If We Dare Not Speak, We Cannot Teach
Each year at Commencement, the president addresses the state of Trinity, the state of the academy and the state of our world. I am pleased to say that the state of Trinity is exceptional. Among Trinity’s many achievements this year, I am pleased to single out these:
In march, Trinity received its first full accreditation for the School of education from NCATe, the National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher education.
In April, Trinity welcomed a team of visitors from the middle States Commission on Higher education for our ten-year institutional accreditation review. The visiting team commended Trinity, stating that Trinity “… has achieved an incalculable contribution to the American higher education enterprise and the American national scene by demonstrating ways to give new life to historic mission. The university’s wisdom and courage in educating a majority of adult students and students of color renew its relevance and faithfulness to mission. …which has always been to make higher education accessible to women … We believe you will succeed, and, good for all of us, because the world has more need than ever of the work of Trinity.”
With that ringing endorsement of mission from our middle States team, and based on the results of our work in a self-study that included careful consideration of the contemporary relevance of the historic mission of Trinity College – our College of Arts and Sciences which is our historic women’s college – I am very pleased to tell you that Trinity has reaffirmed its commitment to sustain the only college for women in the nation’s capital and in the greater Washington region. Trinity College is one of just 60 women’s colleges in the nation, one of just 18 among the historic Catholic women’s colleges. Sometimes I am asked, “Why sustain a women’s college in this day and age?” I say, “Behold, our graduates!” – the 103rd class in the remarkable line of Trinity’s alumnae achievements. We know that young women, in particular, still profit greatly from an environment that focuses on their success, that puts them at center court rather than high up in the bleachers, that cheers for their success rather than leaving them as anonymous faces in the crowd observing someone else’s Big Dance. We must be doing something right – applications for admission to the full-time undergraduate women’s program at Trinity College have nearly doubled, a strong vote of confidence in our women’s college. Of course, Trinity also welcomes men into our Schools of education and Professional Studies – that’s the beauty of being a university! – and we absolutely believe that the contemporary women’s college should no longer be defined by the absence of men, but by the success of our outcomes for women and for all of our students.
As another part of Trinity’s contemporary interpretation of its historic mission of access to higher education, in January, Trinity’s School of Professional Studies opened a new coeducational associate degree program at THE ARC on Mississippi Avenue in the Parklands community of southeast Washington. This is the first full degree program that any university has ever offered east of the Anacostia river.
The Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports continues to thrive, drawing thousands of women and men, girls and boys each year to enjoy our fields, courts and pool in organized sports and recreation and summer camps. This year, in partnership with medstar Health, the Washington Hospital Center and the National rehabilitation Hospital, the Trinity Center became the site for the new Washington Heart Cardio rehab Center.
Beginning with the Fall 2006 semester, through the School of Professional Studies, Trinity will launch its very first program in nursing, the RN-to-BSN for nurses who are already credentialed. This is the first of a series of degree programs that Trinity will introduce in nursing and the health professions over the next several years, responding again, as Trinity has in the past, to the workforce needs of our city and region.
Those are just some of Trinity’s accomplishments recently. Trinity stands as a proud symbol of what is right in the academy. But the state of the academy is very troubled, indeed. At a time when the world could certainly use voices of wisdom and clarity, those who might be best able to speak, the members of the intellectual community in our nation’s universities, are absorbed in defensive maneuvers and damage control.
When a fine university spends months debating the ethics of the executive’s menu rather than the rising threats to freedom of thought and speech in this nation, the moral leverage of the academy is squandered, and
all of us feel the loss. When countless hours and millions of university dollars must go into legal fees and public relations bills because of the actions of narcissistic presidents or uncontrolled athletics teams or dysfunctional boards, higher education betrays the public trust, and all of us are weakened. If higher education is only about itself and its perks, with no larger purpose, then we have no right to claim the moral high ground
of academic freedom that is our difference from other social institutions. Academic freedom is a social good, not a personal privilege. But academic freedom without accountability for its effective use soon withers
into selfish indulgence. The effective stewardship of academic freedom demands that we safeguard its use for the critical moral and intellectual issues of society, not for our own personal protection and pleasures.
Because of the behaviors of a few people at some universities, all universities are now on the defensive as the federal government seeks to exercise greater and greater control over this enterprise. Proposals are floating through Congress to “Leave No College Student Behind,” imposing national tests on university students much like K-12 education. Under the guise of catching the terrorists, the FBI is infiltrating campuses, the INS is barring international students from entry, the NSA and other intelligence agencies are listening in. Whether testing or spying, all of these governmental intrusions into higher education will corrode and weaken the freedom we must have to achieve our purposes: to teach students the skills of exploration and discovery of new knowledge; to stimulate invention; to pursue the Truth through groundbreaking research; not to protect a given canon of knowledge without question, but rather to challenge convention and develop new ideas for the sake of humanity. We need freedom and
independence to be true universities.
In the current global climate, higher education should be even more independent. Our nation’s university campuses should be leading the debates of the day: What makes a great nation? What are the best ways to defend our freedom? Is an isolationist, wallbuilding posture truly in the best long-range interests of the United States and the world? What kind of society will we construct in the middle of this century when the population will look and sound very different in spite of the current efforts to stop the tsunami of demographic change? Should we all speak only one language? Is war the best solution to terrorism? These are the kinds of questions about which good academics must have great, roaring debates continuously. But higher education’s voice at present is largely absent from the great debates of our time.
Some of my presidential colleagues say, “Hush! Don’t draw attention! Don’t speak so loudly!”
I say: If we dare not speak, we cannot teach. We must reclaim the voice of higher education for issues larger than ourselves. We must challenge war as a solution to international crises; we must expose injustice as a condition of failed public policies. We must question walls and barriers that divide people from each other. We must exalt the necessity of learning to live fruitfully and in peace among other cultures, races, religions, languages and traditions. We must defend the right of reporters and faculty members and citizens to speak their minds, to write without fear, to talk to their neighbors and friends and business associates through all available media in a climate of freedom, without unlawful surveillance. We must not only demand improved public education, we must redouble our efforts to work even more effectively with our K-12 schools so that our children will be more ready for the true learning of a higher education.
Only by standing for issues larger than ourselves can we possibly teach our students to do the same. Our students will learn courage from our willingness to confront what is wrong. Our students will discover their voices by emulating ours. Our students will become effective advocates by hearing us make the case for justice for those who have no voice. Our students will become great servant leaders by watching us discharge our responsibilities with a disposition of service to them, to our universities, and to our city and nation.
Members of the Class of 2006: You are one of the best, one of the most accomplished classes ever to walk across Trinity’s stage. As you go off to your eminent graduate and professional schools at Georgetown and Penn and Cornell and Columbia, as you return to your work in the public and private schools in this region, the federal and state agencies and the private corporations that make this regional economy one of the best in the nation, remember this: the Sisters of Notre Dame founded Trinity for you, but not so that you would become comfortable with your status as privileged college graduates. They did this for you so that you will do the same for others.
Our cheers for you today come with high expectations: that you will go forth from this place with Trinity’s values and ideals planted firmly in your souls; that you will advance the cause of this mission in the thousands of lives you will influence for good in the days to come; that you will never forget that as far as you go in life, your home here at Trinity will always be close by; that you will remember the lessons of Trinity, and they will give you the strength of purpose, wisdom of the soul, and charity of the heart to improve your portion of the world a little more each day.
Congratulations, Class of 2006!