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University to Study Jesuit Commitment

Boston College has begun a self-study as part of an initiative by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), which has asked the 27 Jesuit colleges and universities across the country to assess their commitment to Jesuit traditions and values as part of the Jesuit Mission Priority Examen. 

Robert Newton, special assistant to the president, and Ryan Heffernan, associate director of Campus Ministry, are leading the University in the self-study. 

BC will analyze how it has lived up to the Jesuit tradition in seven different categories: the leadership’s commitment to the Jesuit mission, academic life, campus culture, service, service to the local Church, Jesuit presence, and hiring integrity. The provincial of the Northeast Province of Jesuits has asked the Jesuit colleges and universities in the region to answer 17 questions within these categories. 

Newton and Heffernan have interviewed the members of the BC community who they saw as best fit to answer the questions, including University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., and Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Greg Kalscheur. Newton and Heffernan then compiled these answers to put together a 50-page, double-spaced draft document. 

“There’s so much going on at Boston College that relates to the Catholic and Jesuit nature of the place, that what we can do in our self-study is not be exhaustive … but we can be illustrative,” Newton said. “In other words, we can give you what we think are representative of the examples of the responses to the set of questions, and so that’s what we did.”

Newton noted that while Jesuits have recently released Universal Apostolic Preferences, which focus on walking with the marginalized, supporting young people, and caring for the Earth, the self-study document consists mainly of the University’s responses to the 17 questions, which do not necessarily address all of these topics. 

“Those things won’t be totally ignored in the self study … but [the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities] said, these are the questions that we want you to answer now,” he said. “If they go through this process, again, the questions will probably be different.” 

For the second part of the self-study process, Newton and Heffernan have been and will continue to meet with different groups on campus to hear their views on whether the draft document accurately responds to the questions. These 10 groups are the Council of Deans, the Student Affairs directors, the Staff Advisory Senate, BC’s Jesuit community, the Board of Trustees, the directors of University Mission and Ministry, a group of graduate students, the Undergraduate Government of BC, the University vice presidents, and a group of alumni.

In the third stage of the process, a visiting committee of three people from other Jesuit higher education institutions will come to campus in March. 

“They will spend a couple of days here talking with people—they’ll talk with students, they’ll tak with administrators, they’ll talk with the president, talk with various vice presidents,” Newton said. “So they’ll go around and get a sense: Is our self-study an accurate description of what goes on here?”

The committee will write a report that will be reviewed by Leahy, followed by the provincial of the Northeast Province of Jesuits. After Leahy and the provincial converse with one another about the report, it will be sent to the Jesuit Superior General in Rome for him to review.

The AJCU has also asked the universities to set goals for themselves for the next five years, which Newton said, in BC’s case, will be drawn from the ‘Ever to Excel’ strategic plan. 

The examen has been going on for the past five years, and BC is in the last round of universities to participate.  

“In the old days … they didn’t need to do this because there was that close direction and control, by the Jesuit provincials of the Jesuit institutions, whereas now the institutions have become more independent,” Newton said. 

“But when they became independent, they said, ‘It’s very important for us to maintain our Jesuit and Catholic character.’ And so the Society of Jesus is coming around now and saying, ‘Well, let’s see how you have done that,’ and I think we have a very good story to tell.”

Featured Image by Sam Zhai / For The Heights

October 6, 2019