Fr. Michael Garanzini, S.J. is the president of the Association of Jesuit College and Universities (AJCU). Prior to his election as president, Fr. Garanzini served as the Secretary for Higher Education of the Society of Jesus and Chair of the Board of Directors for the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) and as Loyola University Chicago’s 23rd president from 2001 to 2015.
Editor of the Jesuit Educational Quarterly and Vice President and University Secretary of Boston College, Fr. Casey Beaumier, S.J. sat with Fr. Garanzini to discuss the Mission Priority Examen (MPE), the role of sources in cultivating a university’s Jesuit identity, and the current state of Jesuit higher education. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
Fr. Casey Beaumier, S.J.: Recently, a document has been created on Jesuit higher education—its mission and methods. What can you tell us about it?
Fr. Michael Garanzini, S.J.: Yeah, the story of this document that we recently adopted actually goes back a number of years. After the institutions, our Jesuit universities, were incorporated with lay boards… so they reverted from solely Jesuit hands to lay and Jesuit hands, it was never clear, in the Vatican’s eyes, at least, it was never clear who really is responsible for these institutions. So we came up with a kind of a formula and proposal for how to assess the catholicity and the Jesuit-ness of these institutions. And the Congregation for Education preferred that Father General be the person who guarantees the catholicity of the institutions.
And so we came up with this thing called the Mission Priority Examen. We wanted it to be a self-study, a kind of self-reflection, like a Jesuit examen. And we also wanted it to be an opportunity for the institution to take a look at a number of things going on in the institution, starting from how does it advertise itself?
Does it say it’s a Catholic Jesuit institution in all of its official documents and on the web, and so on. Two, how does it recruit trustees? Are they told you’re taking on a Catholic work or a Jesuit work? And then down into the curriculum, into the student body, into the staff. Are there particular things… and we had six or seven characteristics. So that was the first document. And I helped write that and it was only—I’m going to brag about this—it was only eight pages long. And when we were done with the first process of every Jesuit institution in the U.S. doing a self examination, sending their examination forward and then the general approval, they said, you know, we should flesh this out and we should get a faculty and administrative group to help clarify this.
So the next, so the present document, the new document is 42 pages long, for institutions to go through. The product, of course, as you may suspect, it’s a product of the faculty and the administration committee. So we have this document which goes into some detail about, for example the UAPs, the Universal Apostolic Preferences. How are you teaching about care for the environment?
How are you recruiting minorities and those left at the margins? And so on. How do you think your curriculum is instilling hope in the people, giving them a sense of the future that’s, you know, that we would like as Catholics and Christians really to relay? So the new document is much longer, but institutions now, they go through it every seven years.
And it’s been a really important and really, I think graced experience for those that have already done it. Everyone’s done it once. Those that are going through the second round with a lot more precision, a lot more detail, they’re finding it really helpful. The local committee is usually chartered by the president. They do the self-study first. A visiting team comes in and looks at this.
Often that visiting team says, you know, you’re doing little more than you can say you’re doing. You’re doing really well. Or confirms that these are some spots, these are some rough spots you’ve got to work on. You’re not quite as good as you want to be, and so we affirm your proposed project for the future. That all goes to the provincial who sends it off to the general.
And it’s a letter to reaffirm the Catholic and Jesuit nature of the institution. So, in a way, I think we’re set for when there are fewer Jesuits involved in upper administration or fewer Jesuits who were on the board of trustees. There is this document which really nicely, I think, nicely lays out, what does it mean to be Catholic and Jesuit, and when faculty and students, administrators, the local community, when they start studying this, their eyes kind of open up.
And they, I think they recognize that it’s kind of in the water. It’s in the culture here. We didn’t, we don’t always think about it that way, but the document kind of reaffirms what, in the vast majority of our places, is already going on.
Beaumier: When you think of all those different attributes, is there one that, in the interactions that you’ve had, where people would say this seems to be the distinctive Jesuit piece of the identity, is there anything that pops or stands out in that sense?
Garanzini: Well, I’ll tell you what pops out as distinctive. It’s very easy for our colleagues to talk about the social justice nature of the place, the social justice concern, the institutes they have, the way they’ve constructed the core curriculum, for example. But it’s harder for them to talk about the faith dimension, and they recognize that. We’re still in a period, I think, where we don’t know quite what we should do with the fact that our student body comes from, say, no faith, very little training in faith, to all kinds of faiths, several different important faith traditions that are not Catholic, as well as a very strong Catholic group that comes, and they’re not quite sure what to do with that.
Yes, there’s a core curriculum that tries to address some of the questions, but I think we still have, in almost all of these self-reports, that this is an area where we really have to work. I think once people find that faith is about having a belief system, that it takes work to construct it. We’re not talking about catechism, whether it’s Protestant or Muslim, or Catholic catechism.
