people who design and deliver it with such astonishing integrity and depth.
June 23, 2011
I haven’t written in this space for a while. I must admit that I’ve been more interested of late in posting stuff to the Rosary College Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/RCASdu. Check it out! They gave me the code and I’ve been a roving iPhone reporter.
It includes shots of Candle and Rose (including a great shot, if I do say so myself, of Sr. Melissa Waters “the ultimate Rose”), May Commencement, stories about a student art exhibit at a prestigious off-campus gallery, some amazing exploits of our students in the world of research, and some wonderful national coverage of our phenomenal study abroad program in CUBA, which just concluded. Check out the students’ blog, here: http://duincuba.wordpress.com/.
Summer is really a vibrant time at Dominican, even with fewer classes and students around. Today, for example, we’re hosting the third freshman orientation/registration. It’s so much fun to meet the new students. One of them told me he wants to design album covers and we compared notes on our favorites. (Mine: Sgt. Pepper.) We’ll meet with them again in a couple of hours and help them get ready to register for classes tomorrow.
Next week we host an Interfaith Leadership training with the Interfaith Youth Core, bringing students, faculty and staff from across the country to our campus. I’ll be participating with them for all four days, and Dominican is very involved in a partnership with IFYC. Eboo Patel will be teaching at Dominican in the fall as our Lund-Gill Chair. We’ll be participating as well in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge (http://www.ifyc.org/presidents-challenge).
I’ve been having some really great meetings with faculty, talking about our favorite topic: Our hopes for students. Lots of daylong meetings starting the week after graduation, and they’re continuing still. A few highlights so far:
We want students to grow as liberal learners whose skills, knowledge, abilities, and habits of mind are developed, applied, and integrated through a distinctly Dominican course of study characterized by breadth and depth of inquiry that prepares graduates to be ethically responsible global citizens.
We want students, especially in our Liberal Arts and Sciences Seminars, to explore and consider enduring questions. They compose informed, well-reasoned, and necessarily provisional responses to these questions. Since enduring questions are precisely those that extend across generations, thinkers and disciplines, students conduct careful and critical analysis of texts and materials from diverse fields of study, contribute their ideas and experiences for collective consideration, and reconsider their own ideas in light of the beliefs of others. Additionally, because these questions arise in and are informed by distinct contexts, the seminars ask students to identify and connect what they have learned through different experiences. Moving into the future, students will be practiced in the art of raising and answering questions that matter.
And while there is permeability, transition, and transformation within and across disciplines, we recognize distinct areas of study necessary for developing a liberal learner. Courses in Area Studies prepare students for intellectual conversations of genuine breadth, both within and beyond the university.
Okay, enough. Back to work, and don’t forget: http://www.facebook.com/RCASdu.
February 6, 2011
Last night I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Hall of Fame Dinner for Dominican University Athletics. Among those honored were outstanding coaches and players from Dominican’s past, as well as our former Registrar who over 30 years of service helped establish a crucial behind the scenes infrastructure for Dominican’s programs.
Also honored was Erick Baumann, who was an undergraduate student and soccer player before becoming head men’s soccer coach and director of athletics. Right now, Dominican is enjoying the most successful overall winning stretch for its many athletic teams in the school’s history. In 2009 men’s soccer went to the Final Four and went deep into the national tournament again last year. I got to go to that Final Four in San Antonio, rode the bus with the players, sat next to a student I had in class that same semester. It was unforgettable. As I told Erick then, I wish I had more time to attend every game of every sport at Dominican. I love student athletes. I love what they achieve and what they stand for. I love what they teach the rest of us.
They have balance. On the court and on the field, obviously, but in their lives, they balance academic coursework with demanding practice and conditioning schedules. They manage their time superbly and in doing so, they set an example for the rest of us.
They have strength and determination. Again, not just within their sports, but in a more holistic way, they apply these qualities to their lives and to their academic work as students.
They understand teamwork, hard work, loving your work, studying your flaws and working on them specifically so that you can get better. They “look at film” literally and metaphorically, again in ways that translate and transfer to their lives as students and beyond.
October 19, 2010
Sometimes I’m asked what’s distinctive about academics at Dominican? So much to say, but here’s one take on it.
