The Indispensable Prerequisite of Creativity
Thank you, President Rooney, for your warm and appreciative words and for your vision and leadership.
Good afternoon. I am pleased to join virtually with you today to discuss the future of the academic enterprise at Loyola University Chicago.
A strong faculty creates a culture that makes a university great. The more I have learned about the work of the faculty at Loyola, the greater my gratitude has grown. So has my excitement for the possibilities of what we can accomplish together in mission.
Through research and scholarship, you—the Loyola faculty—have been adding knowledge to disciplines and building bridges across academic boundaries. In your mentorship of students and partnerships with colleagues, you have built a culture of collaboration that generates innovative thinking and action across specialties and schools. And you have created a sacred space of civil discourse. Students from diverse backgrounds seek ways to understand each other, ponder deep questions, and become persons for others.
Thank you for welcoming me so warmly into your intellectual community. And a special thank you for all you have done since my arrival to Loyola! Six weeks after I arrived in the beginning of February, the pandemic hit, and most students, faculty, and staff left our campuses and began working remotely, transitioning to online learning. Those events taught me a few more things about the qualities of this community and the way that the values of mission bound us together. I learned that Loyola was innovation-minded and that we could be nimble. Our students performed well and expressed high levels of satisfaction with their online experience. That was a testament to you. Because of your herculean efforts, we were even more prepared for mostly online instruction this semester. Because of that work, we are better prepared for a future that will likely be forever altered.
I heard many stories through the spring and summer about the extra miles that you went to support each other. And I heard how you connected, comforted, and cared for your students. I will share one with you. In the College of Arts and Sciences, Jack Cragwall, an associate professor of English, sent recipes to his students when classes moved online. Jack wrote to them that he wished he could cook for them, “in the same way your grandmothers might have.” He told them how important is to know that we will endure.
Another story related to Jack was that he shared with his students that some giants of history knew something about what they were going through. And these giants used the opportunity to transform the world for better. The first giant was the great poet John Milton. When sent home from the University of Cambridge for a year when it closed because of the plague, he read endlessly in almost every language available to a 17th-century Englishman. This reading gave Milton the basis to write the greatest poem in our language. Milton’s classmate, Isaac Newton, used the isolation of quarantine to invent calculus, optics, and the theory of gravity.
Jack then directed his students to Eve’s final words from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Eve and Adam were contemplating their imminent exile from Eden. Eve then said, “With thee to goe, / Is to stay here; without thee here to stay, / Is to go hence unwilling.” Thus, Eve was saying that her bond with Adam was her paradise. Eve was therefore reminding us that human bonds were what made space, not just something that people occupy.
The caring and compassion of Jack’s story with his students touched me. I loved how he used the experience of dislocation to reflect on the meanings and the possibilities that it presented. The notion of place and our attachment to it are things that all of us, not just Jack’s students, reflected upon these past few months. Our University is not just campuses and buildings. We are an intellectual nexus where cultures, ideas, disciplines, and people connect with one another to inquire, to teach, to create, and to transmit knowledge.
Jack’s story reminds me our University is a place where we care for and try to understand each other. We collaborate around deep questions and tough problems, and we foster inquiry and discourse that crosses academic, cultural, and political boundaries. These collaborations go on regardless of physical place. What we have learned is that our work is not so much about a campus as much as it is about intentional connection and collaboration.
Caring for others at the time of this pandemic is more essential than ever. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities and gargantuan challenges of our time. These challenges are deep and existential for humanity. They include, for example, climate change, income inequality, health disparities, and racism. This latter challenge was emphasized recently by the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake. These events are harsh reminders of the need for us to face and find ways to heal the pervasive damage inflicted by racism. How absurd that gloomy events like these are still with us on the 150th birthday of Loyola University Chicago. Hence, the challenge before us in the next 150 years is bringing vibrant programs of research and education to bear on the most urgent and complex issues of our time.
