Monday, October 10, 2005
Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.
The Core Curriculum at a Jesuit Institution vis-à-vis Preparation for Service Towards a Just and Humane World
In 1999, I became president of Ateneo de Naga University, a Jesuit, Catholic, and Filipino educational institution. This occurred quite unceremoniously. My predecessor, Fr. Raul Bonoan, S.J., had worked hard to elevate a college into a university. As a result of his leadership, the Philippine government granted Ateneo de Naga university status in November 1998.
Shortly after, in April 1999, Fr. Bonoan went off for a well-deserved rest at a Jesuit villa in Baguio . While there, he went for an early morning jog. Along the way, he skipped a step, and fell. A Jesuit medical doctor, Florge Sy, rushed to his side, but there was nothing he could do. Fr. Bonoan was brought to the hospital and declared dead on arrival from a fatal heart attack.
After a period of mourning, the search for a new president began. At the end of this process, I was called to fill the position. It was a radical shift from the work in priestly formation and the work with the urban poor that I had been used to. On August 28, 1999, I was installed as the second president of the Ateneo de Naga University.
I do not stand before you tonight as an expert in education. I am a relatively new president of a Jesuit university in a region that is ranked second poorest of the thirteen regions in the Philippines . By second poorest, we mean that many people in the Bikol region live from hand to mouth. They can ill afford medical care or quality education and often go to bed at night hungry. I have held this leadership post for six years now.
I have spent many hours listening to people’s stories of being struck down by the effects of poverty. Young, bright students shared that they had to stop schooling and find work so that their eight brothers and sisters could be fed. They asked, “Could you help us with a job?” Faculty and staff members told me about cruel loans incurred due to a family medical crisis. They said, “Sorry, Father. We like it here, but our salaries can no longer support our families.” Our maintenance men came to say that the roof of their houses had been blown off during a recent typhoon. Their wives and children now lived in the already cramped homes of other family members. They pleaded, “Can you please do something?” In each case, I did the best that I could within the parameters of my position.
I also had to steer a university in its quest to clarify its mission as a Jesuit institution. We reviewed and reworked the core curriculum to more keenly prepare students for work towards a just and humane world. Many of them were victims of social injustice themselves. The irony rarely escaped us. How do you prepare the poor to battle their own poverty? How do you challenge the broken to fix themselves? How do you bring those who are “laid back” to learn to “take charge”? These are questions we grapple with every day.
The experience of trying to work out the ideals of Jesuit education in a Third World context comprises the material from which I offer my thoughts on my subject. This address will have three parts. First, some historical notes on the Jesuit core curriculum that continues to be part of every Jesuit higher institution of learning. I shall also share observations on the various core curricula that Jesuit institutions around the world offer. Second, I shall share glimpses of the Ateneo de Naga University experience and those of other Jesuit universities in Asia and the Pacific. Finally, I shall enumerate, for our consideration, some characteristics that might be reasonably expected of the Jesuit-trained global citizen.
The Jesuit Core Curriculum in Itself
To appreciate the Jesuit core curriculum embedded in our educational psyches, let us return to its roots. Let us seek to understand the raison d’etre of this Jesuit core curriculum. We will also evaluate in part how Jesuit institutions are incorporating their core curricula into their academic programs.
Some Historical Notes
Richard Cobb-Stevens, director of the University Core Curriculum Committee in Boston College , traces the core programs to the mid-sixteenth century in the original Jesuit colleges in Europe . He described the core curriculum, common to all students, as “the centerpiece of Jesuit education.” Rene Descartes, a distinguished and controversial graduate of one of these colleges, describes this core curriculum in one of his autobiographical writings:
I was educated in one of the most celebrated schools in Europe . I learned that the study of languages is necessary to understand the works of the ancients; and that the delicacy of fiction enlivens the mind; that famous deeds of history ennoble it, and, if read with understanding, aid in maturing one’s judgment; that the reading of all the great books is like conversing with the best people of earlier times;. that poetry has enchanting delicacy and sweetness; that mathematics has very subtle processes which can serve as much to satisfy the inquiring mind as to aid all the arts and to diminish human labor.
