Happy New Year!
As this brilliant new year’s day dawned, I took one of my favorite local drives along the Potomac River and out to Great Falls where throngs of families, tourists, bikers and hikers had already arrived to enjoy the vista and soak up the sun. On each side of the Potomac, the Great Falls parks offer expansive views of the river at its most powerful, an awesome cascade of swift moving water racing down the steep bedrock drops on its way to the Chesapeake Bay and then to the Atlantic. Some brave souls tempted fate by bouncing across the waves in kayaks or climbing on the river rocks, but most of us simply ambled or rode bikes along the towpath enjoying the warm day and timelessly beautiful scene.
The scene at Great Falls today connoted the remarkably good lives so many of us are fortunate to enjoy on most days. At the same time, I could not help but think of the bitterly sharp contrast between this happy picture and other scenes in our world this week. It was a similarly bright and beautiful day, albeit much warmer, along the south Asian and African coastlines when the tsunami struck without warning last Sunday. We pray for all of the victims who are suffering so much. In that epic natural tragedy, we can’t help but read, once again, a parable on the fragility of life, the imperative of living each day purposefully, as if we had no additional time to make a difference beyond today.
Our sense of purpose on New Year’s Day is often defined in a list of resolutions, proclamations we make to ourselves and the world about how we’ll be different in the days to come. With so much chaos in our world, we try to identify what it is that we can control, what changes we can make for the better through some small change in our own behaviors. Much of it becomes focused on ourselves. So we resolve to be kinder, thinner, more punctual, neater — all lost to more pressing issues by the end of the month.
Given the banality of the conventional idea of New Year’s resolutions, and the serious crises facing our world, today I’ve been thinking of the word “resolution” in its other meanings: the clarity of a picture; the solution to a problem; a formal action or decree. I’ve thought about what these ideas of resolution mean for our lives and work here at Trinity, and the sense of purpose we bring to the world beyond Trinity through the force of our education. So, I’ve come up with these ‘resolutions’ for 2005:
Clarity of Vision: One meaning of “resolution” is the clarity of a picture. In the year ahead, let’s focus more clearly and precisely on some of the critical issues affecting our city and global village today. We need to have more robust, open communal discussion at Trinity of the War in Iraq and its implications for the U.S. and the world for generations to come. We need to have more dialogue with the advocates and policymakers who are working just blocks away about the situation in the Sudan, the issues of terrorism and national security beyond the politics that obfuscates so much of that discussion, the reasons why global warming and environmental issues are not receiving more serious consideration, the apparent prevalence of torture and human rights violations in U.S. treatment of persons in custody in Guantanamo and Iraq. Domestically, we need to talk more openly about what is happening to basic freedoms in the United States —- the retrenchment that is occurring with regard to freedom of speech and press, the regression from what we thought were immutable social commitments to equal opportunity and civil rights. Closer to home, the District of Columbia continues to suffer a bimodal distribution of wealth and education, and we need to focus more aggressively on what Trinity as a leading citizen of the city can do to promote improved educational opportunities.
These are not just issues for our classes in Political Science or Sociology — every person in the Trinity Community is a citizen of the world committed to improving the human condition through education. All of us are obliged to learn as much as we can about the issues that will surely affect our families, our jobs, our communities and livelihoods for years to come.
I invite all faculty, staff and students to contribute ideas about ways in which we can elevate the level of public discussion at Trinity about these and other pressing contemporary issues, in order to improve their ‘resolution’ in our minds, the clarity with which we understand the problems.
For my part, which is only one means of action, I intend to create a periodic President’s Forum to which I will invite you along with outside experts to dialogue with us — not ‘lectures’ in the most formal sense, but true conversation to help us explore the issues. Let me know if you have suggestions for the program, or other ideas about how we can approach this.
Solutions: Another meaning of “resolution” is solution, or settlement of an issue. Surely, we deeply desire a speedy resolution to the War in Iraq, the continuing threat of terrorism, the mindless violence that continues in our city. Achieving such solutions may seem beyond our grasp at Trinity, but that does not mean we should walk away from our civic responsibility to advocate for just, peaceful and swift resolutions of these issues.
As an institution in the Catholic faith tradition, we have a particular responsibility to advocate on behalf of peace and justice in all public policies and in the actions of our public officials. Peace and justice are the original “moral values,” pre-dating the 2004 election exit polls by several thousand years of Gospel teaching and even older religious scripture in virtually all faith traditions. Pope John Paul II has spoken with great clarity against the War in Iraq. He has also repeatedly admonished the wealthier nations of the world to address the problems of poverty in the vast majority of the world, as well as the conditions of violence and oppression affecting women and children in particular. The Catholic defense of life includes advocacy for civil rights and human rights everywhere. The Sisters of Notre Dame, as we discussed in our symposium last fall, have a congregational commitment to action for justice around the world. We must be advocates for the kind of resolutions that will truly end war, violence and discrimination abroad and at home.
We can never stop thinking that we can make a difference, that we can contribute to peaceful and just resolutions of the grave issues we face locally, nationally and internationally. We must keep our “resolve” to make a difference each day.
Actions: Finally, “resolution” also means an action or decree. In the months ahead, I hope we can take some formal actions to move beyond just talking about the world issues. What will we do to offer our help to the tsunami victims? Let’s think of some way that can be a Trinity response to this crisis.
Following-up on last fall’s SND Symposium on Global Women’s Education, we are also thinking of ways that Trinity can reach out more effectively to communities of need internationally, working with the SND global network and the UN community.
Locally, Trinity is also moving to enlarge access to educational opportunities in the District of Columbia. We are exploring opportunities to offer programming in other locations in the city, and I hope to be able to tell you more about this in the next few weeks.
Here at Trinity, there are certain formal actions we must take in the year ahead to improve the quality and effectiveness of our educational environment, so that we can be sure that all Trinity graduates continue to have the strength of purpose and powerful tools necessary to make change in our world.
We must continue to take all actions necessary to protect academic integrity and root out plagiarism.
More positively, we will continue to promote opportunities for Trinity students to speak and write publicly about their academic work, and we will also promote more opportunities for faculty members to share their research and publication more broadly with the campus community.
We will also take the actions necessary to launch planning for new academic facilities, including the library and science facilities, fine arts and classrooms, to ensure the ongoing excellence of teaching and learning at Trinity in the future. These are all on the agenda for Trinity going forward, and 2005 will be the year that we start the process in earnest — though it will take many more years to complete these projects, known collectively as the University Academic Center.
We will create important new academic programs in 2005, including programs in nursing and the allied health professions. We are launching online courses in the next few weeks, and these will lead to fully online programs in semesters to come.
In April 2005, we will greet a team of visitors from the National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) who will complete the process we began three years ago to secure special accreditation for our School of Education. This action will culminate years of hard work by our Education faculty, and will ensure that Trinity’s leadership in teacher preparation can grow even more pronounced in the years to come.
By the end of 2005, we will have completed the majority of the work for the Middle States Self-Study, the periodic examination of our curricula, programs and services for the Middle States accrediting association. I am confident that the process now underway will lead to a strong reaffirmation of Trinity’s excellence in teaching and learning, along with a strong set of recommendations for action going forward.
Many more items are on the action agenda for Trinity. Most important, however, is the resolution that each member of the community brings to the learning process. In that sense, “resolution” means a level of determination to succeed, a sense of ambition that will lead to true success in acquiring and using knowledge for personal, professional and societal improvement.
May 2005 be a year of strong resolve and great fulfillment for you. Many thanks to all members of the Trinity community who do so much to ensure the vitality of our mission.
Happy New Year!