Loyola is already a university that cares about others, especially the poor and the marginalized in society. We believe that stretching down and lifting people up is the unsurpassed workout for the heart. And this belief is not just words for us, many faculty members and academic units of Loyola live it. However, the time has come to bring this belief to next level. Our proposed and present efforts are to turn a portion of the University towards those urgent and complex issues afflicting society. We will construct new units dedicated to examining and proposing solutions to these issues. And because they are complex, we envision that faculty from different disciplines and schools will execute the labor in these units.
How do we march towards this new Loyola? We need many changes in structure and culture, and we have started implementing these modifications. For example, over the summer, I announced changes in the Office of the Provost to enhance academic quality, strengthen faculty research, and tie the work of our campuses more closely together. These new collaborative structures will promote innovative multidisciplinary research and education. We will enhance our coordinated approach to graduate education, strategy, faculty affairs, research, and global and community engagement.
In another step in the march towards a new Loyola, we consolidated the centers at the Health Science Campus. The centers were reorganized within and among the Stritch School of Medicine, the Niehoff School of Nursing, and the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. The reorganization will facilitate greater thought and research collaboration among health specialties. These changes advance us closer to a united and more deeply collaborative Loyola. The centers will report to the three deans, who will harmonize the work of these centers with other schools across the University.
Another example of the willingness of our Loyola units to collaborate is the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health. Parkinson was founded in 2018 as just such a space, knitting together interrelated fields to address health care delivery and public health disparities. This school harnesses the strength of our health sciences faculty. In addition, Parkinson draws upon the expertise of faculty in the biological sciences, business, social work, psychology, law, political science, environmental science, and other specialties. This multidisciplinary faculty collaborates around the multifaceted issues of equity in health care access and delivery.
The Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise and Responsibility is another unit structured for collaboration across a wide range of disciplines and external entities. Baumhart promotes social business in the service of a just, humane, and sustainable world. The work of Baumhart emanates from expertise from within the Quinlan School of Business. However, Baumhart draws expertise from across the University. This expertise comes from the humanities, environmental science, and social work, along with the Loyola community. Baumhart operates through programs that create a rich array of dialogue and practice in the skills, knowledge, and networks to integrate business strategy with social purpose.
Another example of interdisciplinary collaboration at Loyola is the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, affectionately called IES. This Institute was founded in 2014 to collaborate across the University and with external partners in understanding and responding to local and global environmental issues. IES delivers core courses that raise scientific literacy, awareness, and action for all Loyola undergraduates. The Institute also prepares graduate students for socially responsible professions in environmental science. Moreover, through research, IES is advancing our knowledge of environmental problems and solutions through original research and community outreach. In a remarkable way, IES has advanced sustainability across our campuses and developed an environmentally conscious culture throughout the University. IES exemplifies the idea of One Loyola. The integrative, cross-disciplinary approach in this Institute provides a rich, contextualized, and transformational educational experience grounded in an intentionally collaborative approach, teaching and research excellence, experiential learning, and student entrepreneurial action.
Now, I am taping this address to the Loyola Faculty Convocation on September 8, 2020. In two days from now, Loyola’s Board of Trustees will vote on whether to transition the Institute to the School of Environmental Sustainability. Of course, I do not know the outcome of the vote on the School, but I have decided to go on a limb here. Congratulations Nancy Tuchman, the founding dean of the new School of Environmental Sustainability. You did it! (Editor’s note: The creation of the School of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago was approved by the Board of Trustees on September 10, 2020.)
Last year, we decided to expand the interdisciplinary, socially important work such as those in Parkinson, Baumhart, and IES. We continued to challenge ourselves in our strategic planning to greater permeability of thought and actions among our schools and departments. The deans have taken up the challenge. In the year since they have been immersed in discussions on a template for our strategic plan. With a document titled “For the Greater Good,” the deans outlined a University-wide approach to deepen the education that we offer students. We would also strengthen our research capabilities and connect us as One Loyola in community centered engagement and global outreach. The Greater Good work has been a success, developing several new academic programs across the University.
