Stoking the Common Fire is an event the Center for Leadership Formation puts on for alumni and students completing the Executive Leadership Program. It took place last week and I was asked to give a talk at the dinner. Inspired by my recent meeting with the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, I drew upon his address, "The Globalization of Superficiality," which he delivered to Jesuit university presidents from around the world in 2010. Here it is:
When I started thinking about what to talk about tonight I looked at the schedule and I noticed that you have had at least half a dozen people speaking about leadership, so of course I realized there is no additional value I can add on that topic, so I can't talk to you about that.
Then I thought about my visit to Omaha last weekend to take in the NCAA basketball tournament action taking place there, but then realized not everyone is a basketball fan, so that is probably not an appropriate topic either. It was sunny and 83 degrees in Omaha by the way, so it was nice not to be in Seattle.
So finally, I wondered if my visit to Rome the week before might provide some material. I was at a board meeting of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools, and one of the things we did was meet with Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, who as the Superior General is the head of the Jesuits worldwide. He leads the more than 18,000 Jesuits who work worldwide and is referred to as the "Black Pope." Jesuits have historically dressed in black, the Pope in white.
During our interaction, Father General emphasized the significant role that Jesuit Business Schools could play in today's world, especially in promoting business with conscience and business with responsibility. In commenting on the programs offered at Jesuit Business Schools, he said that he was impressed with their energy to "change the face of business." He noted that business without ethics leads to "disaster," and said that due to recent events the world is now more open than ever to an ethical approach to business. He would like to see the Jesuit business schools lead the way in thinking about business in a different way, one that is more holistic and dedicated to the Common Good.
Of course, what I liked was when he emphasized the important role of business schools at Jesuit universities, noting that business "has more attraction" to students than philosophy and theology. That may come as a surprise ot our colleagues in the College of Arts and Science, since the presumption is always made that they are the preeminent feature of a Jesuit education!
In 2010 Fr. Nicolas met with Jesuit university presidents from around the world in Mexico City, including Fr. Steve. He delivered a talk called, "The Globalization of Superficiality." Don't you love that title! He could be a marketing and branding guru. It is seen today as the most prominent articulation of his thinking on Jesuit higher education. In celebrating our Jesuit roots, I thought it would be a good basis for my remarks tonight.
This is what he means by the globalization of superficiality: "When one can access so much information so quickly and so painlessly; when one can express and publish to the world one's reactions so immediately and so unthinkingly in one's blogs …; when … the newest viral video can be spread so quickly to people half a world away, shaping their perceptions and feelings, then the laborious, painstaking work of serious, critical thinking often gets short-circuited."
"When one is overwhelmed with such a dizzying pluralism of choices and values and beliefs and visions of life, then one can so easily slip into the lazy superficiality of relativism or mere tolerance of others and their views, rather than engaging in the hard work of forming communities of dialogue in the search of truth and understanding. It is easier to do as one is told than to study, to pray, to risk, or to discern a choice."
He goes on to say that this poses a significant challenge to Jesuit higher education because of its reliance on depth of thought and imagination. Regarding the graduates of Jesuit universities, he says: "How many of those who leave our institutions do so with both professional competence and the experience of having, in some way during their time with us, a depth of engagement with reality that transforms them at their deepest core? What more do we need to do to ensure that we are not simply populating the world with bright and skilled superficialities?"
Now, as for the ELP, LEMBA, and HLEMBA, programs it is our intent and our hope that you gain both professional competence and when you finish you are different at the core! From my observation, the programs that do that best in Albers are these programs. I hope that has been your experience thus far.
One point that Father Nicolas made to the university presidents is that he would like to see the 110 Jesuit universities around the world (28 in the US) working together and collaborating. After all, one of the positives of globalization is greater ease of communication and travel. He would like to see consortia of Jesuit universities focused on responding to global challenges. He suggested several.
One was "more adequate analyses and more effective and lasting solutions to the world's poverty, inequality, and other forms of injustice." Now, that is an interesting one, and we might ask what would that mean for ELP, LEMBA, and HLEMBA. Who has a suggestion or take on that?
Well, we are doing great work with our social justice projects in collaborating with local partners. Someday, we might be able to say this about global partners.
As an example, a group of Albers faculty and undergraduates have been working in Africa on a project called "Africa Start Up." The project was conceived and developed by one of our alums when she was an undergrad, and involves providing business training to low income small business owners with little formal schooling. Originally, they were in Malawi working with the University of Malawi. As conditions on the ground changed, they moved the project to Ghana and worked with Ashesi University. Neither is Jesuit because the Jesuits have yet to establish business schools in Africa (but it is actually something they have identified that they wish to do and they are working on it). It gives you an example of what could happen someday.
Another issue that Father Nicolás raised is the following: "Globalization has created new inequalities between those who enjoy the power given to them by knowledge, and those who are excluded from its benefits because they have no access to that knowledge. Thus, we need to ask: who benefits from the knowledge produced in our institutions and who does not? Who needs the knowledge we can share, and how can we share it more effectively with those for whom that knowledge can truly make a difference, especially the poor and excluded? We also need to ask some specific questions of faculty and students: How have they become voices for the voiceless, sources of human rights for those denied such rights, resources for protection of the environment, persons of solidarity for the poor?"
So, if he were to ask this group of students to answer these questions, what would you tell him? What would you point to about our program? Or are we coming up short?
There you have it. Some of the thinking of the Black Pope, Father Nicolas, which has interesting connections to our celebration this evening.
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who has completed the ELP. We wish you the best and hope that this has been an experience of "change and transformation." We also hope that you will stay connected with us, including participating in alumni events for the CLF and university.
To those of you continuing on in the LEMBA or HLEMBA programs, I encourage you to persevere and keep your head up. Despite what you may think from time to time, the faculty are not out to get you and have your back at all times. Before you know it, it will be June, 2013 and you will be going across the stage at Key Arena.
Finally, I want to thank all our faculty and staff who work in our programs. It is evident to me that they are doing excellent work and represent the university well. Give them a round of applause please.