True to his Jesuit mold, Descartes later proceeded in Discourse on Method to make strong criticisms of the very core curriculum that he had extolled. He believed that many courses were more ancient than contemporary. He considered a number of others too lofty. He took the curriculum to task for offering courses that did not deliver what it advertised. Students debated truths in the classroom well enough, but were slow to apply these to real life situations.
The Jesuit institutions in their quest for excellence responded positively to Descartes’ criticisms. They even included a discussion on Discourse on Method, the treatise that contained these criticisms, in their curriculum! Cobb-Stevens concludes, “No doubt, it was this tradition of self-criticism and adaptability that guaranteed the remarkable success of Jesuit colleges in Europe for several centuries and indeed up to the present day.”
The early twentieth-century core programs in Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States , Cobb-Stevens continues, paralleled seminary programs. They leaned towards philosophy and theology with less emphasis on literature, fine arts, and the social sciences. But students did acquire excellent skills in rhetoric, logic, and writing. The teaching of the sciences was generally effective as well.
After the Second World War, Jesuit colleges and universities adapted rapidly to the needs of the post-war period. The core curriculum maintained its strengths but also concentrated on neglected aspects of the undergraduate curriculum. Some schools introduced new core courses, particularly in the social sciences. schools of nursing, education, and management emerged to become integral components of some universities. The Jesuit spirit of tradition and innovation manifested its vitality in these movements.
Four Observations on Current Jesuit Core Curricula
What is the status of our Jesuit core curriculum today? A cursory study of some Jesuit schools – among them, Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan; Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Taiwan; Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; the five Jesuit universities in the Philippines; and five of the twenty-eight Jesuit higher educational institutions in the United States – allows at least four significant observations:
Given this diversity, we might ask what, then, are the objectives of the Jesuit core curriculum in our contemporary world? My own reading on the matter is this. The Jesuit core curriculum is in itself our effort to capture the tradition of Jesuit liberal education today. But it does not end with being just that. More importantly, it brings students from an initial and perhaps necessary focus on self-knowledge and self-fulfillment to the task of becoming global citizens on mission. It mediates the fulfillment of the school’s Jesuit mission for its students. The 34 th General Congregation, for one, instructs us to be “a Jesuit university … faithful to both the noun ‘university’ and to the adjective ‘Jesuit.'” It says: “To be a university requires dedication to research, teaching, and the various forms of service that correspond to the cultural mission. To be Jesuit requires that the university act in harmony with the demands of the service of faith and the promotion of justice.”
How does this convert into concrete reality? Concretely, each student in our institutions is, through the core curriculum, enabled and invited to look at the suffering of this world brought about by conditions of injustice, oppression, and the forces of individual and collective evil, including their own. From here, they are stirred out of complacency into a heartfelt response to these conditions. They are moved to take action. And not a “sweeping things under the rug” kind of action. Not the kind of action that simply assuages guilt. Rather, the type described by the words of Lilla Watson, a Brisbane-based aboriginal activist and organizer: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together.”
Core Curriculum at Ateneo de Naga University
The Ateneo de Naga University’s mission is interwoven with our core curriculum. Permit me to describe some of the tensions that we struggle with and how we have tried to deal with them. I shall likewise include personal insights gained from the recent meetings of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in East Asia and Oceania and the 13 th Association of Southeast and East Asian Catholic Colleges and Universities Annual Conference. Both these meetings, held in Taipei , Taiwan , last August, found me in the company of a number of my Jesuit and lay counterparts in East Asia .
We understand our mission to be integral human development through a university that is Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit. We have taken pains to develop a profile of our graduate:
This is not essentially different from what many other Jesuit universities do. But happily, we have been privileged on many occasions to witness this mission translated into concrete, transforming, liberating action in the lives of our graduates. Recently, one revered national figure passed away. His name was Raul Roco. The late Senator Roco was a graduate of our university. He went on to become an outspoken lawyer, an outstanding legislator, a secretary of education, and a principled man who fought for the underdog. His was a voice on the side of the poor that reverberated around the nation. When he stood to address Congress or Senate, he made Filipinos believe in their dignity and their capacity for greater things. He could have quietly enjoyed the pleasures of wealth; instead, he chose to join the noisy field of politics as his way of working for social change. In Congress, he passed a number of important bills. In the Senate, he spoke eloquently and credibly against society’s ills. Twice he ran for president of our country – but lost.
