Dear Seattle University Community,
On May 10, 2023, the Spectator – Seattle University’s student newspaper – published an unfortunate and one-sided story that neither presented differing faculty viewpoints as it relates to proposed language regarding Seattle University’s Jesuit and Catholic character nor accurately reflects the process for revising the Faculty Handbook. The process for revising the faculty handbook is an annual one, and it is not uncommon for proposed amendments to be under consideration for several years as they move through a collaborative and consultative process involving faculty, administration and, ultimately, the Board of Trustees. Far from “relent[ing]” in the face of monolithic faculty opposition to the proposed changes, we have received a variety of comments on them, some supportive, some concerned, and some strongly opposed. Rather than, on the one hand, rushing changes through for Board consideration, or, on the other, abandoning the effort, we have instead pledged to extend the conversation into the next academic year to allow for opportunities to more fully engage with faculty around how to accurately and inclusively articulate the university’s Jesuit and Catholic commitments.
Importantly, while what it means for Seattle University to be Jesuit and Catholic is a question for our collective discernment, the fact that Seattle University is Jesuit and Catholic is not itself an open question. Seattle University’s longstanding vision is to be “one of the most innovative and progressive Jesuit and Catholic universities in the world.” For this reason, the foundational goal of our current strategic plan, developed through a consultative campus process and approved just last year by the Board of Trustees, commits us to “remaining anchored in our Jesuit and Catholic character.” As that document put it, “Seattle University’s Jesuit and Catholic character . . . suffuses everything we do,” including “our commitment to educating the whole person and to inclusive excellence.”
Although certain aspects of the changes we have proposed to the Faculty Handbook have raised concerns among some members of our faculty, we look upon this as an opportunity for us to come together as a community to further explore what it means for Seattle University to be innovative and progressive and Jesuit and Catholic at this place and time. Far from being an oxymoron, our commitment to being a university that is both progressive and Catholic creates, as President Peñalver said in his inauguration address, an “uncomfortable but necessary tension – between acknowledging what is good while at the same time longing for what might be better.”
Even before this discussion of the Faculty Handbook, plans have already been under development to increase the opportunities for faculty to engage with the Jesuit and Catholic intellectual traditions. Seattle University remains committed to creating spaces for dialogue and engagement about our mission as a Jesuit and Catholic university, especially as it pertains to the institution’s academic endeavors—which is the invitation of the Mission Priority Examen.
We plan to spend AY24 learning together and developing a shared language for how best to understand and articulate what it means to be a university dedicated “to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” In considering this question, we are guided by our core values of academic excellence, care, diversity, faith, justice, and leadership, all of which flow directly from our Jesuit and Catholic character, and our commitment to academic freedom. Seattle University is uniquely positioned to advance a conversation happening throughout the country among AJCU institutions regarding what it means to be a Jesuit and Catholic university in an increasingly pluralistic context with a decreasing Jesuit presence on campus.
Eduardo M. Peñalver
Shane P. Martin
Vice President for Mission Integration