Inaugural Address of USD President James T. Harris III

Video Contents

Academic Procession (0:00:01)

Trumpet Fanfare Announcing the President and His Party (0:02:20)

Presentation of the Colors (0:04:25)

National Anthem (0:04:55)

Invocation (0:07:33)

Greetings to the New President (0:10:50)

Presentation of the Presidential Medallion (0:33:47)

Inaugural Address (0:37:44)

Musical Interlude (1:00:45)

Benediction (1:03:58)

Recessional (1:07:10)

December 4, 2015

Inaugural Address: The Three E's of Citizenship

Bishop McElroy, Chairman Fowler, Senator Block, members of the Board of Trustees, Presidents Emeriti Hayes and Lyons, Sister Morris, Provost Allen; deans, distinguished guests, alumni, faculty, students, staff, family and friends of USD…Thank you for joining us today for this wonderful celebration.

There are so many familiar faces here today who have gone out of their way to welcome my family and me to the University of San Diego. We are so grateful to everyone for helping us experience the warm embrace of the University of San Diego. 

My family and I also wish to thank our friends and colleagues who have traveled across the country, who have joined us for this celebration. Your presence here is truly a blessing and we are deeply touched by your support and love over many years.

Chairman Fowler and Dr. Carroll, thank you for your thoughtful comments and for the wise counsel and advice you have provided me throughout the transition, and I am honored to wear this medallion and officially assume my duties as the university’s fourth president.

My friends know how much I enjoy reading biographies and I’m a particular fan of David McCullough. One of his best sellers recently was the story of the Wright Brothers.

In the book, there is a quote he highlights which resonates with me, since I grew up in Ohio. When Wilbur was asked about what advice he would give someone on how to succeed in life, he simply replied: “Pick out a good father and mother and begin life in Ohio.”

If I could amend this advice, I would add two elements. First of all, marry well. And second is to be fortunate enough to surround yourself with capable and competent people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

I have had that in every place that I’ve served, and am confident that I have inherited the same at the University of San Diego.

It is abundantly clear to me that the past presidents of USD and her predecessor institutions surrounded themselves with very capable and competent individuals and created the special university community we have today at USD, one that is truly welcoming, inclusive and compassionate. 

And we have three of my predecessors here today: USD Presidents Emeriti Mary Lyons and Alice Hayes, but we also have Sister Nancy Morris, former president of the San Diego College for Women. Can we ask them to stand one more time? A round of applause for their wonderful work over the years. Sadly, we lost Author Hughes, USD’s first president, and he passed away this summer, but we are blessed that his widow, Marge Hughes, is with us today. Marge, thank you for your presence, and your long service to the university, you’re always going to be a part of this university community, may we give her and her family a round of applause?

Many years ago, one of the founders of USD, Mother Rosalie Hill, coined a beautiful phrase to describe this remarkable university. “Beauty will attract them; goodness will lead them; but the truth will hold them.”

I have heard Sister Gina Rodee, who, to this day, still wears the cross of Mother Rosalie Hill, interpret this quote as:

Beauty will initially attract people to come to the campus, and when they are here, they will encounter individuals, in whom they will find a certain goodness. This, in turn, will lead them to the truth, which will hold them.

So while the university is annually ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States, in one of the best climates in the nation, to me, it seems Mother Hill was pointing to a deeper, more significant beauty that can be found within our campus community that helps prepare students for their lives after college as global citizens.

Those who share this stage with me today represent decades of rich experience at the University of San Diego and possess a profound knowledge of its storied history. So, after only 124 days in office, it is with this recognition and humility, that I share my reflections on the current state of USD, and offer some thoughts on why I believe the university can be a leader in defining what it means to prepare global citizens in the 21st century. 

Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate that colleges and universities are the best places in society to develop and foster responsible citizenship, and that by becoming anchor institutions in their local community and tackling society’s toughest issues, universities can be beacons of hope and, I believe, the greatest forces for change in the 21st century.

