Panel Mulls B.C.'s Catholic, Jesuit Nature

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The nature of Boston College's Catholic and Jesuit character, and its place in University-wide discussions on diversity and other issues, was the central theme of the annual Faculty Day session on May 1 in Gasson 100.

A panel presentation titled "American Catholic Higher Education and the Future of Boston College" highlighted the event, which also featured a commentary on the nearly finished academic year by University President William P. Leahy, SJ.

With College of Arts and Sciences Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, as moderator, the panelists - Jesuit Community Rector Prof. Joseph Appleyard, SJ (English), Prof. Brinton Lykes (SOE), Prof. Ali Banuazizi (Psychology) and Publications and Print Marketing Director Ben Birnbaum - each offered their perspectives on how BC might reflect its Jesuit and Catholic heritage in the years ahead.

Faculty Day panelist Prof. Ali Banuazizi (Psychology) makes a point as College of Arts and Sciences Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, listens. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
In his first Faculty Day address, Fr. Leahy reviewed the major events and themes of the past several months and, while acknowledging areas of concern, characterized the University as "vibrant and alive.

"We are accomplishing much at Boston College," Fr. Leahy said. "I believe we are succeeding in our efforts to integrate intellectual excellence and religious commitment as well as to promote the greater glory of God."

Fr. Leahy expressed his appreciation to the Boston College community for helping him feel welcome in his first year as president, declaring "I feel at home here." He then presented his overview of those areas he said had been the focus of much of his conversations with the community.

Through Project Delta, Fr. Leahy said, the University is "definitely making progress in our efforts to examine our processes and to make BC as efficient as possible." He said he recognized that Delta's call for change "in outlook and practice" might make some uneasy, but said he was convinced that BC has to be more "focused on service" and in responding to students.

Fr. Leahy also discussed issues regarding athletics and its relationship to the University's academic mission. He reiterated his earlier statements that Boston College "can and should strive for excellence in both." Fr. Leahy said the University had acted decisively in the football gambling incident last fall, and clarified and strengthened its position on the admission of student-athletes.

Noting recent campus discussion on diversity-related matters, Fr. Leahy said the University remains resolved to foster a community which welcomes diversity and does not tolerate discrimination or abuse based on gender, religion, culture or sexual orientation. He noted the University will hold a series of diversity awareness workshops [see story on page 2] this month and next, one of which he and University vice presidents will attend.

Fr. Leahy also touched on the University's academic direction and noted students' concerns on advising and their desire for more contact with faculty. He affirmed the core curriculum as the centerpiece of the liberal arts tradition BC upholds. He also said the University is continuing to move forward in implementing long-range goals outlined by the University Academic Planning Council.

In addition, Fr. Leahy provided updates on other items. The University will seek approval this fall from the Board of Trustees for a major renovation of Higgins Hall, he said, and will begin construction of a new classroom wing for the Law School in July. Plans to construct the new student center and academic building are on hold pending resolution of the University's lawsuit against the City of Newton, which denied BC a permit for the project last fall. Fr. Leahy added that the possibility of a new fund-raising campaign is under discussion.

In his introduction, Fr. Barth said the issue to be explored by the panel discussion - and which had been at the core of this year's Inaugural Lecture Series and in other initiatives on campus - was "how to bring the light of faith and of Christian humanism to bear on the great issues of our time, how to be true to our tradition and yet open to the present and future."

Banuazizi identified three challenges which will determine the University's success as a major institution in the Catholic-Jesuit tradition. Boston College must examine its overall academic standing and academic culture as compared with other research institutions, he said, and how these relate to the University's teaching mission.

The University also will need to address diversity and globalization, Banuazizi continued. Doing so, he said, will likely require more attention in the core curriculum to courses which deal with other cultures and traditions, as well as a "closer, dynamic connection" between BC and other institutions around the world.

Lykes pointed to the Society of Jesus' 1995 General Congregation 34 document on women as an example of the kind of dialogue which should characterize Boston College. She spoke about the process of "displacement" in such discussions, where participants leave behind influences from their individual social and cultural backgrounds to better inform others' viewpoints. The University community can benefit from these experiences, she said.

Birnbaum offered what he called "a careful study of the flora and fauna" of Jesuit education, listing some of its most distinguishing characteristics. He described Jesuit universities as "universities first," where issues of faith are not private matters but are "debated, shouted and most certainly fostered, and where they can imbue teaching, research, work and friendship with tension and meaning."

Jesuit education explores the deep spiritual and intellectual concerns common to men and women of all cultures, faiths and sexual orientations, Birnbaum said. It is "strung between a passionate connection with existence ... and a humble understanding of what our real condition is," he said.

Fr. Appleyard provided further thoughts on some earlier themes in the panel presentations, such as diversity and the experience of displacement, as well as the major findings of GC 34. He noted that GC 34 also called for a greater bond between Jesuits and lay people, who will play a greater role in carrying out the Church's mission. These and other developments, he said, indicate that the tradition Boston College upholds is not immutable.

"The Boston College of 1997 would have been unthinkable in 1949," said Fr. Appleyard, referring to the year he arrived as a student. "Yet to me, it is a lively place that is Jesuit and Catholic in healthy ways." Given the rapid rate of change, he added, the Boston College of the next century could be "wholly beyond our imagining."

The remainder of Faculty Day featured questions and comments from the audience, some of which were addressed by the panelists. Speakers raised other points relating to diversity and BC's internationalization efforts, and discussed possible forums and venues for exploring these areas on a more regular and faculty-wide basis.

Prior to introducing Fr. Leahy, Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, offered brief remarks, reporting that once again the University had been able to fill its incoming freshman class without admitting students from the waiting list.

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