During a panel moderated by ILA Director Mary Crane (far left), Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley (far right), Student Affairs Vice President Joy Moore, and Haub Vice President for Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, S.J., discussed strengths and opportunities regarding formation at Boston College. (Lee Pellegrini)
Many key aspects of Boston College are undergirded by its Jesuit roots, especially its deep, long-term commitment to formative education. The two-day campus conference “Formative Education: Mapping the Terrain," held on campus November 14 and 15, served as the first-ever gathering for the multiple, and frequently collaborative, contributors to formation across the University—with a goal of integrating these efforts, regarded as a critical step toward solidifying the University's leadership in the field.
Organized by Lynch School of Education and Human Development Professor Dennis Shirley and Associate Professor Cristiano Casalini, and co-sponsored by the Lynch School and BC’s Institute for the Liberal Arts, the convening at Gasson Hall was kicked off by Lynch School Dean Stanton Wortham, whose school has made educating the whole child a differentiating principle of its approach to education.
“What makes BC’s commitment to formative education so distinctive is its already well-developed cluster of activities and programs focused on formation, and the cross-campus synergies that have evolved over that last 20 years,” said Wortham, the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., dean. “We now have the opportunity to seize the historical moment to refocus education on the broader dimensions of life versus the exclusive drive for content knowledge.”
The day’s first panel—“Formative Education at Boston College,” moderated by ILA Director Mary Crane, with Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, Student Affairs Vice President Joy Moore, and Jack Butler, S.J., the Haub Vice President for Mission and Ministry—brought together University leaders to consider formation at BC, and how it could be improved.
“We need to bring student voices to this discussion,” said Moore. “They have come to BC with a commitment to formative education; they’ve bought in, too. We should seek every opportunity to create more opportunities for dialogue with students, to engage with them to help them build mind, body, and spirit, and to assist them in becoming strong self-advocates.”
“What makes BC’s commitment to formative education so distinctive is its already well-developed cluster of activities and programs focused on formation, and the cross-campus synergies that have evolved over that last 20 years. We now have the opportunity to seize the historical moment to refocus education on the broader dimensions of life versus the exclusive drive for content knowledge.”
Fr. Butler stressed the importance of universally defining formative education at BC, and reminded the audience that “formation is the job of students, while BC’s role is to facilitate it,” often through the creation of “labs” for soft-skill development.
He also noted the sobering reality that the Jesuit legacy at the heart of formative education will need to “live on through our students and faculty, since there are so few Jesuits left” to carry it forward.
Quigley said BC needs to reinforce its ongoing commitment to the intentional integration of resources that reflect the Jesuit tradition and to a liberal arts education, citing the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society and the recently launched Prison Education Program at MCI Shirley as prime examples of that allegiance.
The day’s second panel, “Focusing on Undergraduate and Graduate Formation,” was moderated by Meghan Sweeney, an associate professor of the practice in the Theology Department and the Cooney Family director of the PULSE Program for service learning. Joining her were Amy LaCombe, the associate dean for undergraduate curriculum at the Carroll School of Management; Center for Student Formation Executive Director Mike Sacco; and Filippa Anzalone, professor and associate dean for library and technology services at BC Law School. Serving as the respondent was Burt Howell, executive director of Intersections, a program that helps faculty and staff explore the Jesuit and Catholic mission of Boston College.
The purpose of formative education is “not a cookie-cutter” process, Sacco declared, but a means to help students to “listen to their authentic voices” and to “make a habit of reflection.” He also underscored the importance of “carving out structured spaces and models to examine their lives, and then recalibrate” as needed, and noted the lack of publicly available campus venues for organized formation activities.
Other events included the screening of two videos produced by the Office of University Communications that visually capture BC’s leadership in formative education, and an evening lecture by James Arthur, director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University’s School of Education in the UK.
Day two of the conference featured two panels, a roundtable, and a presentation by Michelle Dillon, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and author of Postsecular Catholicism: Relevance and Renewal.
The morning panel, “Historical, Theological, and Philosophical Perspectives on Formation,” moderated by School of Theology and Ministry Professor Thomas Groome, included Philosophy faculty members Associate Professor Jeffrey Bloechl and Associate Professor of the Practice Mary Troxell, and Christopher Higgins, an associate professor in the Lynch School’s Teacher Education, Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction department.
The afternoon panel, “Formation Today: Mapping the Terrain,” was moderated by Scott Seider, a Lynch School associate professor of Applied Developmental & Educational Psychology. Joining him were Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy and Education Research Henry Braun, STM Associate Professor of the Practice Theresa O’Keefe, and Larry Ludlow, professor and chair of the Lynch School’s Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics & Assessment department.
Concluding the conference was a discussion of “The Future of Formation; Our Next Steps,” chaired by Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J. Discussants included Wortham and fellow BC deans Susan Gennaro of the Connell School of Nursing, Gautam Yadama of the School of Social Work, and Thomas Stegman, S.J., of the School of Theology and Ministry.
Fr. Kalscheur said “ongoing faculty formation will be necessary to sustain formative education for our students,” and “faculty must strive for integration as well” if BC’s formative education initiative will thrive in the future.
Wortham said BC is in a “position of strength,” given the “enormous number of formation activities already underway,” but he noted that the University must “take advantage of the synergies” on campus, and do “a better job of connecting if we hope to improve what we’re doing.”
Phil Gloudemans | University Communications