Today, I would like to focus on what it might mean to develop global citizens at this university. It is common these days, in higher education to use the word “global” to describe our aspirations for what our students will be one day, upon graduation. But what exactly does it mean to prepare global citizens?  To most, especially those within Catholic higher education, I think we would all agree that when we say “global,” what we are really referring to is that we want our students to be a liberally educated, to be leaders who act with integrity, embrace differences, and are compassionate and merciful in an ever-changing, complex and diverse world.

But while we may agree on what it means to be global, I would contend that we have a long way to go when it comes to a common understanding within the academy itself of what it means to be a good citizen, and the role of the university itself in helping to advance citizenship.

Too often in the academy, we believe the development of citizenship consists in basically preparing students for two tasks: to vote, and to volunteer. These are two good indicators of citizenship, without a doubt. But within higher education we can do more, and at USD, we can model what it means to prepare students to be global citizens.

Several people from ancient philosophers to modern scholars have weighed in on the topic of citizenship. The trial of Socrates in Plato’s “Apology” could be viewed as one of the earliest commentaries on citizenship, and the conflict between the pursuit of truth and the political realities of any given society.

The first president of the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, once said this about the role of the university: he stated that the American university is the “to-be-expected deliverer of American democracy.”

Modern authors such as Colby and Ehrlich have suggested that universities have a primary responsibility, if not the moral obligation, to graduate individuals who are prepared to “thoughtfully evaluate political choices and effectively contribute to political outcomes.”

And my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Ira Harkavy from the University of Pennsylvania, who was on campus on Monday, has described citizenship as being best exercised when it is both anchored locally and connected to universal problems.

So where does the development of citizenship fit into the mission of the University of San Diego?  As university committed to Catholic moral and intellectual traditions, we have identified a clear set of values which I believe are in alignment with the development of citizenship. We proclaim in our values statement, for example, that our commitment to academic excellence is manifest through “teaching, learning and research that act to serve the local, national and international communities.” We go on to say that “we promote democratic and global citizenship.”  That we seek “to build an inclusive and collaborative community.” And develop ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good. And finally, that we wish to fashion a more humane world.

All of these values, in my estimation, speak to a commitment to citizenship education. As we look to the future, I believe it would serve us well to consider deconstructing the word “citizenship,” and consider how we prepare students as citizens in three different ways.

First, prepare them to be enlightened citizens, second to be ecological citizens, and third, to be engaged citizens.

Enlightened citizenship is another way of discussing the importance and value of liberal learning, a commitment to developing a global perspective, as well as a means of developing moral character. By liberal learning, we believe that we are liberating our students’ minds and preparing them to deal with complexity, diversity and change. This type of learning helps prepare citizens who are compassionate, scientifically literate, and culturally sensitive individuals, who, through their collective acts, advance humanity.

One only needs to watch a presidential debate or listen to one of the networks predisposed to a particular political argument to understand that we need citizens who will invest the time and energy to research issues for themselves, and we need individuals who are capable of making informed, educated decisions. In this way, liberal, faith-based learning is not only valuable to the individual student, but also to society as a whole.

USD does a remarkable job already of helping our students gain a global perspective through our nationally ranked undergraduate and graduate programs.

Just two weeks ago, we received the National Association for International Educators Senator Paul Simon award recognizing USD for our comprehensive international approach to our curricula and for having a campus that boasts students from over 70 different nations. That same week we learned that USD had once again been named number two in the nation for the percentage of students studying abroad. 

So as a leader in global education and preparing students to be global citizens, we at USD must be champions for these types of experiences for all students. There’s probably never been a greater time in our nation’s history than right now that our country has needed more liberally educated citizens, who have traveled abroad, experienced other cultures, and studied other languages.