We’ve thought strategically about the “others” with whom we should compare ourselves and we’ve selected carefully a list of 12 “peer” institutions across the nation. I’m sure you’ve noticed that much has been written lately about the dismal record many colleges and universities have in terms of graduation rates. How do we measure up against our peers? The six-year rate is the standard, acknowledging that many students take longer to graduate — they stop out, need to reduce their course load, etc. Where do we rank among peers in the six-year graduation rate? We rank first. How about the five-year rate: We rank first. And the four-year rate: Again, we’re first.
What about our three top “competitor” schools, that is, the three schools students most frequently attend rather than Dominican when they’ve applied to both and we’ve accepted them? We beat all of them as well. We beat our top competitor, that is, the school to which we lose the most students, by 14 percentage points! Our four-year graduation rate is 17% higher than our #2 competitor and 12% higher than our #3 competitor. My colleagues in the Admissions Office told me I’m not allowed to name names. OK. But you probably know who I’m referencing if you’re comparing Dominican with other schools.
Why are our students so successful? Because of who we are as an educational community. Our identity is distinct, clear and unmistakable. We are, to paraphrase our official “identity statement,” a relationship-centered educational community rooted in the liberal arts and sciences, known for rigorous and engaging academic programs, the care and respect with which we mentor students, our commitment to justice, our ongoing exploration, expression and experience of our Catholic Dominican identity, and the enriching diversity of what we study, how we study, and the community of learners with whom we study. In short, our pursuit of truth is infused by love.
What’s “distinctive” about Dominican is not only that among our many wonderful programs, some are rather unique in comparison with other schools — although that’s true. It’s not so much about being “distinctive” in only that way. Instead, it’s really that each and every individual student has a “distinct,” that is a clear and unmistakable, Dominican experience. It’s an experience in which the many become one, in which the many amazing possibilities come together in this student’s own authentic blend, in her or his own unique educational moment. In each instance, it is her or his particular and authentic coherent combination of courses and professors, major field and perhaps minor field, papers and projects, internships, study abroad, service learning, seminars, undergraduate research, scholarship and creative investigations, academic advising and co-curricular participation.
For example, in undergraduate research, where students complete more intensive, ambitious projects, usually in a one-one-one relationship with a single faculty mentor, students synthesize their best work, bring it all to bear on a more intensive, in-depth study or creative piece. It can link with study abroad, using travel sites as opportunities for archival, geographically intense hands-on research to complete a project begun on campus; or students may come back from an international program inspired and wanting to follow up with coursework and research back home.
The same holds true with service learning, internships and other forms of experiential learning. The students’ passion energizes the curriculum for themselves and others. An older generation may not exactly relate to this, but if they can relate to a professor who took extra care to make sure you succeeded, they can relate to the individualized attention and truly relationship-centered learning that occurs when these kinds of projects develop. Undergraduate research is a profound sharing of the passion for inquiry, discovery, application, integration and creativity with a trusted and inspiring faculty mentor. Dominican style, once again: relationship is at the heart of our educational mission.
And always, it’s the individual student’s authentic blend of all these opportunities and more, in which the many become one, one in the student’s lived experience, which allows and empowers that student to stand up and say, “Here I am, this is me, I am distinctly Dominican. No one else has ever done it exactly this way. It’s mine, it’s my special blend, and I’ve owned this experience.” To coin a phrase from the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, “the many become one and are increased by one.” At Dominican, the many educational opportunities, authentically chosen, internalized, balanced and combined into a beautiful and integrated whole, result in a transformed self. The many become one in that student, and that one student, then, increases by one the richness of the Dominican community, a community of strong and independent thinkers who mean to participate in the transformation of our world.
So what’s distinctive about academics at Dominican? Each and every one of our students, because they are clearly and unmistakably, distinctly Dominican.
September 29, 2010
Yesterday we had a daylong “Caritas Veritas Symposium,” exploring the meaning of our motto. Here was my opening reflection.
What brings you here? Not just to this day but to this university? What do you want? What is your hope? What would your answer be, right now? Why, really? Why, at all?
