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We Are Called

Remarks by Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, President of Loyola University Chicago

Faculty Convocation, September 15, 2019

 

Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome new and returning faculty from our three Chicagoland campuses, along with staff and guests. It is wonderful being here with all of you.

Today is our opportunity to come together and recognize some exceptional faculty for their work, to say “thank you” to them and the rest of our faculty for the work you do every day. We are honoring faculty for excellence in teaching, for the care they show to our students, and for research that is transforming lives and communities, shaping disciplines, and altering the landscape of higher education. As a community, our sincerest congratulations and gratitude go to the award recipients today. You represent to everyone the best of higher education and why it is so critical in our society and to our democracy. Through your work, you define the hallmarks that distinguish Loyola Chicago from other institutions. You inspire all of us. Please know how grateful we are.

Thank you, Dr. Callahan, for your remarks and leadership. You provided updates on the ways we are continuing to build on a tradition of faculty excellence and support our students in ways that will continue improving their experiences, their retention, and their ability to graduate with a degree. Your enthusiasm and passion for the opportunities that will engage all of us in the upcoming strategic planning process is infectious. Bringing together our work last year as a community on the Examen and the challenges we identified in living our Jesuit Catholic Mission, along with the Universal Apostolic Preferences shared by Father General Sosa that call us to find ways to commit more deeply to our serving our students, communities, and common home, establishes a wonderful foundation on which to commence our strategic planning work. As you heard, this planning process is being designed to engage with as many members of our community as possible. As Loyola has demonstrated in the past, our strategic plans come alive and guide our work. They define how we will live out our calling as a university and apostolic work of the Society of Jesus, and how we will make a difference. Please seize upon the many opportunities that will be available to become involved. Thank you, in advance, to everyone who will participate in this planning and for the time and talent you will share to develop our plan.

Before I continue further, I do want to take a moment to offer a special note of gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Callahan. Margaret continues to be an invaluable colleague to so many of us as she has throughout her tenure at Loyola Chicago. She has provided our academic enterprise with engaged and energetic leadership while juggling the demands of multiple roles. She continues to serve in the role of interim provost and has done so for almost two years; she has also enthusiastically embraced her new role as senior vice president for strategy and innovation. Anyone who has taken the time to get to know Margaret realizes that she possesses a deep understanding of the Jesuit mission--not only of its foundational principles, but also of the ways it continually adapts to meet the needs of a changing world. She models the empathy, deep listening, and inclusion that helps find the greater good in discernment and decision-making. While we know you are looking forward to the naming of our new provost and transitioning from that role, Margaret, we do want to thank you for your work as chief academic officer, for saying “yes” to drawing on your experiences with developing strategies and stimulating innovation and leading these efforts across all of our campuses in a collaborative and inclusive way. This new strategic plan, the focus of this year, will certainly guide us in articulating where and how we are being called.

 Great universities are places that intentionally seek to engage diversity in all of its forms. They are, ideally, places where we seek ways to understand each other, where we can ponder deep questions, where we can promote dialogue and discourse that crosses academic, cultural, and political boundaries. While sharing these ideals, great universities are also unique and distinctive from each other. How our institutions, through their people, engage with the world makes all the difference.

At Loyola Chicago, intellectual and cultural pluralism is grounded in values of respect and inclusion and a restless inclination to find the deeper truths around us—“God in all things.” Our mission—our calling as members of a Jesuit institution—demands much of us. It demands that we act, not just speak, in ways that embrace the world. It requires us to engage with those around us and seek truth through inquiry of both the spiritual and the secular. It is about the systematic intentionality of doing good for others, of moving the world—in our place and our time—toward greater peace and economic equity. It is about responding in ways that result in fuller health for people and sustainable health for our planet. It is about discovering a deeper meaning and understanding of our lives and our world.

It is good to come together to celebrate and to share this work. It is appropriate to pause and focus for a time on where and how we have lived up to our potential and fulfilled our mission, where we have made a difference. We draw energy and motivation from this, to do more. It is also a good time, as we reflect, to consider the challenges we continue to face or where we may have fallen short.