When he died, many shook their heads saying, “Raul Roco was the greatest president we never had.” He really could have been president. But he was too decent. He campaigned on the level of issues while the rest resorted to mudslinging. He refused to bribe or cheat. He did not believe in using people’s money to win an election. Filipinos were perhaps not yet prepared for a man like him. When he died last August, his wake was held in our university where he had spent his youth as a student learning to “fight and win or fight and die” for school, country, and God. During this time, it struck us: this man embodied the profile of the university graduate that our mission strives to produce. With his life and in his death, we were reminded that the Jesuit mission is not a mere abstraction. It is a livable reality.
Another graduate of our university is a young Filipino Jesuit who was ordained to the priesthood only last April. His name is Fr. Norlan Julia, S.J. Poverty, severe illness, and many conflicts within his family characterized his early life journey. But somehow, Providence brought him to Ateneo de Naga. While with us, he was an outstanding student who was captivated by the university’s motto – Primum Regnum Dei . Above all else, the Kingdom of God . This simple motto became his mantra. When he finished college, he sought a good job to save his family from the throes of poverty. With his magna cum laude credentials, a high paying job easily came by. But the school motto – Primum Regnum Dei – continued to move him. The burning desire to follow Christ, above everything else, led him to leave personal goals behind to enter the Jesuit novitiate in the Philippines . Ten years later, after struggles that mimicked the earlier ones in his life, he was ordained priest in the service of God’s people. I was main celebrant in the thanksgiving Mass that Fr. Norlan celebrated at his alma mater. Throngs of his friends, family, former classmates, and the students in our university came to give God thanks with and for him. This young Jesuit was to them – and to us – a picture of our mission lived out in the flesh: competent, guided by conscience, committed to change, and Christ-centered.
Still another graduate of our university is Jean Llorin, a rather exceptional woman. She is mother to five children and to four others by adoption. While a student at the Ateneo de Naga, she was president of the Sodality, now known as the Christian Life Community (CLC). This involvement introduced her to both the Spiritual Exercises as a way of life and the compelling need to work for justice. These two endeavors have never lost their appeal for her. Even as a young wife and mother, she sought out the very poor and organized them towards regaining their dignity. With kindred spirits, she trained key people to run – and eventually win – elective government posts. During the dark days when our country was ruled by the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, she went into socio-political action. With companions who would not be silenced by guns, goons, or gold, she marched the streets to rouse our people to stand up against blatant injustice.
She later joined a group called Fasters for Justice and Peace led by Fr. Jose Blanco, a Jesuit. They espoused active non-violence as the path to social change. Their actions became part of a growing movement that, in 1986, culminated in the bloodless People Power revolution that toppled the dictator. In 1997, at the World Congress of Jesuit Alumni in Sydney , Australia , she was the only Asian and the only woman speaker in a roomful of mostly men, among them bigwigs in the fields of business, education, and politics worldwide. She stood before them, this woman who is not even five feet in height, and spoke on the topic “Social Justice and Marginalization.” When her ten minutes were up, the participants gave her a standing ovation. It was a magnificent moment – not only for her but also for our university! If it is a Jesuit-trained global citizen we are looking for, I believe we have one in this woman. Four decades since she began her crusade for the poor and the disempowered, she still untiringly walks – literally walks (she has never owned a car in her entire life!) – among us seeking first the Kingdom of God .
Wrestling With The Tensions
I could go on giving examples of other graduates our university has been blessed with vis-à-vis the unfolding of its mission. But I would do you a great disservice if I did. In truth, the work of designing a core curriculum aligned with our mission – and then implementing it – carries no guarantee of success and is laden with fierce tensions. In truth, the Jesuit ideals we seek to incorporate in our core curriculum rub against prevailing realities that unceasingly threaten and confound us. In truth, it is the tensions – more than the successes – that determine and fine-tune policy and decision-making in the university. They also are the critical challenges that color our work in the offices, classrooms, faculty lounges, boardrooms, school corridors, and campus grounds everyday.
