The Heart of the University: Reflections on Values and Vision
Sister Francesca, Sister Maureen, Faculty and Staff of Holy Family University, Guests and Friends of the University, and Faculty Award Recipients:
I am honored to celebrate with you tonight, and to bring greetings and congratulations from your colleagues at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Tonight, we join the Holy Family community in applauding those faculty honored for Distinguished Teaching, Anniversaries of Appointment, Completion of Terminal Degrees, and Special Service. In honoring these faculty, the University celebrates what it values: Teaching, Scholarship and Service.
In preparing my reflections, I became familiar with Holy Family University, and I recognized how similar we are. Holy Family and Carlow Universities share a common profile, common goals, a common calling, a common vision, and common challenges. We both began as small, Catholic, liberal arts based colleges, established for the purpose of education women in the values and traditions of our founders. We both recently accepted the challenge of transitioning to University status. We are both Masters’ 1 Comprehensive institutions, serving between two and three thousand+ students, many of whom are commuters and first generation college learners. We both emphasize the role of faculty as excellent teachers, and we both commit to the vitality of the faculty. We both understand the need for faculty development, especially for our newer faculty, and we both recognize faculty achievements, such as we celebrate tonight. We both employ the Boyer model of scholarship with appropriate adaptations to our unique contexts and cultures. We pursue the same goals and values in similar contexts, and our Mission Statements and Core Values are powerful testaments to who we are.
Thus, for me, this evening is a family visit to relatives on the other side of the State, in another city on the water with a name which also begins with ‘P’ and with a long history of successful sports teams! Those common ‘town’ characteristics aside, this visit allows me to be with brothers and sisters engaged in similar ‘gown’ pursuits.
In the spirit of full disclosure prior to sharing the content of my reflections, I tell you the context of my experience and my discipline from which I speak. I have been a faculty member, a hybrid ‘faculty-administrator’, a dean at a community college, an adjunct faculty member, the chancellor of a campus of a major public research university, and now president of a private Catholic institution. I have experienced higher education from both sides: as full and part time faculty, as faculty and administrator, in public and private institutions, from community colleges to university, at local and national levels, at research and liberal arts schools…and even as college professional and as parent whose children attended college. But, more important than this broad range of experience in shaping my reflections, is the powerful influence of my discipline on how I view and analyze the world at large, life in general, and higher education in particular. I am a philosopher by education, by experience and by preference…and my reflections emerge from that perspective.
Tonight I share some thoughts with you on love, on the 3 R’s, and on V-8…all in the context of values and vision.
Since we celebrated Valentine’s Day yesterday, it is appropriate to talk about love. On Valentine’s Day, the dominant theme is love; the dominant color is red; and the dominant symbol is the heart. February 14th is the single day for a national focus on the love in our lives…that love which we give and that which we receive. Yet we live this love everyday. Tonight’s institutional celebration honors faculty for love and daily commitment to excellence in their profession and vocation. In comparing this to the faculty’s role at the University, I believe that faculty must be philosophers (lovers of wisdom) and must love what they do. Faculty must daily demonstrate the red badge of courage in facing their challenges. And faculty must be and be recognized as the heart of the institution.
Love is a complex term, with several levels of meaning: eros (carnal love and physical pursuit), philos (intellectual love and the pursuit of wisdom), and agape (brotherly love and selfless pursuit of the good of others). This third level is often called the greatest love since it includes willingness to lay down one’s life for another. However, laying down one’s life might not actually require dying. Rather, it can mean giving of self, giving up self, daily focusing self on the needs of others. I propose that the second and third meanings of love can be related to what faculties do. They dedicate their lives to intellectual pursuit, and they share that knowledge with others so that others may live more fully through their joint pursuit of truth. The philosopher/theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, claimed as his motto: “To contemplate, and to share with others the fruits of one’s contemplation.” This is not unlike what faculty do.
To be a teacher is to educate (from the Latin e(x)-ducare: to lead out), to elicit deeper levels of understanding of truth (veritas), to surface what one’s innate reason can encounter and experience. Socrates did this through the process of questioning, of urging us to exercise our reasoning powers to enrich our human lives. Faculty share his conviction that “the unexamined life is not worth living”; that seeking, shaping and sharing knowledge contributes to the fulfillment of the human person.