Karl Rahner said that when we analyze ourselves we’ll come to realize that we don’t just have questions. We are a question. Our very lives are a trajectory, as we are lured and called toward the more, toward that ever receding horizon of human questioning, toward what Paul Tillich called our ultimate concern, to which our many preliminary concerns point, if only we would prioritize them properly and not get stuck, not get detoured, not settle for less. So why, at all? How do we answer that in our university context?
When we examine our offices, departments, schools and programs, and all their knowledge, insights and creativity, we should wonder: Then what, so what, for what, toward what? Why are we really here, in this university? Why, at all?
In the health sciences it’s not just advanced anatomy, but isn’t there another question? Why heal at all? In pre-law it’s not just cases, precedents and statutes but isn’t there another question? Why be just at all? And so it goes with all of our educational pursuits. There are layers upon layers of knowledge, discovery and application, all necessary, but not sufficient without the depth toward which they point, to which we are drawn, and even called in a kind of vocation. We are depth seekers and depth finders so that we can, as Soren Kierkegaard said, seek the truth that is true for me, the truth for which I can live and die. We need to render ourselves truly teachable, so that we are open to engaging the “why at all” questions, pursuing them through the things we love to study and the people we love to study with. Our calling is to take that next step, to ask that next question, to transcend the given. Toward what? Our hearts are restless, Augustine said, until they rest in God.
You may or may not believe in a God but I think we all seek a deeper place, we all strive, whether by our own best lights and through our own distinctive gifts, or, as some of us may believe, also cooperating with the gift of God’s grace, or, as others of us may believe, also benefiting in this life from merits accumulated in our previous lives. We all strive, as Bernard Lonergan put it, to be more attentive, more intelligent, more reasonable, more responsible. We strive and we reach, not just for the next problem to solve, but we intend in that striving, beyond all finite problems, to approach a mystery that envelops and animates our curiosity and our very zest for living.
You may or may not believe in a God but I think we are all, in a sense, people of faith — even though we don’t have the same beliefs. We may be Baptists or Catholics, Jews or Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims, Native Peoples or Zoroastrians, ethical humanists or something else. But I think we are all, in a sense, people of faith. Faith as what David Tracy called a fundamental trust in the worthwhileness of being at all. Fundamental trust in the intelligibility of reality, so that our research, scholarship and creative investigations strike us as worth pursuing at all. Fundamental trust that we can, somehow, despite so much evidence to the contrary, do something good, do something well, translate our own bests gifts into effective contributions to a world in need, a world beyond our parochial selves and our narrow zones of comfort.
This fundamental trust, this experienced primary stance toward the world, will be expressed in vastly varied beliefs, words, bodies of knowledge and systems of thought and practice. Within the university, we can and must defend, debate and critique beliefs and claims in dialogue with one another, and be open to revising them and changing our minds if that’s where the conversation takes us. Beliefs, in the course of our dialogues, may come and go, may be deemed more or less adequate as ways of expressing our experience of faith, but this faith, this fundamental trust in the worthwhileness of being here at all, and of entering into study together — this abides. This is us.
You may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us. You may take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. You may be a devotee of Ganesha or Krishna. You may believe that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. You may recite, “ Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” You may with Freud believe that religion is a mass delusion. You may with Feuerbach believe that religion alienates humans from their own best qualities, by projecting these qualities onto a fictional god, while calling humans depraved sinners. You may with Marx believe that religion is an opiate that serves to sanction and legitimate an oppressive political and economic status quo. This diversity of beliefs is us, too.
But, still, I think we are people of faith, people who fundamentally trust that this life is worth living, worth caring about, that our studies are worth pursuing, even when our beliefs seem miles apart. Interfaith organizations like the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Interfaith Youth Core would say it is naïve at best and oppressive at worst to announce in advance some common ground in matters of religious belief, some content-specific sameness that ignores these perhaps incommensurable beliefs. But they would say, and I would agree, that we might still hope for and work toward instances of convergence of at least some ethical commitments and cooperative actions in this, our shared word.
At Dominican, we can all, I think, translate our fundamental trust into beliefs that express our understandings of caritas and veritas, of love and truth, as manifested within our own distinctive ways of participating in our shared university context, and this indeed is the rich bounty that awaits us for the rest of this symposium today.
