Father Graham closes Academic Day with State of University address

Xavier is doing well, he says, but calls for more collaboration, integration as next steps | October 25, 2005

In mid-October, Xavier University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., was honored by his alma mater, Cornell College, for distinguished service. The honor came as a surprise, he said on Tuesday, Oct. 25, as he closed the University’s fifth annual Academic Day with his State of the University address. But it also offered him a wonderful opportunity to do some reflecting since it was made during his 30th class reunion.

As he reminisced with classmates during the weekend, he said, it became increasingly evident that the events and experiences of his time as an undergraduate have a lot to do with what Xavier is doing today—and what it will be in the future.

All students should have such experiences that they carry forward through life, which is why this year’s Academic Day focused on “The Xavier Experience.” For five years, the University has celebrated its academic life with a day of presentations, speeches and student performances centered on a certain realm of academics. This year’s event featured several programs that dealt with enhancing the learning experience, possible changes to the core curriculum and the benefits of an information fluency institute.

For Graham, his experience at Cornell ingrained in him many of the beliefs and philosophies about higher education that still influence him today. A liberal arts education is one, he said. As a sophomore, he was writing a paper for a political science class when he realized that what he was learning in a social psychology class was highly relevant to what he was writing about in political science, and how all subjects, in one way or another, can be—and are—interwoven. It was at that moment, he said, that he understood what a liberal arts education is all about, and that understanding impacts the University today.

He pointed to several other experiences as being pivotal to his overall understanding and growth, but quickly noted that they were all woven together with a common thread—the faculty and the interest they showed in the students, whether it was formally in the classroom or informally outside of it. The conversations he had with his professors—even casual conversations—were terribly influential.

“They would poke and probe and force us to think critically about whatever the subject was,” he said. “It was as if they were teaching us important life lessons without telling us what they were doing.”

And such lessons and efforts must continue, he said. “That conversation that was theirs must become ours.”

“The argument was the thing, it was the tool,” he said. “But it happened in a community—it was face to face—and was a cross-cutting discourse. That’s a very important element in our intellectual formation.”

As he thought back on the specific professors who impacted him, he said, he came to another realization: they were all men. As much profound gratitude as he has for his experiences, he said, they also included some that Xavier must not follow–the lack of diversity being among them.

Still, he said, the strategic plan that was completed last year has set a course for the future. It will address the issues that need adjusting, and the University is well positioned overall.

“If you ask me how the University is doing today, I would say that it is doing well,” he said. “Can we do things better? Always. The next question then becomes, ‘How?’ As I listened to the presentations today, a word kept coming to me: Integration. It was a word that was woven throughout all of the programs. But integration is what something looks like at the end. In the beginning, the word we must use is 'collaborate.' And that’s harder to do. It may not be easy to collaborate across disciplines, but we must. And at some point, if we collaborate, integration will happen.

“We must also learn more about the vision that St. Ignatius had at Manresa, the vision that all things hang together by grace. We can do no better than to immerse on that tradition. My hope is that we collaborate and that we drink deep from this fountain, for there are riches there.”