Reflections on the Past Week by President Mary E. Lyons, PhD

This week began with the arc light being directed on the University of San Diego because of the arrest of two former basketball players and a former assistant basketball coach. Since the investigation continues, there is little that I know about the details of the FBI probe beyond what has been publicly disclosed. That being said, the breadth of interest in and extensive speculation about the university's response to these allegations prompt me to amplify upon my previous public statement.

As we might anticipate, reactions to the situation have spanned the full range of emotion. Many of our constituents have sent messages of support for the university, expressing their confidence in the leadership of its athletic program — men’s basketball, in particular — and the values of integrity, personal responsibility, and commitment to one’s teammates that Torero Athletics represent. Some have even noted that no institution is immune from this threat.  A few have suggested that I and our director of Athletics and our head Men's Basketball coach throw ourselves or be thrown "under the bus." More common, though, is the understandable dismay that something like this could touch this university, one that so boldly claims in its mission statement to educate men and women for ethical leadership and compassionate service. No matter where you, the reader, may be on this spectrum, this is neither the time for arrogant defensiveness nor breast-beating penitence. Rather, we should trust that the accused will be justly treated and seize this experience as a critically important, teachable moment in our history as a university community.

There are many resources upon which we can draw to reflect upon and respond to these events: suddenly being thrust into the spotlight of negative publicity; caught unaware that those who called themselves Toreros — no matter for how long or how long ago — may have violated a sacred trust. There are lessons to be learned from the experiences of other universities, advice from legal and public relations professionals, guidance from the NCAA, etc. I am grateful for all of the wisdom offered by these sources. However, I believe we have another resource that might be easily overlooked during the flurry of media interest and critical commentary; that is, our heritage as a Catholic university. More than merely a brand, the vision and ethical practice of our Catholic tradition inspired our founders to create a university rooted in faith, a commitment to truth, and an unwavering belief that our teaching, coaching, research, and all activities should foster the highest standards of personal conduct and generous service. They knew this could be taught, nurtured, and developed just as biology, or literature, or history, or law could be taught. That confidence in the fundamental capacity of each individual to achieve greatness continues to be essential to our mission. And the thousands of our extraordinary, generous, accomplished and civic-minded USD alumni affirm the wisdom of our founders' vision.

It is, then, the striking contrast between that to which USD aspires and the grimness of these alleged realities that gives us pause and prompts even our most ardent supporters to ask, "How could this happen?" The question itself indicates the depth and commitment to values which are the hallmark of this university. And, in this light, I know how well our intercollegiate athletics staff and coaches witness to these values, scrupulously following and exceeding  NCAA guidelines for educating our athletes about prohibited behaviors and their consequences. 

But there is something else I know, something especially relevant today, as the Lenten journey of Christians is about to culminate in Holy Week. On Holy Thursday evening we recall that the greatest teacher of all was Himself betrayed by one of his own imperfect disciples. Why, then, would we presume to reach a higher standard?

This is the lesson: The incidents that have brought our university into the national spotlight are indeed serious, but they do not define us. Generations of USD student-athletes, their coaches, and staff have written an indelible testament to the value of intercollegiate competition in developing men and women of integrity; ethical leaders offering compassionate service. The actions of a few do not diminish this reality. We remain very proud of our university, its faculty, staff, students, and the thousands of alumni who have benefitted from its values-based education. The Torero Spirit continues to thrive in and through them.

Mary E. Lyons, PhD
14 April 2011