Faculty are the heart, the essential core, of the university. In their pivotal role, they directly engage students in seeking knowledge through learning. Faculty’s governance responsibility requires them to shape the core and program specific curriculum and competencies. It is their vocation to carry the mission of the university into the learning process, and to express in their teaching the university’s fundamental values. By being lovers of knowledge and facilitators of learning, faculty model values for students and other faculty. Such commitment requires vigor and a strong profession of faith in their ability to know and to teach, and in the ability of their students to learn. Those who so profess this commitment to their disciplines, their colleagues and their students, we call professors. They view students as learners and not as consumers; they profess that education is a life-long process and not a product to be purchased; and they engage themselves and their students in this endeavor. Their on-going pursuit of knowledge in and for their discipline is demonstrated in their commitment to scholarship. Students rate such faculty at the highest level in student satisfaction surveys because they recognize that these faculty love learning and love leading others to learning.
I now present a few thoughts on the 3 R’s…but not on the ones you usually connect with that quip. Rather, I reference the Confucian model of ethical relationships grounded in mutually binding rights and responsibilities. Within the university, faculty have rights which become the responsibility of administration to honor and respect. Administration has rights, which become the responsibility of faculty to honor and respect. Students and faculty, students and administration also have mutually binding rights and responsibilities. It is not my intention to discuss these rights and responsibilities tonight, but rather to point out a fact about the university which cannot be ignored.
We are a community in relationship with each other, hence our mutually binding rights and responsibilities more clearly define that relationship. However, within community (which means ‘one with others’), no one person or group survives or fully functions in isolation from the others in the united body. We do not work effectively or collegially in silos or in a vacuum. Your University’s stated ‘Core Values’ clearly express this understanding of mutual respect and responsibility, collaborative dialogue, and interconnectedness. John Henry Newman defines the university as a place of growth in human wisdom on a universal, all-inclusive scale. He claims that the direct end of a university is knowledge, and the role of the university is the formation of the intellect within a quality intellectual milieu for students. This total, universal mission of the university requires us to ‘reach across the aisle’ and engage others outside our disciplines and functions. It requires us to pursue internal partnerships in forming pathways to success. It requires us to recognize that even a heart which is powerful and essential to the body cannot function apart from the body of which it is a part. It requires us to pursue excellence in every function, from teaching to support services, from front line to back office. It requires us to recognize and welcome the work of others in making a total difference for our students.
I take some liberty with John Donne’s poem to match it to this message: No one is an island; no one works alone. Each one’s work is help to me; each one’s goal is my own.
A final word on Vision as it relates to the 3 R’s. At our emerging universities, we are in transition. Thus, we must consider what will be our future, knowing that change will be an inevitable means to our ends. We must be willing to accept change not as a crisis, but as a part of the process of growth and learning. However, we must be vigilant to monitor and manage change so that we insure the fundamentals on which we stand.
Finally, I told you I would speak about V-8, or eight V’s…and I have done so throughout my reflections on both love and the 3 R’s. I summarize them here in the context of tonight’s celebration.
I end with a special message to the faculty from Sir Thomas More. In the play/film “A Man for All Seasons”, Thomas is approached by Richard Rich for support in Richard’s goal to hold public office. Thomas, who well knew Richard’s tendency to self-centered ambition, urged him to choose a profession where the focus would be on others. He told Richard to “be a teacher”. Richard’s response was “And if I be a teacher, who would notice?” Thomas’s answer captures what we all know: “You, your students, your God. What better public than that?”
- Values: we congratulate faculty on upholding the University’s values in their teaching.
- Veritas: we join faculty in their pursuit of truth as they exhibit their love of wisdom.
- Vocation: we recognize that faculty are called to serve others through their seeking, shaping and sharing knowledge.
- Vigor: we thank faculty for their strong commitment to their disciplines and to the mission of the University.
- Vitality: we recognize that a strong faculty, engaged and supported, is the heart of the University.
- Valor: we respect the faculty’s courage in daily meeting the challenges of focusing students’ attention on their learning.
- Voice: we hear the faculty’s voice in shared governance as an essential part of the University’s mission, and we respect all voices of the community, recognizing that our strength is in fostering relationships rather than festering in vacuums.
- Vision: we will move forward through transitions, not afraid of change but vigilant that change will not compromise our integrity and values.
-- Dr. Mary Hines, President, Carlow University