2016 Convocation Address Transcript

Presidential Convocation Address
Delivered October 18, 2016

 

Faculty, staff, administrators, Jesuits, alumni, friends, Marymount Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. Good morning to each of you.

I know that I created some chatter when I termed this speech "Out-of-Body Experience" and I know that some of you enculturated in and during the 70s view that with some special mind. I also know that there's at least one person, Father Bowler, who's deeply interested in Carl Jung, and I hate to disappoint you but I'm not going to talk about either of those types of out-of-body experiences much to the delight of the rest of us.

I've now been at LMU for this is my 17th month and I'm happy to report being a Lion through and through. On the count of three: one, two, three, Go, Lions! Now look at that, that's something I learned my first day at work from Lane Bove.

I think a presidential convocation should have two phases, if you will, or two movements, and I will be referring later to symphonies. First, I'd like to give a state of the university address; then second, and I will do this each year, a topic I will cover that is of, I think, interest to all of us in our current time.

If we pull together our recent accomplishments and where we're going in our future and just pull it a little bit out of focus, you can see why I have selected as a theme out-of-body experience. Let me give you three quickies associated with that: first our mission calls us as our Jesuit tradition has exemplified for nearly 500 years to meet people where they are. That is, move ourselves toward the culture, experience and locations of others, contemporaries in our human journey, out-of-body. This is driven by the Ignatian magis, that restless desire to do better.

Second, our current disposition and success require us to get out-of-body, off the bluff -- programmatically, physically, promotionally -- engage L.A., engage our globe and engage those who through coming to know our stories of success can help us build a better earth and life through a better LMU. This too is driven by our magis, our restless desire to do better.

Third, we increasingly witness that real justice here in our country following years of efforts, partial successes, remains absurdly absent in many sectors for persons of minority color, culture, sexuality, origin, religion, ethnicity, profession and age. Justice also eludes a majority: women. We must be out-of-body in how we commune our spirit, traditions, view points, cultures and experiences with one another, toward comprehensive justice. This movement toward justice, which requires us to be out-of-body, is driven as well by our Ignatian magis, restless desire to do better.

Let me go out, I'll cover diversity in the second half of the talk, that will be the second hour. For this first one I'd like to talk about the state of our university. I think you can summarize the state of the university in one word: California. That's the last humor you'll hear.

Last week, I emailed a state of the university message of sorts and it was replete with what we've recently championed as an institution, as departments, programs and teams, individuals and collections of students, faculty, staff and alumni. The list was impressive if you've not yet had a chance to check it out, please call that email back and give it a read, it is quite fun to read. I ask though that upfront we know that no letter and no summary of our accomplishments suffices to talk about where the action occurs in an academic institution. It occurs between faculty and students, classrooms, laboratories, creative spaces, programs, projects, problems, discussions ... that's where the nexus of what we champion occurs.

Could our faculty please rise for a round of applause? Thank you for being with us today. Faculty, you should know the deans stood as well. Faculty cannot succeed without a backbone of support and that's what comes from our staff. Our staff are gifted and talented; often they're the greatest continuity for an institution like ours. Could our staff please rise for a round of applause? Thank you for being with us.

Before I highlight some specifics of what we accomplished, let me outline and be transparent about my strategy for LMU. Our successes meld well with what I ultimately hope LMU can become.

Following the theme of my inauguration, I challenge LMU to become the definitive center for global imagination and its impacts. The pathways that I seek to pursue in doing this are three, and they have to do with three footprints: First that we expand our global footprint -- we know our earth is becoming tighter and more inter-connected, certainly that of our students will be yet more so, hence we need to expand that global footprint; second, we should expand our creative footprint -- Why? Because our human future is going to demand extraordinary creativity, and, fact is, we have not raised our students with enough rehearsal in creativity as they're going to need. We need to expand our creative footprint.

