Formation of the University Community

Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J.
July 10, 2015
Address delivered at the
2015 Melbourne Conference on Jesuit Higher Education Melbourne, Australia

This afternoon I have the privilege to share with you some personal thoughts on the formation of the Jesuit university communities towards social justice based on my experience as current President of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) and the shared experience of service learning in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific (AJCU-AP). On both levels I reflect on efforts that are ongoing – works in progress – rather than on models. I hope simply to encourage sharing on the issues and challenges we encounter as Jesuit colleges and universities committed to making a contribution to social justice in the world today.

Formation vs. instruction. We are involved not only in instruction, but also in formation. We are involved not only in teaching humanities and professional disciplines, but also in forming human freedom. That is not an oxymoron, but a core commitment coming from the heart of our identity, ultimately, the heart of our Church. It celebrates human dignity and achievement, encourages human creativity, supports human morality, and leads our professionals – our scientists, our engineers, our lawyers, our doctors, our social scientists, our entrepreneurs – not only to the advancement of their technical discipline but also to the free advancement of a humane society.
We form from and unto Evangelii Gaudium – the joy of the Gospel. We form towards free commitment to reconciliation with God, with nature and human society. We form, we do not force. We invite, we do not coerce. With Pope Francis in Laudato Si we invite to a new lifestyle in actuality, not in theory, a lifestyle that rejects the domineering ecologically-destructive global technocracy fuelled by consumerism to support a vibrantly diverse humane society living in harmony with creation and God.

Formation for the long term, not only the short term. Appreciating our vision and mission statements – that is, the vision-declaration of our enduring identity as Jesuit universities, and the mission-declaration of the current concerns we address in our concrete situations – what our alumni and alumnae do personally with their education is not a matter of indifference for us. We do not merely shrug our shoulders when some of our alumni choose to advance their personal fortunes through the devastation of the environment and bullying the defenseless poor. We do not explain away the corruption or injustice of our alumni or alumnae by saying they made free personal choices. They did. But if relative to the common good they were wrong choices, it is a cause of pain for us, and warrant for us to re-examine and correct our formative interventions in our universities. Their wrong or right choices reflect on the quality of our formation. Our structures of formation – excellent instruction, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, sports programs, campus ministry, counseling, interdisciplinary discussions, research, and outreach activities – are not only about good order and repeating right answers during our students’ stay in our universities. They support the formation of the freedom of our alumni/ ae up to and beyond graduation, including its appropriate use in life choices, especially in trying situations. They support their ongoing free commitment to the common good. Owning this type of formation requires deep desires, imagination, vision, an ability to dream, an engaged faculty, responsive students, structures of interaction with role models and reflective engagement with the world. Where social justice is involved, it involves forming commitment of students to the common good during college years, and ongoing multi-disciplinary discussions and research on the demands of the historical common good, that would support their ongoing discernment of and commitment to the common good. In this manner, the university must be a reliable partner to alumni/ae living out commitments to the common good in a challenging world.

Formation of the university community, not only the student. We must concern ourselves not only with the formation of the freedom of the students for social justice, but with the formation of the freedom of the entire university community for the common good. This includes the freedom of administrators, faculty members, members of the staff, the warm bodies who constitute the university institution. All are invited in their particular competencies to discern and pursue the social justice that leads research and action for the common good. The institution comes alive in freedom for mission, or it is dead. This is all the more when it is inserted in a society that denies the harm that its economy or its politics or its manner of doing business brings to the marginalized and excluded, and through its “support” for the university tends to muzzle its prophetic voice and turn its thirst for truth into a mode of anxious institutional maintenance, squeamishness about offending donors, and consequent irrelevance for social justice. Academic freedom in the Jesuit university is therefore not just the freedom to determine who may teach, whom may be taught, what must be taught, and how it is taught, it is also about the freedom to pursue the justice, particularly the social justice, that a meaningful life of faith demands, in sensitivity to cultural and religious diversity, and in “care for our common home.” This is on the ground the freedom in service and prophecy to give and not to count the cost. The formation of the student towards social justice in the Jesuit university implies the formation of the university towards social justice. The student thinks and does social justice on the witness and example of people in the university who actually promote it. That this actually happen is the heavy responsibility of its leadership, including the responsibility of those who are responsible for the care of the Jesuit mission. But it is also the responsibility of each and every member of the university community. It is a responsibility that can be owned and lived out only in the Holy Spirit.