We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about a vision of the world as created by an almighty God that in fact wants it to prosper and wants all people to prosper, that especially the marginalized, especially those who don’t seem to get the same opportunities, the way our lives, our worlds are constructed. So I think that’s where that’s where the work is.
Beaumier: How might Jesuit sources help in the cultivation of Jesuit identity for universities?
Garanzini: Well Jesuit sources can be very important at a number of levels. I would say the first level is a growing number of our presidents, trustees, chief administrators, provosts, deans, do not know much, if at all, about the Jesuit traditions, about our history, about the documents that have formed us and inspired us. Just ten years ago, we had probably four or five lay presidents of the 28 Jesuit schools in the US North America. Next year, there will be five Jesuits and 23 lay presidents. Of those lay presidents I think, I was doing a little back of the envelope calculation, four or five have never worked in a Jesuit school, president. That same statistic is true for the provosts. Fewer Jesuits, of course, but in terms of the familiarity with the Society. When they find out this 500 year old tradition is rich and is thought out, there’s hardly a new question we haven’t tried to tackle or a new challenge we haven’t tried and met. When they find that out they’re really amazed and then if they experience it—so what the sources do, for those that are really real sources, it makes you want to go. You want to go to Manresa, you want to go to Montserrat, you want to go to the church of the Jesu.
You want to see where all this stuff began in Rome, Spain, and so on. So it kind of, they kind of want this tradition to come alive again or to see how it is, what it looks like from its roots. So that’s another way the sources really inspire people. But then it’s the work of the faculty, the work of all of us really, but the faculty especially, to try and figure out how those things get embedded in a curriculum.
And, and then the tool we have, the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, that the way we have always taught, taught well that’s, that’s very, very modern. But it’s also very appealing to people today. So faculty and administrators, when they know this is not new, this is old, this is deep. I think they realize it’s, there’s more credibility now to this. It’s not something a bunch of people came up with in the last two decades. This is the last couple of centuries.
Beaumier: You’re the president of the AJCU and past president of Loyola Chicago. When you think about the current state of Jesuit higher ed, what gives you hope and makes you feel satisfied, having invested so much and you continue to invest? And then conversely, what keeps you up at night or what’s your concern for the network or the state of higher ed?
Garanzini: What gives me hope is many of these lay people that we’re talking about that are assuming leadership positions, presidents, provosts, deans, they they’re attracted to the fact that there’s a brand here, a recognizable brand that they’ve heard of and in some cases grew up with—but for some it’s new. And they think it’s, that’s it’s going to be a challenge but a really important one in their lives, their vocation. They come to see their career as a vocation. We hope that’s more and more the case. And they think this is really needed in the world today, where young people are the kind of trials, tribulations that families go through, worries that they have about their own future and the future of the planet. When they see that the Jesuits have been trying to preserve a vision of God working through all of this stuff, it’s hopeful. It’s not… we don’t emphasize the negative. We emphasize the fact that this creation is unfolding. It unfolds in each person, it unfolds in our communities. It’s unfolding in our world. You have to have the eyes to see that. And when you do, you become a joy filled person. So that gives me hope.
What worries me, these are very difficult days for students and families and of course financially it’s always been it’s always been a challenge. Can you afford a private education? I think our schools are making really valiant efforts to try and try to deal with this issue. But it’s a higher ed problem for everybody. Publics as well, public schools are now reaching the point where they’re out of sight for many middle class families, their base tuition. So we’ve got a problem and I don’t think we’re alone in this. The other issue is we do really good work in smaller units, colleges and smaller colleges, and we do some wonderful things like a place like Boston College and Georgetown, Fordham, wherever.
But the smaller places are going to have trouble existing because, like hospitals, size matters. You can’t be—it’s harder to survive if you’re small. You just can’t get all the resources you need to be competitive. So we’re going to have to think about ways of helping the smaller colleges survive. They have a strong alumni base. No one college thinks it’s going to go out of existence but you can just see that there’s going to be some more difficult days ahead. And then I worry about the fact that we have got to meet the needs of these new administrators and faculty who, if we don’t offer them what it is to be a Jesuit Catholic institution—they’ll not know to even ask for it sometimes—so we’ve got to figure out a way of putting ourselves out there. And that’s perhaps one of our big jobs, I think, over the next ten, 20 years is to figure out the Jesuit resources we have, where do we put them so that they have the best impact on the most of all of our colleagues.
- The Mission Priority Examen was developed for Jesuit institutions as a tool for self-reflection growth in its Jesuit, Catholic mission and may help in this endeavor even with the declining number of Jesuits
- Jesuit sources can help to form and inspire us toward a deeper understanding of the Jesuit mission
- Insight from the MPE suggest Jesuit colleges and universities find it easier to talk about the social justice dimension of their institution than the faith dimension
- There may be difficult days ahead for smaller Jesuit colleges and universities