We, the concerned students of Saint Louis University, are deeply unsettled by the deterioration of the Jesuit values upon which this University was founded.
Many of us came to Saint Louis University contingent upon the promise that we would receive a Jesuit education guided by SLU’s Mission: the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and the service of humanity. Many of us had no previous exposure to Catholic or Jesuit education but recognize the inherent value in developing students as contemplative, well-rounded citizens able to think critically, engage with their communities and effect positive change in the world.
All of us, regardless of our personal history, are united in discontent. We are disappointed in the failed leadership of the current administration. We are frustrated by many faculty who are indifferent towards SLU’s Mission. We are insulted by the spineless (in)action of the Student Government Association. But most of all, we are fearful of the modernist influence that has taken hold of Saint Louis University.
What we mean by modernism, in this case, is the ongoing subversion of our Jesuit academic tradition in favor of instrumental rationality. The University pours tens of millions of dollars into STEM and business resources while imposing systemic reductions of humanities tenure lines, deploys an undergraduate recruitment strategy that has starved humanities disciplines of undergraduate enrollment, and excludes the liberal arts from its stated strategic priorities. To add insult to injury, the UUCC’s Core Curriculum Proposal is a caricature of Jesuit education masking an insipid appropriation of our academic tradition.
While modernity has provided expansions of personal liberty, privacy, self-awareness and self-fashioning, people often are no wiser, less articulate, and trapped in the paradox that their happiness depends on social practices that cannot thrive amidst modern individualism. Under modernity, instrumental reason becomes nihilistic; it undermines human solidarity in favor of individualism; it is based in a metaphysics of totality and utopia; it is anti-foundational and relativistic; ultimately, it is destructive of value and meaning. Modernism is the antithesis of Jesuit thinking and the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction.
Some would have us believe that we should be content with the modern state of the University, that we should celebrate the pursuit of competition in “productive” sciences and that our Jesuit academic tradition is antiquated and futile in the modern era. This is not the case. Timeless values have timeless value. We cannot hope to “compete” by abandoning what makes SLU unique or surrendering to the demands of external forces.
We seek to preserve the Jesuit identity of Saint Louis University by instantiating the values which we claim to uphold.
We envision SLU as an institution able to move beyond modernism by drawing on the symbolic materials and intellectual traditions that modernism has suppressed.
We, the students of Saint Louis University, resist the modernist temptation that has infected our University and demand that SLU recommit itself to its foundational ideals.
We are drawn to the ideals that SLU strives for because we regard humans as being possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom and love. We value the inherent dignity of the human person above all else and believe that a dedication to humanity is vital to resist the dehumanizing nature of modernism.
We believe that the Jesuit academic tradition is integral to the identity of Saint Louis University.
The integral relationship between faith and reason which characterizes Jesuit education is an essential part of what makes SLU unique. We distinguish ourselves from other universities by our commitment to the holistic development of the human person. Only by striking a delicate balance between the productive and the reflective, the temporal and the spiritual, the earthly and the transcendent, can we fully actualize the mission of Saint Louis University.
We believe that education is not a means to an end but rather an end in itself.
The modern student has been commodified, quantified and dehumanized. We seek to shatter the conception of the university as a site for career development. Students are human beings full of wonder, hope and excitement, but we are treated as though we are cogs in a machine. We oppose the depersonalization that reduces human beings to the status of things.
We believe that a liberal arts education is essential to the cultivation of communal friendship
Humans are social creatures. Disciplines in the humanities are uniquely adept at inspiring within the student a common desire for truth and purpose that connects all human beings. We believe that interpersonal intellectual collaboration facilitates the development of empathy which dissolves divisions in our diverse community and cultivates virtuous friendships. This is essential in shaping our shared identity as students at Saint Louis University.
We believe in radical love.
To love is to know, to challenge and to elevate the soul of another in pursuit of excellence. To love an institution is to preserve the integrity of its character and to encourage the idealistic endeavor. We seek to hold those in power accountable to the aims of the University which they serve. Our criticism is motivated purely by our love of Saint Louis University, and our action is inspired by our unwavering belief in its perennial values.
The Curriculum Carries the Mission
What we include in a University wide core, and perhaps more importantly what we leave out, is a reflection of what the University itself values. The current decentralized core structure is inherently problematic for a Jesuit university that claims to educate all students in the Jesuit academic tradition. Without a unified common core, a SLU baccalaureate is not meaningful because students do not have a common academic experience; however, there is an ongoing, university-wide effort to create a Common Core. This is absolutely essential for the future success of the University, but it would be a grave mistake to pass a version of the Core that so clearly fails to deliver on its central promise.The current Core Curriculum proposal exemplifies how the University is failing to strike an appropriate balance between its tradition and modernity.
Presently, SLU is a hotbed of anxiety. Academic units feel threatened by Portfolio Review, creating a culture of fear. Most leadership positions are occupied by interim appointments and there is little agreement about how to best work toward the Mission of the University. Put simply: SLU’s identity is in question, making many staff, faculty and students uncomfortable. Yet for many, the opportunity to implement a Common Core curriculum for the first time is seen as an opportunity to breathe hope into an institution marred by poor leadership. However, the proposed Core represents another point of anxiety for SLU in its current form. It is plagued with a variety of difficulties: negligent committee makeup, lack of willingness to engage those with significant concerns and most crucially, the Oct. 1 Core’s unacceptable architecture. To get a glimpse of our concern for SLU as an institution, we must look to the effort to develop a Common Core.
