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Loyola president argues that universities must promote social justice in Commitment to Justice Lecture

| By Rita Buettner

Taking on the argument that universities should have no role in character formation, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., assured an audience of students, faculty, and community members that a university—particularly a Jesuit university—has a responsibility to create men and women for others.

In Loyola University Maryland’s annual Commitment to Justice Lecture, which Fr. Linnane delivered Sept. 25, 2013, Loyola’s president offered a historic look at the role of the university in preparing its students to lead lives of service.

“When we talk about justice, we are speaking about both social and individual virtue,” Fr. Linnane told his audience in the University’s McGuire Hall. “We need to find ways to engage our students in appreciating and cultivating both of these aspects, and then seeking ways to apply it in their communities. No matter what they study while here at Loyola, students will encounter questions after graduation—so teaching them reflection and action for justice is also necessary. Because the truth is that questions of justice are always evolving.”

As he delivered his address, “Voices that Open Minds,” Fr. Linnane took his audience back to the founding of the Society of Jesus and then through the evolution of university education over the past hundreds of years.

“Biblical witness shows us that God is on the side of the poor and those marginalized by society. But although it was clear that Christianity called people to serve those whose voices were not being heard, there was this thought that there was a dichotomy between university life and service of the poor,” he said. “The university was seen as a fairly soft life, a time for study, but not for service. And there was not an expectation that university graduates would need to serve or act on issues of justice in the world. That just wasn’t seen as the purpose of university education. The life in the Ivory Tower was not one where academics wanted to get their hands dirty. As Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria argued in his 1982 address at Santa Clara University, ‘A Christian university must take into account the Gospel preference for the poor.’”

In his remarks Fr. Linnane also discussed how the work of the 32nd General Congregation for the Society of Jesus changed that perspective within Jesuit universities.

“Instead, that commitment to social justice, which had been implicit in our Jesuit tradition, became explicit within Jesuit higher education. And what we have come to see is that schools have been among the most effective at promoting social justice—not just within Jesuit higher education, but in other institutions of higher education. Unless a college or university compels a student to consider the issues of social existence—‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What are my obligations to others, especially those most in need?’—the graduate has an education but no sense of needing to use it to better the world.”

Fr. Linnane also argued even that change had not been a substantive one for the Jesuit institutions as much as a moment when the implicit became explicit.

“While explicit concern for the systematic reflection on the prospects for a more just social order may seem to be a relatively new imperative for the Jesuit education, I would argue that the concern for character, virtue, and love of neighbor—particularly the most vulnerable neighbor—that have always been a part of the Jesuit educational endeavor give the concern for justice deep roots in the Jesuit educational system,” Fr. Linnane said.

At Loyola, faculty must demonstrate an understanding of the Jesuit mission and educating students in light of that, even before they are hired, Fr. Linnane said.

“Indeed, it is the case that most of our faculty is proud of our Jesuit mission. When asked about how they will advance our Jesuit mission—as all candidates for faculty positions are—those who are not Catholic or even particularly religious—point to our commitment to integrating faith and justice as well as our commitment to cura personalis,” he said.

The annual Commitment to Justice Lecture is run by Loyola's Center for Community Service and Justice.

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