Then third, we need to expand our interdisciplinary footprint -- first because things colliding from different arenas often will give us greatest accomplishment, and second, the interdisciplinary areas are still largely unexplored. They bring us great virtues and I hope you recognize that these three pathways -- the expansion of our global, creative and interdisciplinary footprints -- are consonant with our mission of encouraging learning, educating the whole person, and that bonded service of faith and promotion of justice.

Let me talk about some of our accomplishments. The first one is really exciting to me: the Wall Street Journal decided to do a survey of universities -- if you want to make a lot of money today, you just do surveys of universities, because people really want to know who's good and who's not. Unlike the U.S. News & World Report survey which is largely input based -- what are the SAT scores and GPA's of incoming students, how many faculty have terminal degrees, what's going on in reputation around there among other university leaders -- The Wall Street Journal survey is based much more on outcomes: What proportion of students end up with careers, activities while at school, like how engaged are the students in their academic lives ... In that survey we placed in the top 10 percent of over a thousand institutions analyzed and we were No. 4 among the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. We were No. 4 to Georgetown, Boston College and Holy Cross. That means we were number one in the West and rated at least by this organization better than anybody other than those three institutions. Meanwhile, our Loyola Law School rose 10 slots in the U.S. News survey and that one at least for U.S. News is a little more outcome-based because it does look at placement of students in careers; it looks at bar passage rates and things like that. We moved up ten slots last year, and meanwhile this other place I had barely heard of called Pepperdine, we were separated by 22 slots just a year ago. We are now tied and we are ranked number 65 in the nation; two years ago we were ranked number 87. We thank our law school for their recent accomplishments. Michael Waterstone, you should rise as well. Loyola Law School, thank you for being with us today, we appreciate it.

My recent update featured a lot of things related to these expansions and in the global expansion arena. Our class of 2020 brought and expanded student footprint. For the first time in our history, our first-year class was culled from applications from all 50 United States, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and over 100 nations. This is not to mention our all-time record level of SAT's, I think we went up 21 points over this last year; enrolled another diverse and high GPA class. Relative to our past, we are out-of-body in terms of our enrollments and I should mention also the law school out yielded our predictions and out enrolled our predictions while raising the quality and the diversity as part of the quality of its class.

Those involved with admissions and career and professional development, could you please rise for a round of applause? You really brought us some wonder. Our global initiatives are helping us get out-of-body. Last year we featured notable global figures. They included the then-president of the Philippines, secretary general of the United Nations, a former U.S. president. We will continue to engage these kinds of leaders in our learning and with our community and we recently sculpted a strategic vision statement associated with our international programming. The faculty senate have reviewed that and brought us a lot of analysis associated with it, and critical suggestions that will help steer us as we become more global in our programmatic offerings.

Our interdisciplinary world, out-of-body as well, relative to traditional, departmental boundaries, is healthy. We have the World Policy Institute, we have the Academy for Catholic Thought and Imagination, we have the Center for Urban Resilience, the CEEL, which is the Center for Equity for English Learners. By the way, they're productively collaborating with CURes, the Center for Urban Resilience. We have CMAST, we have the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles. We have in the BCLA -- that's our liberal arts school -- Women Studies, Asian Pacific American Studies; we have our M-School, we have a Documentary Lab, these are leading the way at LMU.

Our coming Playa Vista Initiative also will immerse us further in interdisciplinary work. We will be members of that lightning like community in our front yard, and that will help us forge new creative connections between our current offerings and those of the awesome firms down there. The technological innovation going on down ther, entertainment, marketing and others. Could all those involved in the programs I just mentioned please rise? We thank you as well. Michael, you can lead; you and Fernando are right together; Robbin ... we got the trio.

