Shaping Institutional Culture and Identity
Xavier University Discernment Group
Report to the President
February 13, 2009
In February 2007, President Michael J. Graham, S.J., invited 14 members of the Xavier University community to be part of the Mission and Identity Discernment Group, with the task of envisioning a new Division of Mission and Identity. He challenged the group to “shape a new division whose purpose will be to advance our Jesuit, Catholic mission among the faculty, staff and administration of Xavier University so as to maximize the fulfillment of our mission in the place where it matters most: in the hearts, in the minds, in the actions—in the very spirits—of our students.”
The Discernment Group interpreted this charge as an opportunity to promote a plan that would create a culture in which everyone at Xavier would come to understand and contribute to the core mission in ways that are authentic and intentional. The work of the group focused on understanding the core principles and values of that culture and on creating an administrative structure that would facilitate the creation of this campus culture by spawning and sustaining a new vision, rooted in tradition yet propelled by the increasing breadth and diversity of our campus community.
The work of the Discernment Group was divided into three phases:
§ Phase I involved monthly readings and discussions on the meaning of Jesuit education.
§ Phase II involved an introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in which each member of the group met with a spiritual director for approximately 10 weeks.
§ Phase III was an immersion trip, an eight-day tour of urban ministries in Los Angeles and Camden, N.J.
Rationale and Vision
As a Jesuit, Catholic university, Xavier’s purpose is to educate the whole person, intellectually, morally and spiritually; to understand, appreciate and serve the best interests of society, in particular the less fortunate; and to find God in all things. In addition to its intrinsic value, Xavier’s Jesuit, Catholic mission is, as well, the institution’s greatest point of distinction and differentiation. Leveraging this 450-year-old marriage of academic excellence and Jesuit ideals has always been of great importance, maybe never more so than now.
It is especially critical that the University turn its attention now to the deliberate work of enhancing this rich identity. Our diverse campus environment of faculty, staff and students requires us to discover new ways to celebrate and express our Jesuit heritage. Moreover, the increasingly competitive nature of higher education compels us to highlight the distinctiveness of this identity as an invitation to those who would benefit from sharing in our community. Certainly, the continual decline in the number of Jesuits on campus reveals a sense of urgency, but we are driven more by the opportunity of a fresh vision for the future, rooted in our past but shaped by contributions of men and women who see new possibilities to advance our mission.
The support of the president and his charge to the Discernment Group provide Xavier the inspiration and momentum to more fully embed the Jesuit mission in a contemporary and comprehensive manner. Success, however, will require a greater commitment across campus than currently exists. There have been considerable and laudable efforts over the past 15 years to help those who work and learn at the University come to more fully understand, appreciate and actualize the mission of the Jesuits. Yet it seems clear that this mission is not yet an authentic and intentional source of inspiration and guidance for the planning, efforts and impact of most faculty, staff and administrators.
Indeed, for Xavier to fulfill its aspirations, Ignatian spirituality will need to become a more genuine and central element of everyone’s experience and contributions. The Discernment Group concluded that the essence of this spirituality manifests itself through an invitation to all University stakeholders – students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, trustees and friends – to embrace five expressions or “gifts” of our Ignatian heritage:
♦ The Gift of Mission invites us to understand the history and importance of our Jesuit heritage and Ignatian spirituality. It compels us to attract and nurture students and employees who are interested in understanding and affirming this heritage. Mission at a Jesuit University focuses on the centrality of academic excellence, grounded in a Catholic faith tradition..
♦ The Gift of Reflection invites us to pause and consider the world around us and our place within it. It calls us to infuse a culture of attention, reflection and reverence throughout the University.
♦ The Gift of Discernment invites us to be open to God’s spirit as we consider our feelings and rational thought in order to make decisions and take action that will contribute good to our lives and the world around us. All University stakeholders should be invited to participate in The Spiritual Exercises or other discernment exercises.
♦ The Gift of Solidarity and Kinship reminds us to walk along side and learn from our companions as we journey through life, fostering a spirit of community both within and outside the University.
♦ The Gift of Service Rooted in Justice and Love invites us to invest our lives into the well-being of our neighbors, particularly those who suffer injustice. This encourages and develops a culture of mutually beneficial community engagement as an expression of faith that promotes justice.
The Discernment Group has three strategic recommendations, which focus on administrative structure rather than specific projects and programs. If adopted, they have potential to create processes that foster the creation of innovative initiatives that have broad authorship, ownership and accountability across campus, which will foster sustainability.
1. The first recommendation is that the Division of Mission and Identity continue to operate as a separate division and be led by a vice president who reports directly to the president. Xavier was among the first Jesuit universities to create an organizational model such as this, and it has served the institution well through the development and implementation of many outstanding programs and initiatives.
2. The second recommendation is to create a campus-wide President’s Council on Jesuit Mission and Identity. Currently, no mission-focused committee or cross-campus body exists within the administrative structure of Xavier. The President’s Council on Jesuit Mission and Identity would address strategic and tactical opportunities by connecting centers, programs and divisions through networks of collaboration and information sharing. The creation of this council will help embed capacity and accountability for mission building across campus, and provide greater structure and accountability toward achieving the vision.
3. The third recommendation is to expand the resources and impact of the Division of Mission and Identity by creating ambassadors throughout the institution. This will be accomplished through the implementation of new collaborative positions modeled after the Director for Faculty Programs within the Division of Mission and Identity. This director divides her time evenly between Academic Affairs and Mission and Identity. Her charge is to educate, influence and impact the work of both divisions. Roles such as this are to be filled on a rotating basis. A significant benefit of this recommendation is the creation of staff members knowledgeable about Jesuit identity and able to serve as role models and resources within their “home” division and across campus.
The objective of these recommendations is not to recapture the past, but rather to envision a new future that is based on where we have been, builds from where we are now, and takes us where we have never gone before. As we follow this journey with even greater vigor and determination, we fully expect to see tangible evidence of our success in a variety of ways. Among them are:
§ A common understanding among all University stakeholder of our Jesuit, Catholic mission.
§ A sense of shared accountability for ensuring the fulfillment of our core mission.
§ Additional and ongoing support for Xavier and its priority strategic objectives.
§ A more sharply defined identity of the University that differentiates it from other institutions of higher education.
§ Greater positive impact on advancing social justice in the world around us.