The following are the remarks given by the Rev. Dennis Dease at the Academic Convocation yesterday. You can listen to the speech by clicking here and selecting the first speech listed.
It is a genuine pleasure today for me to welcome new and returning faculty and professional staff to the beginning of another academic year. I also want to offer a special greeting to our retired faculty who have joined us today.
As you know, in early July Ralph Pearson accepted a position as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh. Ralph said that it was a difficult decision for him to leave his many friends at St. Thomas.
Dr. Dwyer and I tried to persuade him to allow us to host a public reception for him on campus, but he was quite firm in his demurral.
We owe Dr. Pearson a debt of gratitude for the solid academic leadership he gave to the University of St. Thomas during his time here. He oversaw the remarkable development of many programs of excellence. He helped this institution become a prominent urban university with an increasingly distinguished faculty, a stronger student body and greater recognition locally, regionally and nationally.
I want to thank Dr. Susan Alexander for agreeing to serve as Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs. She is eminently qualified for the job. She has served as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Interim Dean of the College, and Chair of the Department of Economics. She was elected Professor of the Year in 2000.
It’ll be fun listening to her reports in that wonderful, Arkansas drawl.
We will begin shortly our preparation for the decennial visit of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 2003. I want to thank Interim Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Angie Barretta-Herman, and Professor John Kemper for their willingness to oversee the self-study.
As you know, last semester was a difficult one.
I want to take this opportunity to thank this community for its support during that difficult undertaking. There are times when a community shows its mettle and this was one of them. You showed persistence, flexibility and cooperation. As a result of the measures taken we now have a sound, long-range budget plan in place that will enable us to grow steadily stronger in the years ahead.
As St. Thomas matures as a university and the rapid growth of the past begins to plateau, we will need to exercise careful stewardship of our resources and find creative ways of doing things. We must continue to use prudence in our expenditures and look for ways to work smarter.
It is my special pleasure today to welcome faculty, administrators and staff of our School of Law, which opened its doors to its first class of students on Aug. 20 in Terrence Murphy Hall on the Minneapolis campus.
as business and software, and to establish a Minneapolis campus. Years of careful study and planning have gone into the School of Law, and I have every confidence that it will flourish, meet the community’s needs and make a long-lasting contribution to the profession.
I am impressed with so many facets of the School of law — too many, in fact, to list here, but two are worth noting at this time:
First, its mission statement. It says, “The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.”
Second, its people. Dean David Link, who will complete his three-year appointment with us this academic year, Associate Dean Patrick Schiltz and their staff have recruited an outstanding faculty and first-year class of students.
Strategic Initiative Proposals
A word about strategic initiative proposals.
Caring for the Climate:
A Community Effort
Today I would like to speak to you about the climate here at St. Thomas. Perhaps you have a tendency, like I, to think of our climate as a given, simply the culture that spontaneously emerges from our collective life and work, and to forget that it is the work of our hands.
I address this topic today not because I believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with the St. Thomas culture. There is not.
Rather, I address this topic today because the University of St. Thomas has been a place of such energy and growth, and so much of our attention has been directed toward the pressing tasks at hand, that it is easy to lose sight of our need to attend to the quality of our life as a community. It is healthy, periodically, to pause to examine our internal environment — especially its softer, subtler features.
Ours is a Catholic, urban university which actively promotes the integration of a liberal arts education with preparation for a career in both its undergraduate and its graduate programs.
In the Vatican document on the nature of a Catholic university titled Ex Corde Ecclesiae (which is Latin meaning “from the heart of the church”), Pope John Paul II writes:
A Catholic university pursues its objectives through its formation of an authentic human community animated by the Spirit of Christ.
common dedication to the truth, a common vision of the dignity of the human person and, ultimately, the person and message of Christ. . . .As a result of this inspiration, the community is animated by a spirit of freedom and charity; it is characterized by mutual respect, sincere dialogue, and protection of the rights of individuals. It assists each of its members to achieve wholeness as human persons . . . .1
The pope’s statement puts forth a marvelous ideal, a goal whose roots go deep into the Catholic theological tradition. As I explained five years ago at this convocation:
Catholic anthropology is built on a belief very old in our tradition — that each person is created in the image of God, and further, that the individual has been created radically social, and inextricably part of the human community, and consequently can find his or her full humanity only in human society — in solidarity with others. Actions or structures that marginalize an individual or a group interfere with his or her or their own God-given destiny — impeding their full human development. 2
In that same address I spoke to you of the importance of fostering a climate wherein all members of this increasingly diverse community could feel welcomed, and could learn and grow. I am grateful for the positive and enthusiastic way in which this community has responded, led by the faculty.
