Academic Excellence at SCU

In an adaptation of his convocation address, SCU’s president describes the University’s goal to educate “the whole person.”

Academic Excellence at SCU

The following is an excerpt from the Sept. 16 convocation address by University President Paul Locatelli, S.J.

Some people ask whether Santa Clara will be a Catholic and Jesuit university in the future. And also, how our diverse and pluralistic co munity shapes a distinctive educational mission that comes from a Christian tradition.

In the 1990 apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesia, Pope John Paul II insists that Catholic universities have the same dedication to research, teaching, and the education of students that every genuine university has. He goes on to say that student and teacher share in the common love of knowledge that was “so precious to Saint Augustine, gaudium et veritate, namely, the joy of searching for, discovering, and communicating truth in every field of knowledge.”

Santa Clara shares this dedication through the particular lens of Jesuit education. In our statement of purpose, “Santa Clara University declares its purpose to be the education of the whole person within the Catholic and Jesuit tradition.”

The education of the whole person has been the ideal of Jesuit colleges and universities from the time of Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s to the present. Over the centuries, however, the meaning of educating the whole person has changed. For Ignatius, the concept of the whole person was satisfied by considering intellectual, spiritual, and physical formation.

To keynote our sesquicentennial celebration, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the current superior general of the Jesuits, brought a new scope to the meaning of educating the whole person. Keeping the student at center stage, he said: “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become…” in the 21st century. “We must therefore raise our Jesuit educational standard to educate the whole person of solidarity for the real world.”

Solidarity is captured in the beautiful phrase from Jewish spirituality: “to heal the world.” Solidarity brings the intellectual, spiritual, moral, and physical aspects of the person into coherence and leads to the constructive use of knowledge to make the world more humane and just. Solidarity shifts the educational question from “how ought I to live” to “how ought all of us live together in this time and place?”

At Santa Clara, students have the opportunity to answer that question through three interwoven realities: (1) an integrated humanism, (2) faith and scholarly inquiry, and (3) engagement with the world in pursuit of justice.

Integrated humanism and academic excellence

Santa Clara does not fit the stereotype of the large research university where the generation of knowledge in highly specialized departments takes precedence over almost everything else, including effective teaching. Nor does it fit the small college that typically emphasizes teaching the liberal arts to a much smaller student body but often allows little time for productive scholarship.

Santa Clara aspires to incorporate the best of both, which today means integrating the latest learning technologies in a humanistic education. The early Jesuits combined the two competing forms of higher education in the 16th century to inaugurate a distinctively Catholic educational tradition.

It emphasized classical languages and literature, eloquent expression, and the arts as the ways to shape the moral character and religious development of students. The universities, by contrast, depended upon a more scholastic method of lecturing and disputation that developed the analytical skills of students in law, medicine, philosophy, and theology.


Today, Jesuit education retains great confidence that human reason and actions can be the media of divine grace. This tradition shares common ground with other people of faith and secular academics in valuing the pursuit of truth and the generation of knowledge, as well as in a common commitment to developing the humanity of their students.

A Santa Clara education retains the orientation of an ethical education found in the Renaissance humanist schools with a religious orientation instilled by the early Jesuits, as well as in 19th century American colleges. At the same time, it strives for the intellectual rigor, critical thinking, and scholarly and professional excellence represented in the American research university, because academic excellence in research and teaching are critical to solving the complex problems this world faces.

Faith and scholarly inquiry

From its origins, the Christian community valued learning and dialogue with culture. The Catholic Church founded the great medieval universities. Santa Clara stands in continuity with this commitment to learning, rooting itself in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, Catholic intellectual and social teachings, evolving expressions of worship and prayer, and human wisdom.

Our tradition insists that education of the whole person must include exploring the life of faith. Both in theology courses and the practices of religion, students, faculty, and staff have opportunities to find the transcendent goodness of God intimately involved in healing the world. Our education appreciates that reflective faith can free a person to search for ultimate meaning in every area of knowledge.

Genuine faith, then, is not an enemy of reason, but its complement. The Catholic tradition is at home in the University because of its radical confidence that reason will not contradict faith. It needs the University’s intellectual resources to produce a deeper, more critical self-understanding and open faith to the riches of other ways of life.

When fundamental positions are assumed but not open for critical examination, it cuts short the dialogue that is the life of the University. The University should be a place in a pluralistic society where genuine dialogue takes place with the sort of conversation in which all parties are open to illumination.

Sept. 11 taught us the importance of inter-religious and multi-racial and multi-national dialogue. Genuine, respectful dialogue is, in my judgment, the path to understanding as much as breaking down the boundaries that divide us as members of the human family. Dialogue, in short, is the path to knowing, believing, and valuing what is most human. It is also the only path to peace. The alternative is uncritical ideology and distorted uses of religion, which leads to conflict and war.

Engagement with the world

The Jesuit educational tradition brings a commitment to engage the world through a faith that does justice. Solidarity adds a new breadth and engagement to this humanism by integrating it into the larger world.

And so, we have turned scholarly attention to the most prominent issues of our day such as the poverty and injustice that burden over half of humanity, global ecology, international human rights, migration and immigration, and the rights of women. The Jesuit commitment to “the faith that does justice” has sparked critical research and teaching in ethics, theology, literature, and the arts, and challenged the professions of business, law, engineering, and medicine to deal with critical ethical dilemmas to heal the world.

Students do not learn solidarity by concepts alone but especially by direct contact, direct experience of people of different cultures, classes, and ethnic groups. As Fr. Kolvenbach recently told the alumni of Jesuit education: “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.” In turn, that reflection leads to a desire to make a difference.

A Santa Clara education seeks to prepare students to take on the responsibility for their own learning and development as whole persons. The teaching scholars who make up the faculty serve as mentors and advisors but even more importantly as examples of what we hope our students will become: people of well-educated solidarity using their considerable talents to heal the world.

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