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Formation, Inquiry, and Service to the Common Good

I just returned from a meeting of the Provosts of the Jesuit colleges and universities across the US. It is a wonderful event each year, giving those of us who serve in these unusual roles a chance to compare notes, to share our joys and sorrows inherent in any such position, and to renew our aspirations for our institutions. At the meeting, we deliberately take time to share questions with each other and provide advice when we’re confident of it.

The institutions around the table display many differences. Some are singularly focused on undergraduate education; others have graduate programs in diverse fields. Some are quite small; some are quite large. Some serve predominantly first-generation populations and adult learners in a region; others attract students nationally and internationally. Despite these vast differences, I come away each year with a renewed sense of the commonalities among the institutions.

One of the differences between this set of institutions and others in higher education is their focused devotion to the formation of the next generation devoted to service to the common good. Most all take this seriously, with programs designed to expose students to the real lives of those less fortunate than others. Sometimes this takes place within nearby neighborhoods; sometimes in other countries far from the campus.

A common challenge that we all face is to continuously adapt these efforts to the changing cohorts of students coming to our institutions and to the changes in higher education occurring throughout the country. All of us face issues of keeping tuition as low as possible while still permitting innovation. All of us face increasing numbers of students who have lived their lives in relatively homogeneous neighborhoods, schools, and larger communities. All of us face increasing numbers of students with relatively few “real-life” experiences in the working world.

These cross-cutting pressures have created more intentional integration of the mission of nurturing women and men for others into the academic curriculum. Some institutions have built degree programs that allow deep learning into the field of social justice (similar to Georgetown’s Justice and Peace Studies Program). Others have built elaborate immersive experiences exposing students to communities previously unknown to them.

Increasingly common are attempts to integrate such experiences into the academic curriculum more fully. These seek to use the value of mentored experiences combining students with faculty. They construct an intersection of research activities with such outreach efforts. In short, these are efforts to break down an artificial barrier between the curricular and co-curricular.

It became obvious in our meeting that the value of these efforts is magnified by integrating into them the Jesuit mission of the institution. That mission answers the question of the “why” of these research, education, and service efforts. Those values also answer the question of why it is so important to integrate the three efforts seamlessly into the experience of the students. At a moment when all higher education institutions are seeking global impact, the secret sauce of Jesuit institutions is that they know why they want to have global impact, with answers animated by a 500-year tradition.

3 thoughts on “Formation, Inquiry, and Service to the Common Good

  1. The next generation of leaders in Argentina, guided by the Jesuit principles of Georgetown University, depend on the continuance of the Development Management and Policy masters degree program in Argentina. This joint degree program– at tuition rates that make it affordable to South American students — has been successful for almost two decades. Should I infer from your comments that you wish it to continue?

  2. I also wonder where the invaluable work of the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service fits within the vision and work that you outline here? CSJ is already guiding the formation, inquiry and service work of Georgetown. It is how our students get the real-life experience and how we ensure that those experiences are shaped by the Jesuit values of the common good and being women and men for others. Our Jesuit peer institutions see CSJ as the leader in this.

    • I concur with Lahra Smith regarding the seeming absence of the work of the CSJ in your entry. As someone who not only taught a Community Based Learning course every year for thirty years, and as one who served as a faculty advisor to the CSJ, I have direct knowledge about and experience of the CSJ and the outstanding work that is done by our students in the larger community as a result of the presence and dedication of the people who form the CSJ. Georgetown ought to be proud of the work done by the through the auspices of the CSJ.

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