What we value, what we need

 

 

Bryan Kerns

In his recently released book “Driving Change Through Diversity and Globalization,” Dr. James Anderson, the chancellor of Fayetteville State University, writes, “One of the most exciting, yet challenging dynamics occurring at colleges and universities involves applying reengineering processes to increase levels of excellence and transformation.” Anderson, a Class of ’70 Villanova alumnus and a current member of the Board of Trustees, centers his work on how leaders in academia can achieve lasting institutional change with respect to organizational structures and culture in order to promote an intellectual community engaged in discourse at all levels and in all constituencies.

Consider also “Basic Elements of Augustinian Pedagogy,” released by the Augustinian Order’s Commission on Educational Centers, in which a Spanish Augustinian, Santiago Insunza Seco, writes, “Our age suffers from moral and intellectual superficiality. There are two human operations now becoming obsolete: dialogue and thinking.”

So, there you have it – a set of 21st century imperatives for the University from someone intimately familiar with higher education and the work of this particular institution, as well as a strong admonition on the state of our times from an expert on Augustinian education.

As the University thinks seriously about its future through the strategic planning process and the Campus Master Plan among other undertakings, the community must consider what it values, what it needs, what stands in the way of success and what portends trouble, as well as the answers to many other self-reflective questions.

Paramount among these considerations must be the University’s mission. Although expressed in a traditional “mission statement,” the mission is not always clear and is sometimes reduced to the buzzwords of veritas, unitas and caritas. Despite the relevance of these aspirations to our community, they do not communicate the entire mission and purpose of Villanova University.

In the process of figuring out this mission, as well as how to articulate it and how to educate our students in the most mission-faithful way possible, the community must also take great care to encourage dialogue and thinking so that we do not fall into the perilous trap of moral and intellectual superficiality against which the Augustinian experts have strongly cautioned.

While doing this, the University must confront the question of what it means to be a diverse community of scholars. The answer to that question is not found solely through an increase in the numbers of non-white students, faculty and staff. Seeking that answer through skin color would be demeaning to those current members of the community as well as those manipulated into the community in order to serve a purely statistical end.

The answer will be found if and only if the University fully embraces its role as a dwelling of dialogue and thinking – a place where unfettered debate and engagement occurs on all manner of subjects and issues.

If, as has often been discussed, the University decides to move toward a position commensurate with that of a national research university, then deep critival thinking and the freedom to engage in open discussion are imperative.

In 2005, the Council of Deans initiated a task force on improving the intellectual and cultural climate. The task force was chaired by the associate vice president for Academic Affairs and included students, faculty and staff. Many of the recommendations found therein have been implemented, and some are still in the process of being rolled out, whether on their own or in tandem with other initiatives.

As these initiatives take shape, the University must also find its place at the cutting edge of higher education and lean into the discomfort that may come from more fully embracing the role of an intellectual agitator.

Doing so will come from that necessary discussion about what we want Villanova to be in five years, in 10 years, in a generation. It will come from discussion of pedagogies, from looking at radical changes to curricula across the University, from refining the processes that chooses our students, from expanding the possibilities for financial assistance and from determining the qualities with which we want to send our students into world.

In the conclusion to his chapter in “Basic Elements of Augustinian Pedagogy,” Seco writes, “The Augustinian school will be more a building in the process of construction than a finished work; more a live image than a still photograph.”

What Villanova must embrace is that, in the course of these discussions, the answers will be organic and dynamic – that the University fulfills its role not by the mere act of conferring a diploma but by everything that leads up to that last act.

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Bryan Kerns is a sophomore honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]