Currently, the foundational disciplines of Jesuit education, philosophy and theology, are not adequately represented on the UUCC. The committee is largely made up of critics of SLU’s mission, and a number of faculty have expressed how the UUCC is missing key traditionalist viewpoints that help to inspire generative tensions.
Additionally, the committee has been reluctant to engage in communal activities that welcome a weighing of values in open or closed settings. The process has been more formulaic than fruitful because of the committee’s reluctance to invite key stakeholders into the conversation at crucial junctures. The committee is also guilty of fostering a herd mentality where disagreement and discourse are not visible to people outside of their meetings, if it is even happening at all.
Given these structural and process oriented issues, it is no surprise that the Oct. 1 Core architecture largely misses the mark for what a Jesuit university should offer students today. First and foremost, the proposed Core lacks almost any specified content. It completely bows to the modernistic desire to forgo any consultation with the past and instead champions discovery, style and wonder. It neglects to provide students a common starting point from which to engage the Mission, leaving the door open for the Jesuit academic tradition to go by the wayside, being replaced by individual faculty objectives.This is most obviously evidenced in the First-Year Seminar, which is extremely hollow. The UUCC very clearly does not understand that to be a part of a tradition is to participate in disputes about that tradition as the Core does not have many opportunities for students to encounter the tradition at multiple levels of depth. Also egregious is the conflation of history and literature as well as philosophy, theology and ethics in the new Core. It additionally gives up on situating foreign language in any meaningful part of the architecture. This is especially troubling because these disciplines have been at the heart of Jesuit education since the development of the Ratio Studiorum in 1599. In fact, the Core makes almost no mention of the Ratio Studiorum. This is not surprising given that the UUCC has not undergone any kind of Mission-training or exploration of the history of Jesuit education. Furthermore, the Core seems to treat social justice and the university environment as an attributed afterthought. The Core fails to ensure that classes be filled with students who have diverse identities and intellectual interests. Much of the Core can be completed within a student’s major program. Finally, the Core proposal and budget do not indicate how extensive faculty development will be achieved in order to deliver. The only mention of Mission-related faculty development is in reference to the First-Year Seminar where instructors will be required to attend a one day training session on Ignatian Pedagogy — a term being used as a peg to stabilize a Core with no Jesuit academic content.
Many of these problematic realities are not solely the fault of the UUCC. Representation falls on the administrators that assembled the UUCC and the architecture is largely born out of pressure to give into the faculty’s power to veto the Core in March.
A Core that disregards the Jesuit academic tradition only harms the reputations of President Pestello and Provost Gillis who embarrassed themselves at a Nov. 6 meeting where they painted the picture of an unstable faculty willing to go to great lengths to destroy each other. They failed to recognize the growing concern that the proposed Core fails to include components that are integral to Jesuit education. The President and Provost simply have not upheld their duty to maintain the integrity of the institution.
What is most troubling is that the Core process has become almost completely political instead of Mission and student-focused. Additionally, it is clear that the UUCC is compelled to make decisions that undermine authentic Jesuit education motivated largely by the desire to accomodate all faculty, not just those who appreciate the Mission. This poses the interesting problem of having faculty who are apathetic or disinterested toward the Mission. The growing interest in becoming a major research university, the lack of hiring for the Mission and the desire to compete with secular institutions has attracted many faculty that have no interest in protecting and emboldening the Mission. If the identity of a university is found in the curriculum, the guards and deliverers of that curriculum are the faculty. SLU must realize that it needs faculty who are inspired by the Mission to engage in an academic tradition dating back to the 1500s.
Finally, SGA has largely remained silent throughout this process. While it recently passed a resolution directed at the UUCC, SGA is tainted by external forces that cripple its ability to act with integrity. Instead, the SGA Senate has resorted to grotesque procedural arguments in order to reject a widely supported Resolution–essentially rendering itself (the Association) useless as an assembly.
Given these concerns with the ongoing effort to create a Common Core, we demand:
The UUCC to add a representative from Mission and Identity or someone who has extensive knowledge of the Jesuit academic tradition to the committee immediately.
The Core include a First-Year Seminar that requires all SLU students to encounter philosophical, historical, theological, and literary texts which are integral to authentic Jesuit education.
A Core that intentionally and strategically brings together students from different backgrounds, areas of studies, and interests at multiple points in the Core.
A Core that includes philosophy, theology, ethics, language, history, and literature requirements.
A Core that builds the capacity to discern, exposes students to the concept of social justice, and encourages students to think about the fragile world/environment we live in.
The problems with SLU’s Core are emblematic of the pervasive problems facing the University. Given the widespread apathy towards SLU’s mission among faculty and university leadership, the responsibility to defend the Jesuit values upon which our University was founded falls on us, the students. We demand SLU escape from this condition and commit itself to the ideals that define its Mission. But, above all else, we demand to be heard.