Even so, however, the results have been mixed. Let me explain.
In March 1999, Dr. Judith Dwyer convened an open meeting to discuss questions and concerns regarding climate and to gather suggestions for a new study. A committee was formed and eventually formulated a clear statement of purpose for the new review:
To assess whether the campus is perceived by members of the community to be a welcoming, supportive, accepting and inclusive environment for all members, to identify areas of greatest concern, and to provide a catalyst for action. 3
The following year the committee undertook a thorough climate study. Last April, it published the Report on the Review of the 2000 Climate Study.
More than any other group, respondents who are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender report negative perceptions and experiences of the climate.
Respondents who are of minority group status are more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are respondents who are of majority group status.
Respondents who report having no religious affiliation are more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are Catholics and those of other Christian religions. Respondents of other religions are also more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are Catholics and those of other Christian religions, though more positive than those having no religious affiliation.
Women respondents are more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are men respondents, though this is not true in all cases. For example, more men perceive the climate as suspicious than do women. 5
The 2000 Climate Study also found that some staff members feel disrespected by faculty and students. I suspect most faculty were as distressed at hearing this as was I.
The Study concluded with the following observation:
The majority of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff have positive perceptions and experiences of the climate.
There are statistically significant numbers of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff who report negative perceptions and experiences of the climate.
Two questions must be asked in light of these conclusions:
To what extent does the St. Thomas community acknowledge that there are members of this community for whom the climate is negative?
To what extent will the
St. Thomas community respond to the concerns of those who experience the climate as negative?
The answers to these questions are beyond the scope of the task force and the purpose of this report but reside in the entire community itself. 6
The Climate Study Analysis Task Force next faced the challenge of how best to use the new information to effect significant change in the climate. To this end the Task Force spent the better part of the last semester eliciting suggestions for positive, concrete action. The task force soon will release a second report based on the ideas it received and will make recommendations.
Today I would simply like to offer some reflections on the findings of the study, and call on all members of this university community to renew their commitment to listen to its many voices.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Students
First, the study found that “more than any other group, respondents who are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, report negative perceptions and experiences of the climate.” 7
I have been disappointed to hear of incidences of discriminatory behavior among our students such as:
- The “tradition” of gay-baiting T-shirts that show up in some new form every year for the Tommy-Johnny football game;
- Or casual remarks made in the Grill by male students about going out gay-bashing on the weekend;
- Or that Macalester students are allegedly reluctant to take part in our creative writing program because they fear being assaulted on our campus.
The American Catholic bishops remind us that we demonstrate our faith commitment as a Christian community not by excluding homosexual persons, but precisely by including them:
The Christian community should offer its homosexual sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care.
The bishops also warn against using religion as a weapon against homosexuals:
‘We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons.
Finally, after addressing parents, the bishops address homosexual men and women themselves:
To our homosexual brothers and sisters we offer a concluding word . . . .We need one another if we are to ‘. . . grow in every way into . . . Christ’
Regarding students of color, the 2000 Climate Study found that “respondents who are of minority group status are more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are respondents who
are of majority group status.” 11
It appears at this early point in the school year that about 9.3 percent of our students are of color. Another 5.1 percent are international students.
I would like to share with you some of what I have heard from personal conversations with students of color, and from a video documentary created last year by some of our faculty and students.
Last spring I had the opportunity to engage in an open and candid conversation with four African American women: a freshman, two sophomores and a junior. I was impressed with their desire for a St. Thomas education and with their involvement in a wide variety of co-curricular activities and volunteer work off campus.
I found myself disturbed and haunted, however, by some of their observations. They spoke of their lack of acceptance by white classmates. They expressed sadness and disappointment at opportunities lost in that they believe that one of the purposes of college is to learn to talk and work with people from other backgrounds. They found it particularly difficult to relate with students from small, rural communities — many of who have never known a person of color.
