President Michael Engh, S.J., began his first convocation by acknowledging that we are living in “sobering times,” when neighboring universities are cutting faculty and staff positions and turning away students. But in his Sept. 15 address he went on to describe much happening on campus and in the greater Santa Clara University community that should lift hearts.
Faculty and staff gathered in the Mission Church on a warm afternoon for a talk focused on the future, both long and short range. The merger of the Berkeley-based Jesuit School of Theology (JST) with Santa Clara is one very positive achievement of the year, Fr. Engh said. JST officially became a graduate school of SCU in July. Joint lectures, programming, and classes will benefit religious education of students of JST and other schools of the University.
A big part of Fr. Engh’s talk emphasized the University’s commitment to sustainability. The latest University Strategic Plan, still in development, articulates this commitment, he said, noting that sustainability is part and parcel of a Jesuit humanistic education.
In his inaugural address last April, President Engh called for Santa Clara to be a champion for environmental justice. He noted that some have asked for a “clearer focus and definition” of what he meant. In terms of its connection to SCU’s strategic planning, he said the notion of sustainability is rooted in “contemporary widespread concerns about the environment and the future of the Earth; the very nature of a Jesuit humanistic education; the theological and philosophical traditions that inform both Jesuit and Catholic teaching on sustainability; and Ignatian spirituality that sees God at work in all things and that calls human beings to a reverence for creation.” He also said, “Santa Clara offers a distinctive academic approach to sustainability as an issue related to longstanding Jesuit and Catholic commitments to social justice, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable.”
Concerns for the immediate future focused on finances. And Fr. Engh acknowledged the challenges this year posed for staffing and populating the incoming undergraduate classes. He noted that the University has allocated more than $857,000 in emergency financial aid for students whose families have been negatively affected by the economic downturn.
President Engh also commended staff and faculty involved in developing the new Core Curriculum. More than 350 courses have been approved along with 19 Pathways, which are themed course groupings that allow students to make cross-discipline connections.
The president said he’d learned a lot during the past nine months in 37 “listening sessions” he hosted, asking the groups of faculty or staff gathered, “What do you want the president to know?” He heard many positive things about the warmth, creativity, philosophy, and integrity of SCU. He also heard concerns about budget, staffing, overextension, new programs, school identity, and tradition.
He paused after listing staff and faculty concerns to announce: “All has been addressed and all problems have been solved!” There were cheers and applause. It was a light moment in a speech that addressed consequential matters with optimism, enthusiasm, and gratitude.