Returning to Kierkegaard, I would like at this time to propose an institutional name change. We’ve been St. Clara’s, Rosary and Dominican, and I’d like to suggest that we now become — Soren’s Teahouse. Kierkegaard loved tea and he knew that many of us would, too. So he asked us to imagine brewing a cup of tea, savoring it and being nourished by it. Then we’re done and we’re gone. But another person comes along and fills the cup again, reusing the old tea leaves, then drinks and departs. Still another comes and does the same, and so it continues. People keep coming and they think they’re drinking tea but of course, now it’s just water.
We should not live diluted lives, and we cannot be nourished by mimicking someone else’s authentic prior choices. We need to think and live and brew for ourselves. So, Soren’s Teahouse. But here we’ll come and drink together, exchange favorite teas, create new blends, have good conversations, and decide what we need to do together, for the benefit of this our shared world. Soren’s Teahouse, or at least Soren’s Tearoom — a common space for the common good, a tearoom for savoring the flavors of authenticity while conspiring to, as Catherine said, let the virtues shine in us and then set the world on fire, or with Thich Nhat Hanh, vow to work for the liberation of all sentient beings. At least think about it.
I think we have reason to hope, even in spite of our all-too-human failings, our distortions and pride, our self-trivialization and our self-deception, our scapegoating and our boundary making. I think we have reason to hope that in our teaching and learning, through our wonderfully vast array of methods and practices, we will together create conditions for the possibility of the pursuit of truth, of depth, of ultimacy, of the why at all. In our work together, the transmission of current or past knowledge or truth claims will be necessary but not sufficient. There will be more: In our teaching and learning there will be an experience, a marvelous interactive dialogue between first, our fundamental desire to know and to live a good and ethically responsible life, and second, the things we study and create, and third, our friends, those other teachers and learners who join us in the dialogue, and fourth, our shared world outside the university, filled with knowledge and insight, as well as suffering and injustice, and posing the question: Now, what are we prepared to do?
But let’s know from the start that this work is tremendous, and awesome, and not for the faint of heart. We dare to pursue truth, and when we penetrate the appearances and look beneath the surfaces, we may not like what we see. And if we are in a dialogue, we may not like what others see in us or challenge us to reconsider.
Thomas said that listening to others is necessary, and so it must be. We need to consider what Wolfhart Pannenberg called “exocentricy,” namely that I come to know myself not simply by myself, but also through my interactions with others, who may see and name things about me that I cannot or will not see, who may experience the truth I perform as being quite different, in actuality, from the truth I would claim to believe. And since the pursuit of truth is a dialogue, we must intend deliberately and explicitly to enter into conversation with precisely those others who may reveal our blind spots, our perhaps unintended and unwitting bigotries, stereotypes, errors and false assumptions — others, living and dead, in classrooms, books and scattered historical fragments we must want to retrieve. As Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza has reminded us, our listening should seek out the marginalized voices of our all-too-suffering world, and retrieve where we can voices from the past that have been excluded from received canons, including sacred texts and their authoritative interpretations.
But our truth seeking, truth telling and true listening is not mean spirited, vindictive or unforgiving. Instead, it happens in a profoundly distinctive way at Dominican University: It is infused with love. We love what we study, we love our educational mission, and our deep personal regard for one another is real and sustaining. And while we learn from colleagues elsewhere, we are not a cookie cutter university that mimics uncritically what other schools do. We don’t drink that Kool-Aid; rather, we brew our own tea, Soren-style. We are Dominican, and yes, we are “a distinctively relationship-centered educational community.” The Sinsinawa Dominican sisters have seen to that. They are a gift and a force and an inspiration to the rest of us.
Hugh McElwain was dean of Rosary College before me, and when I was interviewing for the opportunity to work here, having met already with many other wonderful people I have since come to treasure as colleagues, I came back to campus and met with him. Mac said something extraordinary, and I will never forget that moment. He said, you have to love the students. He didn’t know me that well, he thought I might misunderstand, and so he winced slightly and said it again: You kind of have to love them a little.
Students, every office in this university is here because of you. Know that when we push you, it’s because we have the highest of hopes for you. And when we hold you to high standards, it’s because we hold ourselves to them as well. So when we challenge you, listen, but we will listen too. We believe in you, and we love you.
Friends, have a wonderful, joyous day. It’s tea time.