On the plus side, one spoke with gratitude of a St. Thomas program called, “Reaching Excellence in Academics and Leadership, more commonly known by its acronym, “REAL.” This is a selective, six-week academic and co-curricular orientation program for American students of color who are newly committed to attending St. Thomas. The program is designed to acquaint students with campus life, provide experiences with college-level coursework and simulate a typical semester.
Another student said, “I feel I’m not functioning up to my fullest potential.” She also lamented that she had been asked to serve on committees and panels and in positions because of her race. She said, “People think they’re helping. But it’s discriminating. When I’m chosen not for qualities or character, but race — it’s hard on my self-esteem.”
Another student said, “You feel like you’re always being interviewed.” Also, “I dreaded going to the Residence Hall Association meetings. They don’t move out of their comfort zones. Student organizations need to reach out to students of color.”
Many students simply do not realize that students of color arrive on campus and don’t know where to go for allies.
What is their counsel to white students?
This past summer, I watched a video produced by Steven Lybrand and Michael Sutz under the auspices of the Multicultural Student Services Office. It was titled, The Price of a Good Education: the Black Experience at St. Thomas.
I realize that this is due in part to St. Thomas’ location in a state where only slightly more than three percent of the population is African American. This distribution is reflected in St. Thomas’ enrollment: of 5,399 undergraduate students last year, only 138 were African American–about 2.6 percent.
In the video, one African American said, “It’s like you and them. I could never let my guard down.” Another alumnus stated, “The average white student doesn’t feel he has to keep proving himself.” An alumna pointed out, “It’s harder at St. Thomas for black males than black females. They’re seen as more of a threat.” Another alumna said, “With a diverse student body come diverse ideas, opinions and views. And that’s important because the country is diverse.”
Most of what I heard reflected strained relations on the student-to-student level. I heard very few complaints about insensitivity from faculty and professional staff. This represents progress from five years ago when last I addressed this convocation on the subject of diversity, and I’m
grateful for your efforts.
The problem is bigger than the University of St. Thomas. Sadly, racism is still alive and well in our society.
As Pope John Paul II said in a homily in the Trans World Dome in St. Louis in 1999, “As the New Millennium approaches, there remains another great challenge facing this community of St. Louis . . . and not St. Louis alone, but the whole country: to put an end to every form of racism, a plague which your bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.” 12
Our own Archbishop Harry Flynn, the chairman of our board of trustees, has enumerated nine ways to combat racism. Among them are:
Here at St. Thomas, as I observed in 1996, “what is often described as tension may be more accurately understood as confusion. Many students, regardless of racial or ethnic group, grow up in communities and schools that are homogeneous. When they reach college, they suddenly find themselves in a heterogeneous environment, and often without the assistance required for the transition they must make.” 14
Harlon Dalton, the African American Yale law professor who visited our campus a few years ago, writes in his book, Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites, about how America’s racial wound continues to fester.
A new report by the American Council on Education (ACE) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) offers empirical evidence supporting the long held belief that diversity benefits students and faculty. According to ACE President Stanley O. Ikenberry, “The evidence presented in this report demonstrates that campus diversity provides educational benefits for all students — minority and white alike, and that these benefits cannot be duplicated in a racially and ethnically homogeneous academic setting.
According to the study:
More than two-thirds of the faculty surveyed reported that students benefit from learning in a racially and ethnically diverse environment, both with respect to exposure to new perspectives and in willingness to examine their own personal perspectives. . . .
Nearly 85 percent of faculty said that, contrary to opponents’ assertions, diversity has not diminished the quality of their institutions. . . .
A study of faculty and students in multi-racial/multi-ethnic classrooms revealed that a majority of both groups said diversity has a positive impact on students’ cognitive and personal development because it challenges stereotypes, broadens perspectives, and sharpens critical thinking skills. 17
This sentiment is reflected broadly throughout the nation as determined by recent national polls. A national poll on diversity conducted in February of 2000 found
An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that diversity in the nation’s businesses and higher education institutions is important, and favor taking actions to ensure that student populations and workforces are diverse. . . .[N]early 90 percent of those surveyed indicated that it is important to have students of different races, cultures and backgrounds in higher education, and 90 percent said they believed diversity is important to the quality of higher education. 18
Finally, according to another report by the American Council on Education,
A survey of officials from multinational corporations and higher education institutions revealed that business leaders believe that too many college graduates enter the workplace without a knowledge of other cultures or the ability to effectively work and interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
As business publisher Malcolm Forbes once said, “the goal of education is to replace an empty mind with an open mind.” 20
In the months ahead we must seek to structure opportunities where all of us, black and white, can feel safe to speak frankly about what strains our relationships and what strengthens them; and how we might extend to one another an outstretched hand.