We are witnessing and experiencing a time marked by deep fractures across our country and throughout our world. Yet in finding our path forward, our calling to engage with this world in all of its turmoil and all of its greatness, we must recognize and acknowledge the privileged position that we hold as educators and people who have had access to education. Being here together, as members of this university, this Jesuit apostolate, we are saying yes to the expectations required of us and that our privilege demands. Through rigorous study, fearless conversation, and reasoned, respectful discourse, we are entrusted with nurturing new generations of educated citizens, discerning new insights and new ways of thinking, developing new techniques and new technologies, creating new approaches to difficult problems. It is magis in motion, channeling through layers of complexity and ambiguity, all with the intent of addressing urgent educational, social, and human issues. We are called to challenge boundaries, go to margins where others have not gone. We are called to push and expand the frontiers of knowledge and action.

The peer visitor report, completed last spring as part of our Mission Priority Examen, affirmed the quality of teaching and scholarship across our University. In particular, our peer reviewers cited students’ frequently reported experiences of coming to know the mission through the example and mentorship of their professors. Our visiting committee also lauded the University’s ongoing commitment to social justice rooted in faith, diversity of thought, and the central place of the liberal arts and humanities in Jesuit education. Just this week, I learned that Father General Sosa, the leader of the Society of Jesus, has enthusiastically accepted our Examen and reaffirmed our commitment to the Jesuit mission and apostolic work as an educational institution. He particularly acknowledged how we have committed to challenge ourselves, over the next five years, to redefine our own boundaries and margins and his strong support for our ambition and articulation for this vision.

Last year on this occasion, I shared with you some reflections from an international meeting in which Father Sosa called upon Jesuit universities worldwide to work toward reconciliation. In the time since then we are reminded on an almost daily basis what an urgent calling and daunting challenge that is for all of us. Since then, I have issued statements mourning lives lost through acts of mass violence in a mosque in New Zealand, in a church in Sri Lanka, and in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In the same period, I have issued statements expressing solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and statements of support for our DACA students and immigrant families.

University presidents are often called upon to comment on current events. I will continue to speak out, when appropriate, about injustice and violence in the world, particularly when our statements can be supported by definitive actions and not just angry words of solidarity, thoughts and prayers. However, just issuing statements about tragedy and injustice is not the calling of our University, nor of me as our president. It is too easy for us to add our comments to a cacophony of others and feel in some way as though we did our part, took a stand and will impact change through our mere words. The lists grow long with each successive horrible tragedy but are soon forgotten when the next tragedy strikes, which it does with predictable regularity.

In the words of Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the former Father General of the Jesuits, “Every Jesuit academic institution of higher learning is called to live in a social reality… and to live for that social reality, to shed university intelligence on it, and to use university influence to transform it.”

In short, it is easy to just talk. The more that university presidents—the more that I on behalf of Loyola University Chicago—have to confirm formal opposition to sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism, white supremacy, misogyny, domestic terrorism, or any of the social malignancies that tear at our democracy, the more ineffective such statements become. Make no mistake, we are vehemently in opposition to each and every one of these. However, our society does not need more statements from me. It needs more education and action from all of us.

Let us model respectful discourse and the healthy debate that marks the work of the University. The value of academic freedom lies in getting closer to what is true and good, a result of the uninhibited pursuit of knowledge and the testing of ideas and theories. This is especially true at a Jesuit university. This is our calling, and the free and unencumbered exchange of ideas is essential. It is our calling to show the way, to care and respect each person as a child of God, to educate as a means of promoting deeper understanding, to conduct scholarly inquiry and research that brings light to complex problems and dilemmas, and to act on that knowledge by innovating approaches that will lead to solutions. Together we are responsible for creating the environment that supports and fosters these works, large and small. Each of us must play a part even if, at times, it seems small. As Sister Jean challenged us, say good morning and offer a smile to people you may not know. That simple act of kindness may be just what is needed to allow someone to feel valued and included. Take time to talk with a student, not just about their inappropriate or insensitive actions but how, as a member of the Loyola community, we expect them to challenge their peers from doing the same. Finally, exercise your right and obligation to vote. Our democracy is strengthened only when all of us participate. Here at Loyola, it is only together that we can foster a space of clarity and diverse insight, of reasoned discussion, a place of excellence in education where students internalize the skills of critical thinking and listening and the qualities of curiosity, compassion, and intellectual and spiritual resilience.

Continual adaptation is an essential trait of our calling and has been part of the Jesuit tradition since the beginning. This year we will begin the observances and celebrations marking our 150th anniversary as Chicago’s Jesuit University. We trace our evolution, our adaptation, from a regional commuter school to a major global university and through our reflections have some understanding of the influence and impact of our work. In this rich context, we now come together to discern, then develop our next strategic plan. This is a community-wide process, one in which every member of our community is welcome and valued. It cannot be driven by individual agendas and must reflect our collective wisdom and input knowing that we will likely not see the long term benefits of much of the work we will undertake. Developing our next plan is about articulating our lived mission for the next five years, however it is also about building the trajectory of our University for the next 150 years. Our success is dependent upon the substantive input of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners. Collectively, this is our calling.