A commitment to developing enlightened citizens also means instilling within our students a commitment to living an ethical and moral life. The idea that a college education should focus on character development has been around for centuries. In 1838, when asked to address the faculty at his alma mater, Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson began with these memorable words: “Character is more important than intellect….A great soul will be strong to live as well as think.” What prompted one of America’s greatest intellectuals to make such a statement?  Many scholars believe that Emerson recognized the inherent danger of an intellect not guided by moral principles, and that he was calling for a redefinition and expansion of the role of the scholar in ordinary life.

At USD, we believe the foundation for character development can be found in our Catholic intellectual tradition, and also the application of that knowledge by the scholar in society. In an atmosphere of open discussion and discovery, we prepare the whole person—intellectually, socially and spiritually—which is exactly the education necessary for a functioning democracy. 

Our Catholic intellectual tradition creates a framework where we are unafraid of difficult dialogs and challenging ideas and a place where we embrace the tension that naturally comes in an environment where both faith and reason reside. 

The second form of citizenship I believe we need to cultivate is what Pope Francis has described as “ecological citizenship.” In his encyclical entitled “On Care of Our Common Home,” Pope Francis clearly identifies the need for a commitment to develop ecological citizens. Mirroring the words of our own Mother Hill, Pope Francis calls us to be open to what is “good, true and beautiful and to look to our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts.”

He calls us all to reconsider both our individual responsibilities, but also calls for a form of citizenship he describes as true “statescraft,” which he believes is “manifest when in difficult times, we uphold high principles, and think of the long-term common good”. He is asking us “to open our hearts to a universal communion and a sense of fraternity that excludes nothing and no one.”

This is a call to not only a global view, but a local view in our day to day living, our often innocuous, daily dealings with each other and asking us to see our experiences, and experience humanity in every member of our campus community.

Some of you may be familiar with a story that I tell about my grandmother when I was working in high school and college, and I had the opportunity to be a custodian. I had my nametag, and I pushed my cart and cleaned restrooms and cafeterias, and people would walk by and never say “hello,” never recognize. And I went to see my grandmother, and I said to her, I was indignant about it, I was upset about it, and she looked at me and she said, “Never forget what it feels like to be invisible.” The sense of feeling invisible may be at the heart of the tension across colleges and university campuses today. On our own campus here, we have heard that certain populations do not always feel included and that we must do a better job of diversifying our campus as well as making it more welcoming.

There is a tension in higher education across the nation between creating safe spaces and enabling free expression, between comfort and contention, between support and challenge, between what Carlos Cortez has characterized as the growing gap between the “Pluribus and the Unum.”  This is a tension that won’t subside fully, I believe, until we embrace diversity and all its richness on every college campus, including this one.

I would propose that when a group of individuals feels invisible on a college campus then there is no hope to ever recognize and realize our national motto of “E Pluribus Unum.”

As ecological citizens, we are also being asked to reconsider the relationship between nature and society. In other words, the Holy Father is asking us both as individuals as well as a university as a whole to intensify our efforts toward the end goal of reshaping the future of our planet. In the words of our own Bishop McElroy, the Pope’s message is a call for “bold conversion on the whole set of issues.”

USD has long been in alignment with such goals in recent years, being recognized as one of the most green campuses in America. However, we have an opportunity in the years ahead to be an even greater advocate and role model as a campus community, and I believe we can become the living embodiment of the Pope’s call to repair and care for our planet.

Our third goal should be to create engaged citizens. Engaged citizenship starts on our campus in how we work, and care for one and other, and also relates once again to the Pope’s call, that we pay greater attention to what he says are the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable around us.

USD is once again in a strong position to address significant societal issues, and the establishment of centers on campus such as the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action and our designation as an Ashoka Changmaker Campus provides us with a great framework for moving forward. But when we dig deeper into engaged citizenship, I believe we have much work to do as a society and as a university in helping people understand their roles as responsible citizens on and off campus as well as expanding on our work as an anchor institution here in San Diego.