At Ateneo de Naga University and many other Jesuit universities in Asia , at least three major tensions stand out.
First is the tension between the Jesuit core curriculum and the professional courses. When students come to our university, they flock to courses that assure them a job when they graduate. A college degree is commonly believed to be the passport to a better life, especially for those who have known only poverty across many generations. Fr. Tamerlane R. Lana, O.P., rector of the revered Dominican University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines , put it this way during the last meeting of the Association of Southeast and East Asian Catholic Colleges and Universities (ASEACCU):
In our country, there is a great expectation that education in whatever form adds value to the individual – socially, economically, and politically… For the poor and struggling Filipino, education simply brings a promise of amelioration from their lives of want and poverty.
True to this observation, the top three courses of study students enroll in are: (1) computer management (2) nursing, and (3) accountancy. These courses do match work-force demands not only locally but also globally. This means, however, that courses like philosophy, theology, Philippine history, world literature, and the like are sidetracked and referred to as “minor” – despite our insistence that they are anything but minor. Few, if any, pursue degrees in these specializations; the inclusion of these courses in a semester of class work is viewed more as a necessary nuisance than subjects to be excited about. In effect, the core curriculum becomes a hard sell to students.
This leaves us with the question: What do we want to teach that the market is also willing to buy? More pointedly: How much can we insist that what we teach is necessarily worth buying? Furthermore, if we together wish to educate a global citizen who is responsive to the demands of justice, how much philosophy shall be necessary? At the University of San Francisco , there is an eight-unit philosophy requirement; at Ateneo de Naga, it is twelve. How much theology do we need? At Fordham, six units are required of all students; Fu Jen Catholic University requires none. Is what we Jesuit universities envisage globally for the global citizen achieved by our respective core?
Another tension with which we wrestle is tension between the Jesuit core curriculum and the secular environment. Of the youth in many Asian countries, and perhaps around the world, Professor Bernard Chien-Chui Li, the president of Fu Jen Catholic University, says:
The youngsters of the e-generation differ from their parents or teachers both in their values and lifestyles. They care as much about money and (sic) sense of achievement, but.no longer view diligence as a virtue and are much less willing to work hard. Instead, they are more concerned about personal freedom and autonomy.. (They also) have much less empathy and sympathy for others, and are much more self-centered.. As a result, their individualism allows them to have much less respect for power. The personal relationships of the e-generation feature alienation and indifference, which may explain the increasing cases of campus violence and violation of moral codes
How does this square with the socially responsible global citizen? Noteworthy is the fact that some Jesuit academic institutions in Asia are not given leeway to determine their course offerings. For instance, there is no way that they can include theology in their core curriculum. They depend on government funding for essential programs; as such, they are subject to government dictates and government restrictions. Fu Jen Catholic University itself, whose students are mostly non-Christian, offers what it calls an Education for Life . The curriculum, responding to “the youngsters of the e-generation,” is fashioned towards a holistic development of students, countering the abstract, technical- and task -orientedness of contemporary life in Taiwan . Its goal is for the students to enjoy a sense of well-being. The concept of ethical responsibility – rather than belief in a God – is integral to this program. In the students’ search for meaning in their lives, nothing of what is offered is based on or leads to Jesus Christ. That, to my mind at least, is anomalous, or at least worthy of serious deliberation! What is a Jesuit or Catholic core curriculum if it cannot explicitly treat Jesus Christ?
With this in mind, we ask: What do we want to teach and what does the environment enable or allow us to teach? Clearly, teaching the core curriculum is like paddling a canoe against unusually strong currents. In seeking to form men and women for others, who shall eventually be leaders-in-service , Jesuit institutions certainly need additional paddles to go against negative secular forces that oppose our core.