As your president, I rely deeply on your discernment in my own discernment. If you have actually spent time with me, you would know that my style is collaborative and consultative—one of shared leadership and supportive subsidiarity. Our recent leadership retreat, where the deans led the discussion on a draft academic vision and strategy they developed over the last eight months entitled “The Greater Good,” is a tangible example. My preference is to ascertain the best path forward based on a variety of inputs, acknowledging that, yes, I am ultimately responsible and accountable for this mission and this apostolic work of the Society by also assuring that the university’s resources and structures facilitate educational excellence, foster creativity and innovation, support the work of our students, faculty and staff and appropriately reflect the mission with which we are entrusted.

There is no question that, even though we have enjoyed a period of financial stability, growth in undergraduate student enrollment, and significant investments in programs, facilities, and people, we are facing undeniable headwinds on many fronts. It is easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when we have enjoyed several years of strong entering classes of undergraduate students even while we acknowledge an alarming decrease in graduate student enrollment that has been occurring over a period of many years. It is important to note that this year is the first year where more than 50 percent of our new freshmen come from outside of Illinois. This is not happenstance; it is the result of a very deliberate adjustment in our recruiting practices over the last few years. All of this data has been shared by our CFO, Wayne Magdziarz, during his frequent town halls and department meetings in the past and will, again, be updated and shared this fall when he facilitates discussions about our financial planning and status across all campuses this year. I ask you to please attend these sessions.

When compared to many of our peers, our undergraduate results are unique and directly counter to declining enrollment trends being experienced by so many. These more widespread declines, however, are not at all surprising and have been very predictable. To understand the demographic trends that forebode dramatic changes in the demand for higher education, particularly in the mid-west and north east, I encourage you to read the book by Nathan Grawe entitled Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education published in 2018.

In addition to the demographic trends which we cannot control, we can neither deny nor ignore the changes being driven by employers and our potential students who include recent high school graduates through mid-career professionals. They expect us to innovate and adapt to support rapid technology developments and anticipate how our role must change to best prepare them to meet future needs that are not yet defined. Higher education as a sector is being challenged in ways never before experienced. We need only to look at other sectors, industries or businesses to see how lack of adaptation or being too slow to innovate has had disruptive results.

Consider the changes in health care over the last 15-20 years; look at newspapers, printed media, and the current methods and cycles of media distribution. Consider former technology giants that were considered cutting edge and the first to produce early computers, new technology, and supporting hardware dominance. There are numerous examples and many case studies of former market leaders who failed to adapt, who failed to innovate, who are either no longer in existence or have had to merge with others just to survive. Higher education is not immune and we are experiencing, at a much more rapid rate, these same realities, resulting in closure or consolidation across many institutions in many areas of the country.

So, where do we go from here? How will we proceed? How will we live into being contemplatives in action? We have an opportunity many other institutions do not—that is to leverage our current strong position, our unwavering commitment to our mission and our strategic planning process to define our future. That future begins now. This is not an option for us. It is an imperative. It is what we are being called to do. When the generations that follow us here look back and review how we chose to adapt as the Jesuits have always done so effectively, what will they see? As we strategize, as we innovate, as we think differently, as we challenge ourselves to be bold, we already know there are some fundamental things we must continue to do—things that define who we are, what we are called to do.

We must continue our work to provide substantial financial assistance to support the diversity that is key to academic vitality, depth, and relevance. We are called to develop a plan and the means to achieve it so that no admitted student is unable to attend Loyola due to lack of financial means. Even though our enrollment management team has been able to closely manage our discount rate that directly impacts our net tuition, we still target and achieve the goal that approximately 25 percent of our students are eligible for Pell Grants. This is so important. These students have clearly demonstrated significant financial need. This percentage, 25 percent, is the highest among our Jesuit school peers and something that we are both proud of and committed to continue supporting. The recent U.S. News and World report information also placed us among the top private institutions in the country for graduating our Pell-eligible students.

