Conversing on the future of Jesuit higher education

November 22, 2015

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Four faculty and staff pondered the future of Jesuit higher education at a lunch sponsored by the Office of Jesuit Mission and Identity last week. The lunch was part of the office's "Moment for Mission Lunch Series." 

Joining the panel discussion were Bob Dullea, vice provost and vice president for university planning; Heather Geiger, director of IT finance and accreditation officer; Susan Weihrich, associate dean in the Albers School of Business and Economics; and Peter Ely, associate professor of theology and religious studies. 

Moderated by Jen Tilghman-Havens, associate director of Jesuit Mission and Identity, the conversation was based on the topic of the latest Conversations magazine, "Daunting Challenges for Jesuit Higher Education." Geiger, who coauthored with Dullea the magazine's lead article, began the discussion by highlighting what they shared in the piece. She covered the changes facing all of higher education, including rising costs, increasing questions over the value of a college degree, growing accountability demanded by students and their parents, more expectations that a degree will lead to gainful employment and the challenges and opportunities technology presents. 

Dullea, who last year presented a talk to multiple campus audiences on the challenges confronting higher education and Seattle University, said, "We're not in a crisis, but that doesn't mean we don't face longterm structural challenges." 

In the midst of all the uncertainty, each panelist expressed hope for the future of Jesuit education. Geiger spoke of the "highly personalized" nature of Jesuit education as irreplaceable, Weihrich observed that today's generation of students is receptive to SU's mission and Father Ely said, "Our students are committed to values, not just a career." 

The four speakers also spoke to the need for Jesuit institutions to change with the times and reinvent themselves. 

"(The Jesuit tradition) is used to adaptation and change," said Father Ely, pointing out that the Society of Jesus made significant changes to their founding documents just 10 years after they came into being. 

"I think we are risk takers," said Weihrich, citing the Seattle University Youth Initiative as an example. Others pointed to the newly launched School of New and Continuing Studies, which is utilizing online technologies to educate an underserved population of adult learners, as another significant adaptation for the university. 

Conversations  comes out twice a year, in fall and spring, and is distributed in hard copy form to all of SU's faculty and staff. (The magazine's editorial board is chaired by SU's own Pat Howell, S.J., the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture's Distinguished Professor in Residence.)

Pictured above, from left: Jen Tilghman-Havens, Susan Weihrich, Bob Dullea, Heather Geiger and Peter Ely, S.J.