Earlier this year, I have proposed that Loyola deliberately develop large entities like Parkinson, Baumhart, and IES as a standard at the University. Let Loyola build more interdisciplinary units dealing directly with the biggest urgent and complex problems of the world. Let us think big in what we build in this front. Let us become a model for other universities, so other scholars and students would like to come here for our great social experiment. This experiment will change how we educate our students and how we do research. We will become a highly research-active university with a focus on the world. We will position ourselves to address collaboratively the most urgent and complex issues facing our world today. These issues will include violence, migration, climate change, health disparities, racism, and social and economic injustice.
The first outcome of this proposal is the establishment of the Institute for Racial Justice under the leadership of Dean Malik Henfield of the School of Education. The Institute for Racial Justice will be the first of its kind at a Jesuit university. This Institute will contribute to anti-racism efforts within the University, the city of Chicago, the nation, and the world. The earliest ministries of the Society of Jesus were devoted to reconciliation and peacemaking across the world. These ministries took special care for the poor and the outcast, the sick and the imprisoned. Today, Black and Brown Americans are as a population the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the imprisoned.
Even in our Chicago neighborhoods, systemic racism is rampant. Take for example the Streeterville and Englewood neighborhoods of Chicago. The former is a community of mostly white, prosperous, college-educated families residing along the shore of Lake Michigan. The latter is an underprivileged, primarily Black neighborhood in the shadow of Interstate 94. Babies born in Streeterville and Englewood, eight miles apart, could anticipate a life expectancy of 90 and 60, respectively. The pandemic is likely to widen the gap. Englewood had one established death from COVID-19 for each 559 inhabitants, while Streeterville had just one established death for each 8,107 inhabitants. Children do not select their birthplace, but their parents’ ZIP code has an outrageous influence on the quality and length of life that these youngsters can expect to live.
We cannot countenance the continued injustices, violence, and exclusion against people of color. And we cannot ignore the disfigurement of the perpetrators and the bystanders. And the sin of ignoring these injustices would be much worse for us because they are happening in our own backyards.
With the Institute for Racial Justice, the University makes the strongest possible commitment that an institution of higher education can implement to combat this social malady. The Institute will be promoting research, academic program development, and civic engagement centered on anti-racism. These activities ground themselves in the Jesuit ideal of accompaniment in the conviction that research combined with action is transformational. Therefore, these activities are radically transformative because the object of study and interaction are neither abstract nor unreachable. The suffering of those whose dignity and well-being have been hindered systematically is never distant.
This commitment stems from a moral truth for Loyola: Black lives matter. We must live in this truth and act on it. The development of the Institute occurs arm-in-arm with deepened efforts to increase the diversity of our faculty and address racism in our campus community. Of these anti-racist initiatives, the Institute is the one that is the most outward-facing. Similar in concept to IES, the Institute will be an interdisciplinary entity that will draw upon the expertise of the entire Loyola faculty and will invite the involvement of programs, departments, and schools across the University. Racism permeates all aspects of public and private life and requires an integrative and inclusive approach to draw upon a plurality of disciplines and skills to produce new understandings and effective practices.
The aspiration of the Institute for Racial Justice is to inspire every member of the Loyola community. The Institute aims to touch the lives of students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as alumni, donors, and friends. Its goal is to understand racism in all its forms. The central question is how does racism work in concert with intersecting systems of oppression to produce the stark and morally abhorrent inequalities that we see around us?
As I close my remarks, let me remind you that the Institute for Racial Justice is just one step in a great march toward fulfilling a grand vision for Loyola. The academic vision that we have proposed for Loyola is to marshal our considerable passions, expertise, and compassion toward the most urgent and complex problems burdening society. As faculty, you should shed your intelligence upon social realities and use your influence to transform them. Thus, notwithstanding envisaging an interdisciplinary University, we still need your disciplinary powers. Interdisciplinarity is only outstanding upon a solid disciplinary foundation. And bring to bear all the creativity that you can muster, for faculty and the students are the creative might of a university. If we are going to unravel the toughest problems, we must have audacity to let go of certitudes. Such audacity is the indispensable prerequisite of creativity.