We must continue to develop a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive student-focused community. We will continue to devote resources, even beyond what we have already done, to increase the diversity and retention of administrators, staff, faculty, and students, and to incorporate impactful practices for inclusion and equity throughout the community. Three years ago, during my inaugural address, I called out the disparity in graduation rates between our students who identified as white and our students of color and challenged all of us to work towards closing that achievement gap. While we are making progress, we have not yet come close to significantly improving these outcomes. We must continue to find ways to support all of our students toward achieving their degrees. Initiatives such as the new Center for Student Assistance and Advocacy, designed to coordinate and integrate student support across all of our campuses and a direct result of the work of last year’s task force, will continue to move us forward. But we have much to do.

We have already identified and have committed to implement the priorities emerging from the Examen process and will embrace the Universal Apostolic Preferences that call us to walk with the poor and marginalized, focus on student formation, care for our common home, and rely on collective discernment and the Spiritual Exercises to guide our decision-making and call to reconciliation.

Through our service, scholarly work, and human solidarity, we will continue to accompany the poor, the sick, migrants and refugees, and work toward greater equity and social justice grounded in faith. We already do this in so many ways but there is always so much more we can do. Thanks to the work of so many of you, later this fall we will publish the first comprehensive compilation of the numerous ways we live into being an anchor institution for Chicago as evidenced by our civic engagement and economic impact.

We will continue to answer the call to develop and grow innovative, mission-aligned academic programs to serve students at every age and every stage of their lives and we will make greater use of technology to bridge distances and enhance online learning to expand access. The law school has shown this year that when we think differently, when we meet the needs of our students, we can change our trajectory and compete successfully. The School of Social Work has made a bold move by developing an on-line bilingual master’s program. Arrupe College, which enrolled its fifth class this fall, was a daring initiative that has already surpassed its goals in creating a new educational model for two-year programs. The first class of students who went on to earn bachelor degrees graduated this past May, four years from when they began at Arrupe. Yet there is so much more to do at Arrupe College and there is so much more that we must share with others to replicate this academic model across the country.

We will continually seek opportunities to engage more deeply with the world by expanding the University’s connections with local and global partners. Working collaboratively with students, faculty, administration, staff, alumni, community members, corporations, and foundations, we will build upon our engaged learning requirements and align our global strategy with our broader vision and mission.

With new leadership in Advancement and active support at all levels of the University, we will build a culture of alumni engagement that has never existed at Loyola Chicago, and commit to a long-term plan of fundraising and philanthropic investments that support our strategic goals and core mission foci. While we achieved our stated goal of $40 million in annual fundraising this year, and successfully solicited a $20M naming gift for the new School of Health Sciences and Public Health, we must accept the challenge to raise our endowment and fundraising goals to levels commensurate with institutions of our size, type, and scale. Our success at this year’s Founders’ Dinner to support Arrupe College that will be held tomorrow evening, and for which we have already raised a net of over $1.3 million that will go directly to support the students and programs at Arrupe College, energizes our efforts to build new resources for our most critical work. We have not achieved this type of financial support at a single event in anyone’s recent memory. And it is just the beginning.

Our ongoing work is far from being finished but now, as we work together this year on our strategic plan, how will we challenge ourselves to do even more? I posed the questions earlier: Where do we go from here? How will we proceed? How will we live into being contemplatives in action? Now I will add a few more: How will we answer the questions, “Did we think big enough? Did we think bold enough? Did we dare go where others have not?” During this year we will have many opportunities to reflect on the past, celebrate the present, and plan for a future where we advance greater good in the world.

Again recalling Father Kolvenbach’s exhortation, we are called as a Jesuit institution to shed our intelligence upon our social realities, and use our influence to transform them.

Loyola University Chicago, and, likely all Jesuit institutions, live in the tension of these virtuous aspirations and the realities of the world. Living with the dynamic tension between cura personalis, care of the person, and cura apostolica, care for the work, is assuredly a central part of Loyola’s DNA. Finding the equilibrium in this dynamic tension is exactly what we must do to live our mission, and to go where we are called.

There is no question that we may become disillusioned at times, daunted by the endless needs, disheartened when our progress seems to slow, frustrated by our limitations, but we must tirelessly respond to the call—one student, one patient, one project at a time—and we must give hope for the future to one student, one patient, one project at a time. We truly respond to our calling by educating new generations to lead extraordinary lives.

It is believed that St. Ignatius often ended his letters to Jesuits going to the missions with a phrase we know so well: ite inflammate omnia. Today, as we go out together with our voices and perspectives, with our experiences and expertise, we must believe that we, too, can go set the world on fire.   

Thank you for what you do each and every day.