The third tension occurs between the value placed on the Jesuit core curriculum and the apparent loss of Jesuit leadership in implementing this value. As Jesuit institutions, we have begun to, in fact, entrust our Jesuits ideals to those whose paradigms may veer away from that which we originally upheld. No doubt, good, sincere, and competent people surround us in our work. But the very act of entrusting our mission to those who do not start off sharing the Jesuit mission and vision with us render these good, sincere and competent people – and us – very vulnerable. The Jesuit Sophia University in Japan today, for instance, has just elected a president, Dr. Yoshiaki Ishizawa, who is not Jesuit, not Catholic, and not Christian. No Jesuit in the Association of Jesuit Catholic Universities in East Asia and the Pacific (AJCU-EAO) seemed immediately willing to question this. No Jesuit in AJCU, not even Fr. Dan Ross, S.J., the secretary for education of the assistancy, seemed able to account for why this president was chosen. From the lay Catholic president of a distinguished member school of the Association of the Southeast and East Asian Catholic Colleges and Universities comes the remark, however, that this appointment should never have been possible for a Catholic University . What is the role of a university president in furthering a Jesuit and Catholic tradition if he himself does not personally share it? Can the Jesuit core curriculum be preserved and advanced by a president who may not share its core values?
University Autonomy and Jesuit Governance
At this point, we might want to evaluate the level of autonomy of schools as constituted by boards and the civil law vis-à-vis actual governance structures of the Society of Jesus. Provincial superiors may be relieved not to have to bother with the complex governance of Jesuit universities as an apostolic involvement, and universities may similarly be happy to allow the Provincials to take care predominantly of formation, the care of the sick and the elderly, the social apostolate, and mass communications. In the meeting of the AJCU-EAO last July, however, the Jesuit presidents complained that they were “off the radar screens” of the Provincials and asked how they could get “into the loop” of decision-making. The presidents are at this moment asking the Provincials for a dialogue.
Back to our topic, are there core-values or core-activities or core goals that we must defend as a Jesuit university both from within the university and from the Society of Jesus? What do we do to attract both Jesuits and laypersons to labor with us in this work?
How We Have Proceeded
Ateneo de Naga, like all self-respecting Jesuit academic institutions around the world, has seriously wrestled with these tensions. I would be interested in a dialogue with many others on how they face this daily struggle that keeps us all, I believe, on our toes. As far as we are concerned, however, we have accepted the tension and we maintain 98 units in our core. We have, meanwhile, opened the door to two pro-active ways of promoting our Jesuit ideals. One is through an aggressive formation program, which we are still trying to systematize and institutionalize. The second is through working more closely with a select group of students who exercise Jesuit ideals in daily life, in many ordinary ways, and in the company of their peers. Let me talk briefly about each.
An Aggressive Formation Program
We have made formation a major component of university life. Knowledge is power. Such power can change the world; it can also destroy it. It must therefore find itself in worthy hands – hands that will use it for the better, not for the worse. Thus, we need to train our students, through the core curriculum and other formative offerings, to freely put this power to good use.
Incorporated in our faculty formation programs are such seminars as the Characteristics of Jesuit Education, the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, and the Colloquium on the Ministry of Teaching. We schedule these seminars regularly. By the time our faculty members are up for permanency, they would have already gained essential Jesuit ideals to become role models to our students. Of course, becoming such entails more than just seminars. But through these, we hope to have planted some seeds along this line.
Meanwhile, our Campus Ministry Office facilitates annual recollections and retreats for students from their freshman to their senior year in college. This is complemented by exposure and immersion trips, guidance and counseling, and conscientization in issues of gender and justice. The relevant formation offices work hand-in-hand with the academic arm of the university. The latter trains the mind; the former forms freedom. One academic vice-president, aided by a deputy academic vice-president and a Formation Council, oversees the implementation of all these complementary components.
The necessity of addressing the challenges of personal spirituality in all sectors of the university has moreover been continuously underscored. As such, our administrators, faculty, and staff have, especially in the past year, been invited and then sent to Ignatian retreats running from five to eight to thirty days at university expense. They are afforded these periods of silence, prayer and reflection so that they may more deeply encounter the Lord in their lives and their work. Those who have undergone this experience have begun to meet together on a regular basis. In what they call “Ignatian Circles,” they share of their ongoing faith experiences and support each other in the challenges to their spirituality that daily life poses.
