The University as Social Force? An Octave of Theological Reflection

Mount St. Mary’sUniversity of Missouri. Georgetown.  Yale.  Washington University.  WheatonDuquesne. Protests.  Arrests.  Racism.  Ferguson.  Anti-immigration.  Syria.  Mexico.  Free speech.  Political correctness.  Activism.  Sexual Assault. Endowments.  Development.  Labor Unions.  Recruitment.  Retention.  Survival.

It is no secret that traditional institutions of higher education are struggling in the pro-business economy of the 21st century United States.  Universities must ever seek new lines of revenue, administrations must ever hire new administrators to help find said revenue, and the easiest way to decrease cost is often to hire more part-time (adjunct) professors. Daily Theology asks, amid the struggles, amid the building projects and NCAA scholarships, amid the growing class sizes, can we still find the mission of a Christian university?  If so, what is that mission, really?  And what are we doing to fulfill it?

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From February 21-28, consciously both deep in the season of Lent and during Black History Month, Daily Theology will host its 8th week of reflection, entitled “University as Social Force?  Protest and Activism in Academia.”  The title of the week comes from the theologian and priest, Ignacio Ellacuría, who was assassinated by US-trained operatives in 1989 alongside five other Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, in El Salvador.  Seven years prior to his murder, upon receiving an honorary degree from the University of Santa Clara in 1982, Ellacuría said:

There are two aspects to every university. The first and most evident is that it deals with culture, with knowledge, the use of the intellect. The second, and not so evident, is that it must be concerned with the social reality–precisely because a university is inescapably a social force: it must transform and enlighten the society in which it lives. But how does it do that? How does a university transform the social reality of which it is so much a part?

Ellacuría answers his question with a call for the Christian university, for the Catholic university, to embrace “the reality of the poor,” taking into account “the gospel preference for the poor.

This does not mean that only the poor will study at the university; it does not mean that the university should abdicate its mission of academic excellence–excellence which is needed in order to solve complex social issues of our time.  

What it does mean is that the university should be present intellectually where it is needed: to provide science for those without science; to provide skills for those without skills; to be a voice for those without voices; to give intellectual support for those who do not possess the academic qualifications to make their rights legitimate.”

While most, if not all, would agree with his words, do we still follow them?  Have we ever?  What does it mean to be centers of social change on campus today?  How does activism and protest fit into this model?

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This week, DT will host an amazing group of theologians to answer these and many other questions:

Sun, 2/21: John Slattery, University of Notre Dame: “Rationalizations and Progress: A Case Study for Catholic Academia
Mon, 2/22: Brian Hamilton, Florida Southern College: “Student Protest and the Liberal Arts
Mon, 2/22: Krista Stevens, Fordham University: “Owning Discomfort: Teaching Racial Justice in the Classroom
Tue, 2/23: M. Shawn Copeland, Boston College: “Lenten Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement
Wed, 2/24: Kevin Ahern, Manhattan College, “The Time is Now for a Renewed Catholic Student Movement
Thu, 2/25: Christopher Pramuk, Xavier University, “Jesuit Education and the Bursting of Soap Bubbles
Fri, 2/26: C. Vanessa White, Catholic Theological Union, “Somebody Stole My Stuff
Sat, 2/27: Meg Stapleton Smith, Yale Divinity School, “Undocumented Immigrants and the Task of the Catholic University
Sun, 2/28: John DeCostanza, Dominican University, “The Fruit of Holy Ground

As always, we at Daily Theology welcome your comments and look forward to our conversation.

Finally, as in previous reflection weeks, we welcome “letters to the editors” during this time, and will publish any we find particularly apropos to the discussion.  Please email us at with any such correspondence.