Our Playa Vista Initiative sends us out-of-body because it sends us off the bluff, and it brightly and physically demonstrates that LMU will, as part of its mission, do indeed what the Jesuits have done for so long, and that is go to new frontiers and meet the people where people are. As this initiative expands each of our global, creative and interdisciplinary footprints, we also plan to share along the way, more broadly, widely, frequently and effectively, our successes, accomplishments, values and dreams, recently from banners to kiosks, to national newspaper and periodical appearances, to sports venues and social media. We are ceasing already to be the best-kept secret on the bluff.

We will continue to tell our stories of achievement boldly and our new brand development initiative will move us forward so that we can do even better. I ask that each of you become involved in this initiative when our branding experts come onto campus to gather input about our essence. Now, in no way do I wish to claim that these are our first moves off the bluff, but our success so far positions us to be more global in our orientation and work.

I am grateful to the service and other programs, excursions guided by our Center for Service and Action, Campus Ministry, all our course-related international learning experiences, and Study Abroad, each of whom has engaged the world dynamically and will continue to be part of our global engagement. Could those associated with those programs please rise?

My recent communication also outlines some successes in the area of diversity and I'll deal with that in that second hour and I'll address that in more detail but for completeness let me list what was in that update, I have four elements and this was not in the update, actually, but it's valuable.

We have increased the resources associated with our two-to-one match to financial aid gifts that come from the AAAA and the LAA: AAAA, African American Alumni Association; LAA, Latino Alumni Association. We have more resources associated with those programs. We are also, as you know orchestrating, an implicit-bias training program for all faculty, all staff and all students to help us realize that we do harbor biases and being aware of them will help us work more effectively together. Third, there's a lot going on in Student Affairs: We have expanded our nationally recognized LMU Cares program to include an inclusionary respect community component along with ethnic, cultural, religious and LGBTQ+ topics. Student Affairs reorganized its offices so that student groups could have greater interaction between one another and we are planning on constructing all-gender bathrooms. Could our Student Affairs and Student Development professionals please rise? We thank you for being ahead of the curve. Fourth, we established Harriet Tubman Press as one of the few university-related imprints devoted to African and African-American authors. Those involved with Harriet Tubman Press and LMU Marymount Press please rise. Thank you. At the same time, we continue our engagement of philanthropy: The School of Education recently procured a $2.7 million grant from the Department of Education, spearheaded by Professor Magaly Lavandez, to support English learners in the L.A. Unified School District.

Last year we exceeded our annual fundraising goals and we're closing in and we'll complete by end of year our $100 million Scholarship Initiative. Meanwhile, we're planning for our next comprehensive campaign, which has already engaged LMU's first-ever campaign planning council so that we can accelerate procurement of support for accelerated success. Though the details of the campaign remain to be determined, we will follow the thematic pathways that I outlined a moment ago and you can be sure we will continue to work on financial aid so that we can offer access to an LMU education for those deserving of it no matter what their financial station in life. We have with us many benefactors, donors, friends, alumni and members of our University Relations staff, could you please rise? We thank you so much for your support and work to make it happen.

Finally, our financial health is sound, in the current national higher educational environment where many schools, including our sibling AJCU schools, struggle to make enrollments in neat budgets, we are on strong footing. We will continue to prioritize academic programs that align with our articulated vision and mission statement, and strategic plan, to meet the needs of an ever-developing world and evolving student population.

We will continue to prioritize access. In fact, the models with which we're working for budgets in incoming or upcoming years all include increases in financial aid to accompany tuition raises and at the same time we're looking at ways where we can reward better our faculty and staff, relative to what we have been doing lately. We are fortunate to be able to make these kinds of moves while continuing to move forward strategically. Could all those associated with the financial side of the house please rise? We thank you for your stewardship.

Earlier I noted that our current times tell us that American justice following years of efforts and partial successes remains absurdly absent in many sectors of our society. With our first movement having ended on such a high note, the second one begins a bit more somberly, as we explore the complex issues of diversity, inclusion, culture and community. We all know that our campus always, in part, will be a reflection of our wider society. But we determine what that "in part" means and what it doesn't mean. We have been moved from mere tolerance to what we call social and intellectual solidarity, and in pursuit of our blossoming diversity we at LMU are already ahead of the majority of institutions of higher education.