Other Faith Traditions on Campus
The study also found:
“Respondents of other religions are . . . more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are Catholics and those of other Christian religions, though more positive than those having no religious affiliation.” 21
Francis Cardinal Arinze, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue at the Vatican, in a lecture given here on campus in September of 1996 spoke of the Catholic Church’s enthusiastic endorsement of inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and believers from other faiths. He described such dialogues as:
. . .[A] meeting of heart and mind between followers of various religions. . . . It is a walking together towards truth and a working together in projects of common concern . . . . [It involves] listening to other believers, showing a willingness to learn from them . . . . It is hoped that these believers will reciprocate, listening to Christians witnessing to their faith and showing a readiness to learn from them.” 22
He delineated the requirement for such dialogue as “respect, listening, sincerity, openness, and willingness to receive and to work with another.” 23 He pointed out that dialogue leaves each participant with the right to “retain his or her religious identity, to practice one’s faith and to propose it to others. It is a sincere, friendly and loving encounter on the religious level between believers in differing religions.” 24
Why inter-religious dialogue? The cardinal cited Pope Paul VI who wrote in his encyclical on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi
A Catholic university can benefit in many ways from a rich sampling of diverse religious traditions on campus. That does happen here, not only through formal programming such as that of the Jay Philips Center for Jewish Christian Learning, but through your many efforts to welcome, support, explore and share other traditions. I strongly encourage you to continue in this work.
Women on Campus
The Climate Study found that “Women respondents are more likely to report having negative perceptions and experiences of the climate than are men respondents. . . .”
In the mid-nineties I sat down on several occasions with groups of women on campus to ask how they perceived the campus climate and what we might do to improve it. As I reported to you in 1996:
One mentioned an incident in which a consultant met with a committee of seven men and one woman. The consultant asked questions of the seven men, but not of the woman.
Another said that some male members of the faculty, sometimes with faculty colleagues, refer to how many “skirts” they have in their class.
A faculty member told me that students have confided to her that there is a student perception that there’s no point in filing a sexual harassment complaint; nothing would be done.
A counselor on campus told me . . . that harassment of female students by male students has become so commonplace that few people recognize or name it for what it is. And when alcohol or other drugs are present, harassment can escalate to violence. 27
It has been 24 years since St. Thomas became a coeducational institution. At this point in the current school year it appears that again 52 percent of students are women. Of the faculty, no counting adjuncts, 33.1 percent are women. And of the staff, 58.2 percent are women.
St. Thomas desires to be a place where women will be respected and their leadership abilities, recognized and encouraged.
If women experience an environment here that is “chilly,” then each one of us must ask why.
What are we doing about these challenges?
As you know, there have been a number of curricular and co-curricular programs in support of diversity at St. Thomas for many years.
I would like to ask your support for three new initiatives:
First, a new effort called the “President’s Leadership, Education and Diversity Group Endeavor,” or PLEDGE, invites students to work together to change the culture of our campus through education. Student ambassadors, through education activities representing the University’s mission and values, will collaborate to spread the message of respect and acceptance. I hope we can create a growing corps of students who will model appropriate behavior and be willing to stand up against injustice. The University of St. Thomas is committed to addressing the racial, sexual and religious divisions of our community.
Second, the administration will work with a student committee that wants to institute diversity training for all St. Thomas students during classroom periods. By doing this, we will demonstrate that such attitudes and behaviors are alien to the values of this university and will not be tolerated.
Third, to continue the implementation of our board-approved strategic direction on Catholic Identity, I have authorized the creation of the Office for Mission and Diversity. Two part-time coordinator positions have been created: a special assistant to the executive vice president for mission, and a special assistant to the executive vice president for diversity. I have asked Sister Margaret Wick to serve as the interim special assistant to the executive vice president for mission and Nancy McGrath to serve as interim special assistant for diversity. In the spring searches will be conducted for both positions. More information about this will be included in Bulletin Today with the position announcements.
