Monday, August 26, 2013

Practical Proposals for Transforming Jesuit Higher Education at Saint Louis University

 by Claude Pavur, S.J.

Under the charge of the highest legislative body in the Society, Jesuits are told to assist, even as individuals, in guiding the university to its proper objectives.*  Toward this end, I have drawn up some proposals that I hope will help promote the thinking, planning, and restructuring that seems necessary at this time. The proximate stimulus for this set of reflections was Fr. John Padberg’s talk of March 25, 2013, “The Meaning and Purpose of the University,” a large-scale overview that left me wondering about practical details and the next specific steps.

1. An explicitly revised, stated understanding about the nature and details of the Society’s role in the administration of the University. The Board of Trustees could explicitly renegotiate the working (but not the legal) understandings of the idea of “separate incorporation” announced at Saint Louis University in January of 1967. It is very likely that some kind of meaningful, directive supervision by the Society was envisioned by Jesuit universities and colleges in the original intention to have Jesuit presidents. Even where this no longer holds, the spirit of the original charter could be seriously compromised if there is virtually no vital line of supervision to deal with mission-critical details in a timely way. For the sake of authentic partnership with the Society and for the sake of the identity and effectiveness of the institution, the Board could rethink and formally recognize ways in which the Jesuit order, even apart from any given President and Jesuit board members, must be given a definite moral weight and even structured practical involvement in mission-critical matters. The Board could work out in partnership with the Society to the satisfaction of both parties ways to achieve the “periodic evaluation and accountability to the Society” that are called for by Decree 17 of GC 34.* The envisioned arrangement will give the university an added level of oversight that will help prevent any deformation or mismanagement of the mission.

2. Restructuring the understanding of the presidency.  The Board could explicitly distribute authority in the university and craft an understanding of the presidency in such a way that the scope of the office would lie midway between the two extremes of quasi-dictatorial power on the one hand and purely ceremonial functionality on the other. The Board might set a base term-limit that could be extended for compelling reasons under a strong consensus of Board and University sectors. Such an arrangement would help to keep the president accountable to the wider university community without removing the authority necessary for leadership with respect to mission.

3. A standing structure to speak for the Society. The Board could formally write into its charter its expectations of the proper oversight by the Society and propose means by which the university can better hear the voice of the Society, even where there is not total consensus on issues at hand (e.g., What should the Core Curriculum include in light of the Jesuit character of the institution?). The Society should be capable of making competent, well-informed, well-grounded, well-deliberated judgments about Jesuit higher education in any of the directions, details, procedures, and contents that bear on the substance, quality, and reputation of Jesuit education. Some standing Jesuit structure could be created to study and debate the issues and then make its opinions known.

4. A faculty governing board with its own administrative powers. The faculty, particularly that which is engaged in teaching at the undergraduate level, could be corporately authorized (perhaps through its own administrative board, one that has its own discretionary budgetary powers and that is superior to all other academic governing bodies in the institution) to discern the educational needs of the students and to discover and enact the ways in which those needs can best be fulfilled in the context of the Jesuit tradition, its history, and its authentic development. Such a board could also work out explicit ways to consult with the Society about relevant issues, under that “periodic evaluation and accountability” mentioned by Decree 17 of GC 34.  This proposal would lead to a greater shared moral unity and purpose of the faculty and allow them to better fulfill the fiduciary responsibilities they have for educating the next generations.

5. Proper formation for leadership in Jesuit education. The university has the right to expect proper guidance from the Society.  It has the right to require of its leaders the background and training necessary for mission-critical matters, just as it has the right to require the proper training of its faculty. This is a very large question for the formational sector of the Society. The university could make its own leadership needs and expectations explicitly known to the Society so that the Society might adjust its formational programs in a properly collaborative spirit.

These five proposals or something along similar lines seem absolutely essential for a truly desirable and well-rounded transformation of Jesuit higher education at Saint Louis University (and probably elsewhere as well). These proposals aim not only at structured solutions for a more adequate sharing of power and oversight at the university but also at the responsible fulfillment of its mission as a Jesuit institution.

 * The text reads as follows:  “The complexity of a Jesuit university can call for new structures of government and control on the part of the Society in order to preserve its identity and at the same time allow it to relate effectively to the academic world and the society of which it is part, including the Church and the Society of Jesus. More specifically, in order for an institution to call itself Jesuit, periodic evaluation and accountability to the Society are necessary in order to judge whether or not its dynamics are being developed in line with the Jesuit mission. The Jesuits who work in these universities, both as a community and as individuals, must actively commit themselves to the institution, assisting in its orientation, so that it can achieve the objectives desired for it by the Society.”  (From Decree 17 of General Congregation 34, “Jesuits and University Life,” Number 9.) 

First composed, March 27, 2013; revised August 14 to 20, 2013.