See, here again this is the problem with Saint Ignatius, when you think you have it covered, the magis kicks in, and you have to do better -- that's what this is about. Because some minds and some senses these days immediately become defensive when such topics arise, I noted at the outset these issues are not born from political correctness or anything political. They are born from our Catholic/Jesuit/Marymount mission; they are inspired by Pope Francis and his vision for an inclusive Christianity. As we are aware, Catholic social teaching speaks to the dignity of all persons born, born in the image of God, and this applies to all of us: this applies to the students whom we admit, this applies to the faculty and staff we employ.

Each of us is a person different from the other, each is equally dignified in the eyes of God no matter how our God-given station has configured us. Every one of us has special talents, special gifts, either in the waiting or already in action as helpers to our university and to our world. The Catholic analogical imagination forges of course with our LMU call to see God in all things. Let me ask you to get out-of-body for a moment, do this, just try it. Take a look at the person to your left, just stare them down -- it's OK, you don't have to worry because they're going to be staring at the person next to them. If you're all the way on the left side of the house you're just going to have to look at the wall or look at the person on your right. When you look at that person, I want you to see that they are you in quality and in value. Take a look at them, they're you in the eyes of God, in quality and in value. They too are navigating life's hopes, challenges and dreams. They too are anxious about their eternity, and they too cry tears of pain and of joy and these tears, once shed, are exactly the same in all respects as yours, as are the emotions that caused them to erupt. One vial of tears from one person and the vial from another, you're not going to be able to tell the difference.

I'd like to talk about four facets of diversity moving forward. I'll talk first about diversity and it's value; second, the challenges that diversity brings us; third, and this is the exciting part, diversity's ubiquity in universal and human success; then fourth, and that's where I'll spend most of my time, what we might do next and I'll have three suggestions about that. Let's start with diversity and its value. Robert F. Kennedy told us, this is a quote, "Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity." Being out-of-body means we should expand our diversity in all dimensions. Too often, and we think a lot about justice and inclusion and equality and opportunity, we can miss out on the pragmatic value of diversity.

The fact is diversity brings us strength, and with this as our guiding principle as we diversify, we should not seek some agreed-upon-by-committee demographic that once hit, we can say, "Well, gosh we have so many persons from places or things, so therefore we are done." Instead, diversity means that each member of our community is poised to assure that all capacities of our wider humankind are not only present in our community, but that every individual and every affiliated group, have a viable vibrancy in the discourse of teaching, learning, scholarship, administration, behavior, celebration and thereby effect on our evolving world.

This strength obviously encompasses more than community, opportunity and equality. But diversity is challenging, which is the second phase about which I wish to speak. Harvesting success through diversity is hard to do; it pulls us from our business as usual, life as usual, from our habits. It requires encounter, it requires we engage in the glory of discomfort. In a chapter to be published next year in Liturgical Press, our own Allan Deck or reject our differences but to work through them, "To achieve communion in diversity rather than communion in conformity." Speaking to the Catholic ministry about the challenges and discomfort required in greater encounter, Father Deck notes that encounter requires imagination and ability to take risks, or what Pope Francis likes to call, "going out" -- leaving the security of the sacristy for the dangers of the street or risking what Pope Francis calls, "Getting into an accident." Now, why would we embrace discomfort? Well, two reasons; one is that Ignatian magis, it's the restless ... nobody is comfortable when they're restless ... restless leg syndrome for heaven sake that's not considered a peace pipe or something that's going to help you go to sleep. A second reason that we should embrace the discomfort is that we as an academically inclined set of intellectuals or intellectuals in training know that discomfort is an inherent facet of learning, and learning is our key and guide for the future we envision.

