NEW YORK — The biggest change in Jesuit education over the last half century has been a shift in its philosophy toward the laity, which universities now embrace to help them meet the challenges of a changing world, according to a group of Jesuit administrators who shared their thoughts during a panel discussion on July 18 that kicked off the weeklong Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators (JASPA) summer institute held at Fordham University.
“The impact of laity on our institutions over the last 45 years has been extraordinary, the grace of our day,” said Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). “Ultimately, because of the declining number of Jesuits, our lay colleagues will determine whether the Ignatian identity will survive.”
The JASPA Summer Institute is held every five years and offers Student Affairs professionals and colleagues from Jesuit colleges, universities and affiliates the opportunity to gather, learn, teach and share the Jesuit heritage and commitment to education.
In addition to Father Currie, the opening session titled, “The State of Higher Education,” featured Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., president emeritus of Fordham University and Christine Wiseman, J.D., vice president of academic affairs at Creighton University.
“Jesuit Education was shaped to respond to the signs of the times,” said Father O’Hare, who pointed to the decision made years ago by Jesuit institutions to adopt a board of trustees, making the schools eligible for public funding and opening the doors to more lay faculty, especially women.
In an increasingly global society, a willingness to embrace diversity is an essential element to the survival of Jesuit institutions.
“One overwhelming difference that marks our presence is the racial, religious and gender diversity in our schools,” said Christine Wiseman, J.D., vice president of academic affairs at Creighton University. “Jesuit education today brings together men and women of equal voice.”
Three hundred and ninety-two administrators from all 28 Jesuit universities attended this year’s conference, “Signs of the Times,” from July 17-21, which also featured sessions that examined the leadership, character development, and student culture of the Jesuit universities.