Office of the President

Drop Shadow

Convocation: Faculty as Public Intellectuals

September 24, 2004

I begin this afternoon by asking a question:  What do the following faculty members of this University have in common:  Joan Anderson from the School of Business; Anita Hunter from the School of Nursing and Health Science; Michel Boudrias from Marine and Environmental Studies in the College of Arts and Science; Orlando Espin from Theology and Religious Studies; Bob Felmuth from the School of Law; and Ken Gonzalez from the School of Education?

For those among you who have some history with this University, you may know instantly that these professors—in addition to excellent teaching and scholarship within their respective fields—are also connected by their teaching, scholarship, and advocacy to Mexico and Latin America.  Joan and her colleagues from the Transborder institute David Shirk and Steve Elliott are collaborating with colleagues from UCSD and the University of Texas at El Paso to address economic and social issues along the US-Mexican border; Anita and her colleagues in Nursing have established clinical sites in Baja targeting the health concerns of Latinas; Michel and his colleagues, Jim Bolender and Lisa Baird, have lead research teams of students for 6 years to Baja California Sur and, in the process, have contributed to the reclamation of the Magdalena Bay and the economic vitality of Puerto San Carlos;  Orlando, Pilar Aquino and Gary Macy work with theologians from across North America, researching the phenomenon of a growing Hispanic Catholicism in the US and its potential impact on theology and religious life in the Americas; Bob Felmuth’s Center for Public Interest Law offers clinics for recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America; and Ken Gonzalez created the “Mall Project” in Chula Vista, designed to reach Hispanic families where they are—rather then where we think they are—with information about postsecondary opportunities for them and their children.

There are other examples that I could cite: faculty members from the College and professional schools linked by a common interest in the environment, in ethics, in social justice, in politics, etc. But, it is also the case that many of you may not be aware of the splendid work of your colleagues and how—in many instances—you and they are engaged in common or related projects as public intellectuals.   I have come to appreciate in my fifteenth year as a president that this job provides me a privileged perspective.  From this vantage point I see what most of you might also see but—given your own particular focus—may not; that is, this magnificent assembly of bright stars forming a galaxy that is the University of San Diego.

I took particular delight last year getting to know my new university by “connecting the dots” and seeing an image emerge that is not readily apparent, even to those who purport to know us well.  I would be surprised if the professors to whom I referred earlier themselves know how extensive is the work of their colleagues which so clearly aligns with their own.  Yet something does connect them; connects you to one another, no matter your discipline or school.  And it is my great privilege to hold up a mirror and let you see yourselves connected, in relation to one another, and to acknowledge the actual and potential impact you have as a body, a corporation, as the University of San Diego.

You have heard me speak previously about the public purpose of the University of San Diego and its potential for advancing an agenda for the common good.  I believe this more fiercely now than I did last year because of what I continue to observe and to hear from you, our students, our alumni and our friends in the greater community.  It is possible—if not imperative—to assert that influence, to contribute both as individuals and as a University.  This self-understanding about the collective wisdom of the academy and its power for good reveals itself in the strategic directions we have set for ourselves over the next five years.  You may recall that numerous focus groups, surveys, discussions and soundings taken within the University, among our alumni and friends, and ultimately among the University trustees yielded a commitment to move in distinctive ways: toward greater cultural diversity and competence, toward more extensive integration of learning  through greater emphasis on ethical leadership; toward greater advocacy for social justice and human rights; toward further grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, and toward heightened awareness, strengthened resources, and greater bonds with our alumni and friends.

These are not discrete ambitions for particular divisions, departments, or schools.  They are aspirations for the University, for all of us, so that we can actually increase our effectiveness on behalf of our students, in particular, and the human family, in general.  For this reason, the 2004-2005 academic year offers us the opportunity to make concrete, specific, and measurable the ways in which each individual, division, department, and school--as a community of public intellectuals--will contribute to the common good.

Allow me to cite two examples of opportunities before us that may, in turn, stimulate your own thinking.  My point is simply to invite you—no—to urge you to take advantage of this moment in our history to set an ambitious agenda for this academy.  We have the talent; we’ll get, the resources; all we need is the volunta politica,  the political will  to engage in the serious dialogue, debate, compromise necessary to build instruments for the common good.

First:  I have already referred to the extensive work initiated by our faculty colleagues that addresses opportunities and challenges associated with our relationship to Mexico and Latin America.  Last year I made two trips to Mexico and hosted visitors from Mexican universities and corporations.  From conversations I have had with education and business leaders from Mexico and from what I have learned from you through conferences sponsored by the Transborder Institute and other sources, I am convinced that USD is poised, should it choose, to assume greater responsibility for contributing to the regional, national, and international dialogue on such issues as migration—with all the attendant economic, legal, health, educational, social, and justice concerns this implies.

Other universities in our region have a distinguished record of attention to these concerns, but USD is the only private Catholic University on the northern side of the US-Mexican border.  This should give us greater motivation focus on Hispanic perspectives on church and society, since these are quickly becoming a major influence on our all of our religious and social institutions. Imagine if this University were regarded as a major resource---especially within our border region—for those seeking a forum for understanding the multiple challenges associated with a rapidly disappearing border.  Or, shall we yield the floor to scholars like Samuel P. Huntington, chair of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies who asserts in “The Hispanic Challenge” that “The persistent flow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two people, two cultures, and two languages.  Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream.  The United States ignores this at its peril.” [1]

The mounting din created by Huntington’s assertions and by those who sympathize with his point of view demands a reply.  Why cede this position to those who have neither the proximate social, cultural, and geopolitical experience nor the tradition of Catholic social teaching at their disposal. Why not a countervailing argument from among you?

Another example:  USD was given a great gift of opportunity last year when Joan Kroc bequeathed to us 50 million dollars to endow the Institute for Peace and Justice and to establish a graduate school of Peace Studies.  As you know, we have attenuated the process of selecting a Dean, so that you can begin to think creatively, individually and collectively, about the architecture of this School.  Mrs. Kroc was a rare philanthropist by not insisting on many restrictions associated with her gift, but she was firmly committed to linking peace studies with peace making.  Thus, our obligation is to construct an academic program that offers students theory and praxis.  We have an additional opportunity to create something as a University that may—in time—be truly remarkable.  Those among you with interest and expertise in the areas of social justice, mediation, conflict resolution, human rights, etc. can and should have a stake in what happens within this school.  Whomever we are able to attract as the academic leader of the School will choose USD, fundamentally, because of the faculty who will become his or her colleagues and community of scholarship.  His or her success in recruiting faculty and building a curriculum that draws upon the cross and interdisciplinary expertise of this campus rests with you.  Now is not the time to “leave it to a small committee.”  You have contacts; you can see relationships that, perhaps, have not yet been imagined.  I depend on you to realize Joan Kroc’s aspirations for USD; more, to bring—through our students, through research, through hands-on experiences—more peace and justice to our global community.

Many of you may have seen USD’s TV spot during the Olympics.  In it, as you recall, a series of individuals held or wore sweatshirts conveying words that capture the spirit of a USD education, “University of Dreams, of Achievement, of Compassion, of Faith, etc.”  The choice of words was deliberate, as was the selection of our featured alumni, each of whom embodies the ideals we seek to promote within our students.  Just as deliberately, the lead position was a faculty member because without you there are nor alumni, no realized ideals, no legitimacy to the claims of that 30 second moment:  “Our graduates are not only prepared for the world; they are prepared to change it.”

Mary E. Lyons, PhD
24 SEP 2004

Samuel P. Huntington, “The Hispanic Challenge,” Foreign Policy, March, 2004, 30.