How does this work? We only need to look at the substance of our universe, the actions of our body and the successes of our history to see that nearly all of our existence and accomplishments share just one key feature: it is diversity.  So often we'll hear people talk about diversity and they're trying to convince us that diversity is good and, "Gosh, we are all the same, we're in this together." They talk about DNA and typically they'll talk about black and white or persons of different color and they'll say, "Well gosh, if you look at the DNA of person X, it is almost exactly the same as person Y." By the way were not talking about gender, I shouldn't have used X and Y, that's bad math, I should have used V and W or something like that. They start getting genetic and that's supposed to tell us that, "Well, okay we can all be diverse and be happy with it." There's something lost in here, if you're going to start getting physical and genetic, you really should go inside the body; if we're going to observe our make up, let's look at a feature that everybody has. Everybody is, every body is, a symphony of diversity. We have muscles strapped to hardware called bones, the bones that hold them in place use the muscles to locomote the being. Our organs have specific different functions from one another, guided by our brain which is an incredible neurosensory feedback system, and our skin zip-locks us tightly enough to protect us from the environment, regulate our temperatures and provide feedback in that neurosensory system. Systems each with purpose, molecules that can act only in a symphony of community. Take for example an insulin molecule, it needs a pancreas that creates it, beta cells as they're called, it needs food and a digestive process that calls it into the blood stream. It needs a circulatory network to deliver it to a needy cell, and it needs a cell waiting for it to arrive with the energy source that it needs to keep us alive, vibrant, creative and laughing.

Each of us already is born a symphony of diversity. Each symphonic person of our past -- think about how we're built, let's go universal, we're built from a set of atoms and they exist by virtue of a curiously coordinated harmonic handful of universal constants, without whose familial fine tuning we would simply not exist. It's all coordinated. Take a look at our catalog of ideas and invention. All result from what we like to call disruption and of course disruption, like the accidents to which Pope Francis refers, depends on collisions of convention. Even the great ideas that we attribute to somebody like Curie or Einstein, they're all based on a symphony of predecessor scholars, along with a symphony of collision of ideas yet to be smashed together.

The fact is diversity is the font of human creativity. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, "Our time is one in which we must realize that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength." My friends, for us to take a next step in our evolution and for us to rise in stature as the definitive center for global imagination, to be an unparalleled institution, we must recognize and champion the values of diversity. What next might we do pragmatically? I have several suggestions. First, as many of you know Vice President for Intercultural Affairs Abbie Robinson-Armstrong and Vice President for Mission and Ministry Bob Caro, host an annual training program associated with faculty hiring. I've had some initial conversations with Provost Hellige and with Professor Drummond asking them to consider a new convention that trains all of us involved in faculty hiring. That is all faculty and all staff involved, including all those associated with decisions, as we carry out each given search. We need to train ourselves in what I like to call the delicate art of hiring. The idea there is we're always seeking to bring as so many of us say, "We just want the best person for the position." Often when we hire we forget to take the most critical step and that is create a list of what we seek at the outset, print it, burn it into our minds. Print it and burn it, that didn't sound right did it?

We have that set as an a priori, then we want to make sure that our applicant pool is sufficiently diverse and sufficiently large so that the best person available for that job is in the pool. Third, when we discern and make decisions about candidates we stay strictly with those predetermined criteria not allowing our biases to creep into the picture; and fourth we run the search so well that when we make that first offer we get the coveted three letter word response, the yes, as opposed to that two letter word that we don't like so much, the no word. Such a program is guaranteed at least in my experience, it's never failed in diversifying our faculty and I'd like to begin with the faculty because again the faculty are the life and blood of our mission, it's with our faculty where our mission lives and dies if you will.

