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As president of Santa Clara University, one of my goals is to provide opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to grow as we encounter new cultures, new scientific discoveries, new technology.
It is this same challenge of growth that was at the heart of last spring’s conference in Mexico City—Networking Jesuit Higher Education for the Globalizing World: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe. My own thinking about Jesuit education received a strong stimulus from the address of Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, the Jesuits’ Superior General, as he detailed the nimbleness we need to educate students in the globalized, interconnected, and highly technological culture of the 21st century.
He asked this question of those of us gathered in Mexico City: “Can Jesuit universities today, with energy and creativity... forge intellectual bridges between Gospel and culture, faith and reason for the sake of the world and its great questions and problems?”
He went on to say that we educators face great difficulties when instructing students immersed in a world of blogs, text messaging, virtual friends, iPods, and viral videos. The laborious, painstaking work of serious, critical thinking often gets short-circuited in such an environment.
As Fr. Nicolás stated, “The globalization of superficiality challenges Jesuit higher education to promote in creative ways the depth of thought and imagination that are the distinguishing marks of the Ignatian tradition.”
Fr. Nicolás also spoke of the rise of two “isms” in our globalized world: on the one hand, an aggressive secularism that claims religion has nothing to do with answering the world’s big questions; on the other, various fundamentalisms that escape complexity by taking refuge in blind faith, unregulated by human reason.
I found it interesting that Fr. Nicolás returned repeatedly to the need for real creativity: an active dynamic process of finding responses to real questions, “finding alternatives to an unhappy world that seems to go in directions that nobody can control.” Jesuit education is grounded in critical thinking, creativity, and imagination.
I came away from the conference pondering how to bring these new perspectives home to Santa Clara, and thinking about the best way to share them with our students and faculty.
We are already designing and delivering an educational environment that provides space in which students and faculty can wrestle with the great questions and problems of the world. I appreciate your support as we further develop our pedagogy in order to shape a better future.
Michael E. Engh, S.J.