We have yet much to do along this line. Much is yet wanting. But little by little, we are seeing positive fruits in our academic community. Prayer is becoming a more natural exercise to many. The once-lukewarm attendance in daily masses is beginning to perk up. Reflection sessions among students are becoming the norm rather than the exception. We are very hopeful.
A Student Elite in Implementation of the University Mission
As president, I noticed a good number of economically challenged students who excel in the classroom and at the same time have a big heart for others. This made me tinker with the idea of getting them together, and supporting optimum academic achievement and education for mission. In 2000, we put up our Xavier Honors Dorm on campus for forty young men and forty young women. Needy but gifted scholars were invited to the dorm – provided they freely accept its formative culture: a daily schedule of Mass and prayer, supervised study, shared meals, regular apostolic involvement, periodic personal evaluation by a dorm prefect, an annual eight-day directed retreat, and honors academic performance. True enough, in time, these dormers created within the community a youth culture that was “alternative” to those lost in the myriad choices of contemporary life. They exhibited focus, discipline, diligence, community skills, and a passion for excellence based explicitly on Ignatian spirituality. They stood out on campus as leaders and achievers. They spoke openly with their peers about their values, their formative experiences, God and worship. They spent their weekends in the slums, among the disabled, the sexually abused, and with the typhoon victims. Many of them have since graduated; new groups of leaders have come.
I think with the increasing loss of the Jesuit nature of our universities, we may need the courage to work again on small communities of the willing to nurture Jesuit values. The continued presence of these elite students, elite only because they are “positively different,” has slowly but surely been challenging students in our campus, who through poverty are laid back, uninvolved, unwilling to engage a threatening, godless and cruel world. In time, they will challenge not only our campus but our world.
I have shared of my experiences in a Jesuit university in a Third World country. To conclude, I would like to say that preparing for this talk has ultimately led me to ask: What are some possible expectations that this world can reasonably expect of a Jesuit-trained global citizen, no matter the Jesuit institution this citizen came from? Do we share a common profile of the graduate of any one of our Jesuit schools?
Some Expectations of the Jesuit-trained Global Citizen
Since the Jesuit University participates in the Mission of the Society of Jesus, I would suggest that a Jesuit-trained global citizen must have, at the very least, an intellectual appreciation of the Catholic faith. The Jesuit-trained global citizen must have an appreciation of justice issues in a global perspective and a solid grasp of at least some of issues of globalization. For instance, if a believer in democracy, she or he must be open to the need for a global government based on principles of democracy, not might. She or he must also have a holographic picture of imbalances of people’s participation in power decisions, poverty, and the violence in the world. This must lead her or him to a deeply felt conviction of the necessity to combat these in her or his own way and life.
A Jesuit-trained global citizen must likewise possess an openness to cultures as well as an appreciation of the role of cultures in life and in the problems we confront. She or he must understand that cultures are deeply ingrained into people’s psyches. As such, the true work of justice must be by way of these cultures and not around or dismissive of them.
Finally, the Jesuit-trained global citizen must be willing to engage in inter-religious dialogue, i.e., a conversation between and among people of various religions and beliefs where genuine listening from the heart happens – with equal respect for all. He or she welcomes conversations with the Hindus, the Muslims, the Shintos in his or her world of experience, even as she or he seeks to be understood by them.
Are these standards achievable through our Jesuit core curriculum? We certainly hope so. We can point to real people, who were formed by this core, live Jesuit ideals in the world. In many cases, however, we admittedly fail. We have had our sad share of educating global crooks. Many things are not in our control. But that which we control we must work on – with humility and tenacity.
Thank you so much for the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you tonight. As he takes on the leadership responsibilities for forming global citizens of the future through this Jesuit institution, John Carroll University, I know I am one with you in wishing Fr. Bob Niehoff well!
John Carroll University names its 25th president,
Michael D. Johnson, Ph.D.
Learn more about Dr. Johnson at presidentialsearch.jcu.edu
Robert L. Niehoff, S.J.