I hope that such a program helps us get over our stereotypes as we hire, we have positive ones, we have negative ones, I hope it helps us abandon our practice and desire to hire somebody just like ourselves. We do that over and over and that can kind of send us down a drain relative to where we might want to go. We simply should be focusing on the best person available for the position. Dr. Robinson Armstrong and I were having a discussion recently about bias-free education and she used a phrase I've never heard. She said, "We need interactive diversity." How do we approach that? Well, as we interact we must be lions for civil discourse as I outlined in my address to the class of 2020 when they arrived this fall.

Our conversations must include eager disposition toward hearing ideas, even disconcerting unnerving crazy ideas -- we certainly hear a few of them on TV -- in the interest of sharing and learning from one another without the personal commentary and castigation that colludes current presidential candidate conversations. Speaking of politics, I see Professor Genovese right there and Professor Guerra, let us note that our civics are built on diversity as well. We have a legislative branch, an executive branch and a judicial branch and historically we enjoy having different political parties and different political philosophical perspectives.

And though our political disposition is not necessarily God-given, although I know some scholars would argue that, our full political spectrum deserves our university's consideration and debate. This should happen brightly on our campus. We should serve as a template for civil conversation and those conversations should always be rooted in theory, faith and data, and not one another. So I believe that increased sophistication in hiring and in civil discourse along with the programs that I mentioned earlier will make us significantly more successful. But, this is where I get in the way of lunch, there is more.

As we look out over the bluff, we bear witness to a year that has shown that our society is deeply immersed in persistent issues, and these are ones related to our personal and our intercultural harmony, happiness and progress. In our current time, post-Era of Reconstruction, post-civil rights and voting acts, post-marriage equality, post-Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Charleston, and with rife caustic assessments of immigrants, documented, undocumented Americans, second-, even third-generation our students have become newly engaged in issues of race. I embrace this, I welcome this and let me tell you where our students just proverbially knocked it out of the park, last year with unrest happening throughout our nation, our students got together, they organized and rather than deliver a list of demands, they instead emulated the kind of environment that they seek in our world. They got together and came up with a list of shared goals, met with me personally in two cases, so we could together sculpt those goals and help us move forward. Students could you please stand up? All students. I hope you know how proud I am of you and how joyful I am in being able to work with you. But I have to admit to you all in private moments, when you wake up at 3 a.m and you're worried about everything -- it happens to all of us, I don't what it is about 3, that's when I wake up -- and when I think about our students, and I don't often mention this because I like to be positive, but I really see from our students a cry of alarm and I question our community, are we hearing it and are we meeting our students where they are? Our recent responses have met our students' current stated goals, but as such those goals along with our students are evolving as they should be. I ask that we always remain with our students and their future and our future time.

To summarize, I ask that we move to diversify our primary actors, that is our faculty, through hiring facilitation; that we engage in civil discourse with stalwart grace; and that we bond with our students and their emerging culture to forge a better future.

Witnessing from the vantage point of the other is only part of what we do. And in my experience when I ask people in a room, "Do you support diversity?" Every hand will go up. But then, when it comes to action, we find that it's typically the enlightened choir who get involved, and meanwhile we continue onward with the same habits and the same ways that don't allow us to grow. Therefore I call on every member of our community in light of our Jesuit and Marymount mission, to be contempletives and thinkers who act rather than stop the train following that contemplation or thinking.

In summary, I ask that you recognize the synergy between healthy diversity, our global imagination and our university mission. Healthy diversity brings us renewed expanded globalism; it requires creativity and it ignites new creations; and it is the aorta of interdisciplinary thinking and action.

As I close I am reminded of the ending of the Tony- and Pulitzer-lauded "Angels in America," where the angel, about to depart says to us, "The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: more life. The great work begins." There can be no doubt -- despite all we have heard and seen around us nationally this year -- that the world only spins forward.

We at LMU have embraced that movement into the future and are well poised to lead the world that is emerging about us. It is a world of beauty, of diversity and of fabulous creatures. I lead and I work alongside you with joy. Bless you, bless us. The great work that is LMU continues. Thank you for being with each other today, thank you for being with me.