Survey Results Suggest Increased Emphasis on Teaching Justice

Survey Results Suggest Increased Emphasis on Teaching Justice

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Boston College has seen an increased emphasis on teaching social justice during the last 30 years, according to a recent University study. But this growth may have been influenced more by beliefs concerning the role of academia in teaching justice than by pursuit of Jesuit ideals, the report suggests.

The study, based in part on surveys of BC administrators and faculty, identified 29 justice-related courses in the University curriculum during the 1998-99 academic year, compared to one in 1970-71. These classes were offered in five departments, two professional schools and two interdisciplinary undergraduate programs.

Sixty-seven percent of those replying to the survey section stated that justice was a theme in some or all of their courses. However, respondents indicated overwhelmingly that BC's efforts to address justice relate more to the social responsibilities of a modern university, rather than as an institution guided by Jesuit principles.

The study was done as part of a national initiative co-sponsored by the Jesuit Institute to examine how Jesuit higher education has been influenced by the 32nd General Congregation of 1975, which affirmed promotion of justice as a primary characteristic of all Jesuit enterprises. The project has included three regional conferences - one hosted by Boston College last fall - and will culminate in a national conference this fall at the University of Santa Clara.

Results of the study were shared at a March 24 forum sponsored by the institute as a follow-up to the BC conference, and to offer faculty, staff and students an opportunity to present their views on the teaching of justice.

Organizers of the Jesuit Institute initiative said the study - like the project itself - should be viewed as a starting point for a broader dialogue on social justice in education, rather than as a definitive measure of BC's Jesuit character.

"Genuine conversation about the role of justice in an academic institution has been quite limited so far," said Prof. Patrick Byrne (Philosophy), associate director of the institute. "We want to find out what it is that motivates and guides the teaching of justice at BC and other Jesuit colleges and universities. It's going to be an extensive process, so we needed to have some kind of starting point."

Byrne and fellow organizer PULSE Program Director David McMenamin explained that the study - coordinated by Assoc. Prof. Michael Malec (Sociology) - did not expressly define "justice," although it covered such tenets as non-discrimination, fair treatment before the law and equitable distribution of resources.

"Rather than setting parameters for what constitutes justice," said Byrne, "we wanted to open up the discussion and see what the respondents felt was important or significant."

Byrne and McMenamin said the March 24 forum also demonstrated the University community's strong awareness of, and desire for exploring, social justice issues.

"Judging from what we've seen, a lot of people think the teaching of justice should be a major role of the university," said McMenamin. "While there does not appear to be an explicit connection to the Jesuit-Catholic tradition, and particular to the General Congregation documents on social justice, there is certainly a convergence. That so many here are teaching justice serves to enhance our conversation."


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