State of the University Address, part 3

October 21, 2008

This brief synopsis, however detailed, only scratches the surface of the tremendous energy that you have brought to the important work of better engaging the many communities around us, from local to global, and I apologize to all of you whose important collaborative projects I did not highlight here, and I know that there are many of you. Some statistics help to capture both the breadth and depth of this involvement. Last year, 3,188 students—nearly 50 percent—participated in community engagement activities and completed about 24,500 hours of service. More than 60 percent of those students became involved in community engagement through roughly 190 courses taught last academic year by better than 150 faculty, representing most University departments. This is approximately 14 percent of all courses taught and 22 percent of all faculty. More than 70 percent of our seniors report having participated in community service or volunteer work during the course of their time here at Xavier. 

It is against this truly impressive background that I am pleased today to be able to announce the creation of the James and Delrose Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning as a mechanism to better support and advance this good and important work. The Eigel Center will function as the hub of a network of integrated programs to extend even more effectively our campus into our community. It will be a catalyst for the involvement of faculty, students, administrators and staff and generating community partnerships that advance learning and pursue social justice through direct service, community building, scholarship and public policy advocacy.  Most importantly, it will build on Xavier’s strong tradition of service by encouraging students to discover the varied approaches and mutual benefits of community engagement.  In its inaugural year, the Eigel Center’s chief objectives will be to coordinate and enhance the University’s already vibrant community-engagement efforts by focusing on supporting faculty, guiding students, mobilizing resources, and managing external partnerships.

The Center will support faculty initiatives around community engagement by creating an academy for community-engaged faculty to increase the number of courses taught using community-engagement methods and by naming a faculty fellow for community-engaged scholarship in partnership with the Center for Teaching Excellence, to allow a faculty member to serve as an advisor to the rest of the faculty and to the Eigel Center itself on efforts around community-engaged scholarship.

The Center will help guide student-led initiatives around community engagement by overseeing the newly named and reorganized community-engaged fellowships that will award 10 four-year scholarships each year, and by supporting as well the efforts of Peace and Justice Programs and other University programs to move students along a continuum of community-engagement experiences, from exposure to the idea of service to others, to participation (where the service provider gets involved in finding solutions), to empowerment (when all parties become involved in more collaborative efforts, resulting in mutually beneficial solutions to foster positive social change). The Center will mobilize Xavier’s institutional resources that support community engagement by establishing a community-engaged learning roundtable made up of 18 faculty, administrators and students who hold key roles on campus initiatives related to engagement, thus creating the mechanism by which we can even more effectively advance the third pillar of our strategic plan, creating a community-engaged learning network. The Center will as well work with the Office of Strategic Information Resources to set benchmark indicators for evaluating engagement and with the Office of Web Services to develop effective communication systems pertinent to community engagement information.

And finally, the Center will help manage the University’s external partnerships by overseeing the Evanston-Norwood-Xavier Community Partnership to advance mutually beneficial initiatives that emphasize academic investment by assisting Xavier staff in administering a small grants program for neighboring grass roots organizations, and by positioning the Community Building Institute as a conduit for engaging students, faculty and staff in highly collaborative partnerships.

As I begin to bring these long remarks to a close, let me back up from all its particulars and give you some sense of how I see and appreciate the totality of all of this, your good work.  As you may have heard, Cincinnati has a new Archbishop. Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, coming to us from the Diocese of Duluth (and a fellow Iowan I might add!), will be taking over the apostolic reigns of the diocese from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk sometime after August next year. And sometime shortly after that, I suspect, I’ll be sitting down with him for my first official meeting. Our conversation about Xavier University will, of course, be guided by the Aug. 15, 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. As you may recall, that document listed the following four characteristics as essential to the identity of a Catholic university:

■    “A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such.”
■    “A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research.”
■    “Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church.”
■    “An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family and their     pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.” 

I am sure that our conversation back and forth will be rich and wide-ranging. I will certainly convey to Archbishop Schnurr Xavier University’s own desire to be of whatever service we can be to the mission of the Church here in the Greater Cincinnati area. 

I suspect that the part of the conversation I will look forward to most, however, is the part concerning point four above: “An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family and their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.” Later paragraphs from Ex Corde expand upon this basic point:

■    “A Catholic university, as any university, is immersed in human society; as an extension of its service to the Church, and always within its proper competence, it is called on to become an ever more effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society.”
■    “The Christian spirit of service to others for the promotion of social justice is of particular importance to each Catholic university, to be shared by it teachers and developing in its students.  The Church is firmly committed to the integral growth of all men and women.”
■    “Every Catholic university feels responsible to contribute concretely to the progress of the society within which it works.”
■    “Through programmes of continuing education offered to the wider community, by making its scholars available for consulting services, by taking advantage of modern means of communication, and in a variety of other ways, a Catholic university can assist in making the growing body of human knowledge and a developing understanding of the faith available to a wider public, thus expanding university services beyond its own academic community.”
■    “Original forms of dialogue and collaboration are to be encouraged … on behalf of development, of understanding between cultures, and of the defense of nature in accordance with an awareness of the international ecological situation.”
■    “Catholic universities … are one among the variety of different types of institutions that are necessary for the free expression of cultural diversity, and they are committed to the promotion of solidarity and its meaning in society and in the world.”

You get the drift. One way of telling the Xavier University story over the course of the last decade is this way:  an ever-more confident Xavier University—aware of its past, committed to its mission, strengthened by the sure knowledge of the remarkable intellectual and human resources it contains—has moved increasingly outward in a lively and mutually enriching encounter with the world around it. I congratulate all of you who have been a part of this historic re-imagining of Xavier University. And I look forward to exploring with you the ever fresh and always exciting possibilities that remain before us.