Mark Twain once said: “Education consists of mainly what we have unlearned.” Certainly in the case of our prejudices, stereotyping and assumptions of superiority, a Catholic liberal education can free our minds and hearts of these shadows and demons. William Butler Yeats took a different tact and said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” 28 As we begin a new year, I invite you to join me in the kindling of a new fire that will take the chill off our climate.
Next week in the opening liturgy we will celebrate a service of reconciliation that will publicly acknowledge our need for a change of heart as a society and as a university. We will confess our need as a community for God’s forgiveness, grace and healing.
As we start a new academic year, we will pledge to work together to correct the wrongs that have been committed. We will pledge to dedicate ourselves to the building of a community in which justice and acceptance flourish. 30
I know you share a common dream wherein this community might be one where all persons, of whatever gender, color, race, disability, sexual orientation or religion, would feel welcomed, supported, accepted and included. Today I appeal to the faculty in particular to set the pace for this renewal. I ask you to do this both as individuals and as a body. You are the ones, more than anyone else, who can make it happen.
As the poet, Maya Angelou, has written,
It is time for the preacher, the rabbi, the priest and pundit, and the professors to believe in the awesome wonder of diversity so that they can teach those who follow them. It is time . . . to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter their color; equal in importance no matter their texture.
Our young must be taught that racial peculiarities do exist, but that beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally, we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike . . . . 31
1John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (United States Catholic Conference, 1990), paragraph 21.
2Dennis Dease, Academic Convocation Speech, 1996).
3Report on the Review of the 2000 Climate Study (Presented in April, 2001), p. 4.
42000 Climate Study, pp. 1 & 54.
5Ibid., p. 54.
72000 Climate Study, p. 54
8Always Our Children: A Statement of the Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1997), p. 9. The reference in the text to their earlier document is from To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1976), p. 19.
9Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1991, p. 55 as quoted in Ibid., p. 10.
10Ibid., pp. 12-13.
11 Ibid., p. 54.
13Harry J. Flynn, "Nine Ways to Combat Racism" in Love Thy Neighbor, p. 167.
14Harlan L. Dalton, Racial Healing: Confronting the Fear Between Blacks and Whites (Doubleday, 1995), p. 98.
15"Studies Validate benefits of Diversity in Higher Education," Higher Education and National Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 10 (American Council on Education, 5/29/00), p. 1.
16Ibid., p. 2.
17"Survey Reveals Strong Support for Diversity in Education and Business," Higher Education and National Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 4 (American Council on Education, 2/28/00), p. 1.
19"Seventeenth Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education Details Benefits of Diversity in Higher Education," Higher Education and National Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 3
See also "On the Importance of Diversity in Higher Education," [Statement endorsed by 70 national educational associations and organizations]
Diversity enriches the educational experience. We learn from those whose experiences, beliefs, and perspectives are different from our own, and these lessons can be taught best in a richly diverse intellectual and social environment.
It promotes personal growth and a healthy society. Diversity challenges stereotyped preconceptions; it encourages critical thinking; and it helps students learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.
It strengthens communities and the workplace. Education within a diverse setting prepares students to become good citizens in an increasingly complex, pluralistic society; it fosters mutual respect and teamwork; and it helps build communities whose members are judged by the quality of their character and their contributions.
It enhances America’s economic competitiveness. Sustaining the nation’s prosperity in the 21st century will require us to make effective use of the talents and abilities of all our citizens, in work settings that bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures. . . .
Achieving diversity of college campuses does not require quotas.
20Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990), American Publisher of Forbes Magazine. Quote attributed.
212000 Climate Study, p. 54.
Cardinal Arinze, The Church and Inter-Religious Dialogue (Lecture given in the Catholic Studies Program of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, 26 September 1996), pp. 2-3.
23Ibid., p. 3.
24Ibid., pp. 3-4.
25Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53.
26Arinze, p. 5.
28William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). Irish poet. Quote attributed.
29Martin Luther King, Jr. From an impromptu speech given on the lawn of the University of Minnesota in the spring of 1967. Unpublished.
30"Reconciliation Statement, September, 2001."
31Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (Bantam Books, 1993), pp. 124-125.