Inspired by the recent turmoil surrounding Saint Louis University’s administration, faculty and staff, as well as the common appeal to the university mission statement made by various groups at SLU, a collection of professors have started a community blog called The Heithaus Haven. The Haven is a call to the university community to work out what the mission statement really means.
Doubtless, few students spend their walk to and from class asking themselves how they fulfill the SLU mission. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a student who could recite a line.
Yet the mission is meant to define our university and everything that it accomplishes as such. From the university perspective, ideally it informs and participates in every aspect of life as a member of the SLU community.
For this reason faculty members from various departments have come together to open The Heithaus Haven on Blogspot. The idea is largely an outgrowth of the Faculty Senate vote of no confidence in Father Lawrence Biondi S.J., taken last semester. The Haven aims to provide an opportunity for honest conversation about the university’s successes and failures relative to its mission; a conversation that many feel isn’t present in the current university context.
“The inspiration really was a sense of concern that the university community didn’t have a place to really engage seriously the core values of the university,” Ken Parker said, an associate professor of theology and the creator of the project. “We’re particularly concerned about the fact that, while we talk a lot about and seem to do a reasonably good job of projecting those values out into the community… I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of it internally.”
He drew inspiration from Camus, claiming that conflicting parties can only find areas of agreement through honest, transparent and respectful dialogue.
The contributing editors include both those inside and outside the no-confidence movement. The Haven officially launched on Feb. 11, 2013, and has since generated over 2,200 page views as of Feb. 19.
While The Haven found its inspiration in the events surrounding the no-confidence vote, it is meant to function as a place to have a serious conversation about all of us as a university society rather than a place to rally against the administration. In its mission statement, the Haven states that its aim is to foster an open and public “forum for discovery that fosters solidarity across all members of the SLU community through reasoned discourse,” and further to advance SLU in fulfilling its own mission.
Parker hopes that it can function as a place for every person to be heard, including those that find themselves feeling excluded from the larger community.
“I would love to see someone from those organizations that feel marginalized expressing that concern,” Parker said. “And offering observations about how we might be able to remedy that.”
Hal Bush, a contributing editor and professor in the English department, believes that The Haven can exist as a place of serious conversation for people from any faith or even atheists.
“Synthesis is important, along with consensus; which is not impossible either,” Bush said. “Our fervent hope is that, in the end, a solid consensus can be reached that is viable for the vast majority of our community.”
Anyone in the SLU community can submit a piece of writing to The Haven, and the editors have solicited essays from students and invite commentary from members of the administration, as well.
“We’re really eager to have all sectors of the community involved,” Parker said.
Already conversations have begun concerning the illustrious history of the University, with Parker telling the story of Fr. Claude Heithaus, S.J., whose sermon and writings in 1944 helped push SLU to become the first historically-white, southern institution to allow African-Americans to enroll.
An essay by Bush contemplated the increasingly diluted use of the word “glory,” and through examining glory’s connection to the word “shalom,” he attempts to encourage members of the SLU community to find some sort of connection with the people and world about them.
The editors aim to have two important additions to the blog every week and SLU’s mission statement is posted directly on the website for easy access.
Submissions are reviewed by the contributing editors before being posted in order to foster a civil conversation.
Parker was not opposed to expanding the idea of Heithaus Haven to a more formal setting should there be a swell of student support for the project.
In order to commemorate Heithaus and bring attention to his courageous acts, there will be a reenactment of Heithaus’ 1944 homily at 1:00pm on Wednesday in College Church.
“We see this as the beginning of a larger conversation,” Parker said. “What we want is for us to become what we claim to be.”