Xavier celebrates its sixth annual Academic Day on Tuesday, Oct. 3

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, superior general of the Society of Jesus, highlights a day that focused on the academic life of the University | October 3, 2006

Xavier University held its sixth annual Academic Day on Tuesday, Oct. 3, focusing on “Learning, Faith, Service: Crossroads in the Academy.” The event, which was part of the continuing celebration of Xavier’s 175th anniversary, was highlighted by the keynote address from Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus, on “The Service of Faith in a Religiously Pluralistic Society.”

The day also included a talk by University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., and a faculty panel discussion on “Serving faith and promoting justice through scholarship.”

In summing up his message to the faculty, staff and students Graham referred to “all you do to make the mission of the University come true in the hearts and minds of our students.”

In those words—hearts and minds—Graham’s message was clear. The University is educating students intellectually to be productive citizens, but it’s also educating them spiritually to be good people.

Graham carried the theme forward by reaching back to the co-founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius Loyola, and his Spiritual Exercises. Graham explained the six dimensions of the exercises and showed how they can be used to educate students beyond the nuts and bolts of preparing for a job or a career.

“The education we offer students must be holistic and integrative,” he said. “And no matter how much we bend ourselves toward the mission of this institution, we can always find ways to do it better.”

A Xavier education, like the six dimensions, should be: ordered to something greater, practical, ongoing, reflective, exacting yet adaptive and tailored to touch the heart.

For example, a student’s education shouldn’t end on graduation day. Students should be prepared to keep learning for the rest of their lives. “What skills do we need to teach them so they can continue to learn?” Graham said. “They need some touchstone experience of themselves here while they’re at their very best doing work that makes them whole and engaged in a powerful way.”

Also, a Jesuit university is challenged to provide care for the whole person while insisting on unwavering norms and expectations for academic excellence. This requires some flexibility for individuals with particular challenges or gifts while adhering to high standards.

Finally, Jesuit educators must strive to touch the hearts of their students. Referring to Ignatius’ description of the soul as having three parts—memory, understanding and will—Graham said the University can influence the choices students make.

“It’s one thing to understand the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s another to decide to choose to do it. How do we educate about that? No one wants to see well-intentioned but clueless students going out into the world. They won’t make a difference unless their heart is in it as well.”

Following Graham’s talk, associate academic vice president Kandi Stinson introduced this year’s faculty panel—Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology, Bob Ahuja, professor of marketing, David Burns, associate professor of marketing, Julia O’Hara, assistant professor of history, and Ken Overberg, S.J., professor of theology. The faculty members are the first five recipients of the Xavier Jesuit Community Faculty Fellowship.

The fellowship is awarded annually, and provides travel allotments and other resources to support research by a faculty member. The five recipients offered overviews of their research.

Building on the tenants of Jesuit education, Ahlgren discussed the process of becoming a person not just for others, but with others as well. “Tomorrow’s whole person cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world,” she said.

Ahuja examined the ethical implications of viral marketing—known as buzz marketing—aimed at children. A multi-billion-dollar enterprise, this strain of viral marketing circumvents parents, recruiting children to distribute free product samples to their peers. Approaching marketing from another end, Burns discussed the fallacies of seeking happiness through consumerism. Modernism has dispensed traditional personal and religious relationships, he told the audience, and “products have changed from tools to the building blocks off who we are. As a result, ‘stuff’ has gained center stage in many of our lives. We trade off time, we trade off relationships to get more ‘stuff’ to get more happiness, which isn’t going to happen.”

O’Hara discussed her research into 20th century treatment of the indigenous peoples of Northern Mexico’s Sierra Tarahumara region by the Mexican government and Catholic Missionaries and, in particular, the successes of the sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor. Overberg examined a wide range of ethical questions surrounding HIV/AIDS, including birth, infancy and childhood; infected persons and their relationships; end-of-life issues; issues of the common good and global structural issues. He said that many developed countries are developing “numbness” toward the epidemic, adding “HIV/AIDs may not make headlines, but it continues to devastate lives.”

Academic Day began in 2001. Its intent is to celebrate the University’s academic life with a day of presentations, speeches and student performances centered on a certain realm of academics. Previous Academic Days have focused on:

  • “The Xavier Experience”
  • "Ethics: Educating for a Good Society"
  • “Perspectives on Diversity”
  • Proposals for new honors program on “Philosophy, Politics and the Public” and a new interdisciplinary minor on “Catholicism and Culture”
  • And a new academic vision statement that was crafted by faculty as a road map for the University’s direction for the next decade.