Returning to my earlier comments about the difficult dialogues that need to take place on campuses around the country, we have a unique opportunity in my mind to help students understand that civil disobedience is a powerful and useful tool, but most effective only after attempts at civil dialogue have failed, not the reverse.

If we are to find our way back to engaged citizenship, we must all engage in civil dialogue, and when we debate an issue, do so without feeling the need to demonize the person we are debating. In other words, we should seek the free exchange of ideas, without attaching labels. In many ways, it seems we have lost the ability in America to engage in legitimate, civil dialogue and deep conversations to find mutually beneficial solutions.

National debates and issues provide a “teachable moment” for our students and a time for higher education, I believe, to lead by example. And here at USD we have an opportunity to teach that listening, negotiation and compromise are not bad words and by modeling civility, patience and understanding, we can still embrace the university’s central role as a bastion of free speech and open dialogue in a free and democratic society.

So where is the best place to practice this work? Right here on our campus for certain, but it may be most constructive in the communities near our campus. Our local communities need to engage in deeper dialogue with us as well. We don’t need to travel abroad to find the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. They are in clear sight, right here in San Diego.

Issues of economic inequality, homelessness, poor schooling, access to natural resources and other injustices exist as close as Linda Vista or Barrio Logan.

It is important to recognize, however, that these neighborhoods also possess considerable assets, such as rich cultures and a deep sense of community pride that can help us accomplish our mission of educating citizens.

The university’s “turn left” campaign, an effort to get people to “turn left” out of campus toward Linda Vista instead of right toward beach or towards the highway, is a great metaphor for us to consider, and reminds us that global citizenship starts at home, if we only make the decision to turn towards society’s greatest issues rather than away.

Speaking of home and turning towards issues, how shall we define our local community moving forward?  Again, ee have an opportunity with our close proximity to Mexico, as one of the few, nationally ranked universities to be located on an international border… to consider San Diego and Tijuana as one major metropolitan area where we serve a prominent role in addressing society’s greatest issues. It is time to start to think about our “local” community, perhaps, as expanding over an international border.

We clearly have developed the intellectual wherewithal and resources to become an even more important anchor institution in San Diego. Academic initiatives such as our Kroc School’s Trans-Border Institute and the School of Law’s Immigration Clinic are two examples of how we are already serving an important role as an anchor institution in this region.

And by developing new, democratic and reciprocal relationships with community partners that expand our university over national boundaries, we can define and redefine what it means to be fully “engaged” as a university in the 21st century.

In the end, our commitment to preparing enlightened, ecological, and engaged citizens will clearly define global citizenship at USD and will allow us to imagine a very bright and exciting future.

A future where we will be known for our ability as a campus community to model civility and open dialogue about difficult topics and work towards viable and sustainable solutions.

A future where faculty, staff and students will be drawn to us because of our work as an anchor institution as part of our commitment to social entrepreneurship and our changemaking status.

A future where we will be known as well for our commitment to the care of our common home, and the advancement of humanity as we are for our beautiful grounds.

A future where we will be as well-known globally for our work locally as we are currently known locally for our work globally. 

And, finally, a future where one day, we will be known as one of the great Catholic universities in the world, for the way in which we prepare global citizens. 

One of my favorite authors is Howard Thurmond. Reverend Thurmond was Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. His most famous student at BU was a young Martin Luther King, Jr. In one of his essays, Reverend Thurman speaks of a “cascade eagle,” a bird that is higher when soaring in the canyon than the highest bird soaring above the planes, because the canyon is in the mountains. Thurman challenges his readers by stating that “to give wings” to the cascade eagle, “is the call for every man.”  Our history, our values, our location all place USD in a position to take flight, in a canyon located on an international border. Let’s work together to become a cascade eagle for all of higher education, and give wings to our highest aspirations as we join the ranks of the great Catholic universities in the world.

James T. Harris III, DEd