Formation from the university vision and mission. The formation of the university community proceeds from the university’s vision and mission. This is not just a statement to decorate handbooks and please accreditors. Lived, it is the soul of the university which brings the diverse parts of the university together. The university is Jesuit because the mission of the Society of Jesus is appropriated by the university and incorporated in substance in its vision and mission. In all the university’s self-realization through instruction, research, and outreach it is the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, the sensitivity to culture, inter-religious dialogue, and the preservation of environment that is implemented. The university leadership must attend to the periodic review of the vision and mission statement according to the demands of local and global conditions and to its appropriation in academic freedom by the university community. From the vision and mission, strategic university plans are formulated and worked out. This has been crucial in the experience of Ateneo de Davao University today.

Formation through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The university is Jesuit not only because it appropriates the mission of the Society of Jesus but because it promotes Ignatian spirituality. This is based on a solid promotion of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, not just of soulless Ignatian slogans like ad majorem Dei gloriam, cura personalis and magis. This is crucial in the lived mission of the Ateneo de Davao. Space for serious three- five- and eight-day retreats is created and supported administratively in the work schedules of members of the university community, appropriate retreat facilities created or accessed, retreat guides seriously trained from among lay members of the faculty or staff, and Ignatian spirituality nurtured through an ongoing program of lectures, Ignatian conversations, spiritual accompaniment, and campus prayer and liturgy. Especially in matters of social justice, the Ignatian pedagogy demands not only experience, reflection, decision, action, and evaluation but Ignatian discernment. Finding and doing God’s will is not only relevant but crucial. Crucial is the Cross.

From the conceptual to the real, from the intentional to the actual. While appropriate attention must be given to clarify the notions of social justice and the common good in the context of the social teaching of the Church, a university’s commitment to social justice is a lie if it remains on the level of concept or intention and is not implemented. University leadership must see to its prudent implementation accepting consequent vulnerability and loss in stride. This was experienced recently by the Ateneo de Davao University in its multi-level, interdisciplinary and networked opposition to the large scale Tampakan mines in South Cotabato, in its advocacy against the socially-unjust Philippine legislation on mining, in its support for peace in Mindanao through recognition of the social injustice brought onto Philippine Muslims over the centuries and through advocacy of the contentious Bangsamoro Basic Law to correct this injustice, through its programs promoting “ecological conversion” on campus, and its promotion of renewal energy in the university and in the country. In these activities it has lost or incurred the ire or criticism of friends, benefactors, and supporters from the mining industry, the clergy, and the energy sector engaged in the creation of coal- red power plants. At the same time “walking the talk” among all in the community has encouraged and galvanized the university community in its commitment to social justice.

Formative experiences. Experiences are formative. Structuring opportunities for formative experiences is important for long-term commitment to social justice. In the past eight years, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia-Pacific has come together in providing annual three-week international and intercultural service-learning experiences that have focused on aspects of the Jesuit mission: on social justice, dialogue, culture, environmental stewardship, interreligious dialogue, the poor, and, most recently, on social engagement at the frontiers. At Ateneo de Davao, students are exposed to how good governance is actualized on the ground in a barangay of Mintal, and engage in discipline-based activities with partner communities focused on such as site-plans for housing projects, setting standards of local commodity production, infrastructure development, human capital development, and environmental care and protection. An Arrupe Volunteer Program exercises students in leadership based on the implementation of the ADDU vision and mission (ADDU sui generis leadership) and produces successful campus leaders. In guiding reflection on experience that is part of the Ignatian Pedagogical Framework, focus is on the perceived demands of the historical common good.

Alumni/ae and University Support Structures. Meanwhile, at least at Ateneo de Davao, the alumni/ae have expressed the desire to be concretely involved in the Jesuit university’s social justice mission. This is a departure from the alumni/ae’s past almost-exclusive concern with the annual alumni homecoming, which is focused on fellowship, not social justice. Appropriate structures must be set up to mediate this involvement.

Jesuit University Quality Assurance. Metrics and instruments of evaluation must be set up to provide quality assurance not only for academic programs and universities as institutions, but also for Jesuit universities qua Jesuit. This is, obviously, not an easy task. But we must be able to assure ourselves objectively of the meaningfulness of operating our Jesuit universities – whether they are led by Jesuits or our lay-partners.

Fuelling the Jesuit university mission today in social justice, in the joy of the Gospel, and in the care of our common home, is impossible without formation and the university life and leadership which supports this.

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