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  • Demand a Peaceful Transition of Power

    October 11, 2020

    (John Adams (l) and Thomas Jefferson (r) photo credit)

    One candidate issued alarming warnings that his opponent was a tool of far left radicals who would destroy the country.  The other candidate claimed his opponent would lead the country to authoritarian rule.  One of the candidates excoriated the newspapers, writing to a friend that the press was “…teaming with every falsehood they can invent for defamation.” The campaign was bitter, the election messy, the results in doubt for several months with the House of Representatives forced to make the final decision.  But in the end, in the 1800 election, Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent President John Adams and became the third President of the United States on March 4 1801.  In his Inaugural Address, President Jefferson called the nation to unity:

    “…but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the constitution all will of course arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”

    Jefferson went on to say, “…every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.” 

    And in a subsequent section outlining the duties of the government, he underscored that the government must take “…a jealous care of the right of election by the people” as an essential principle of the new nation.

    (President George W. Bush (l) and former Vice President Al Gore (r) photo credit)

    Many presidential elections since 1800 have been bitter, hotly contested, rife with outrageous accusations by opponents against each other, and some have even been so close as to require invocation of special Constitutional provisions to decide the winners.  See Bush v. Gore in which the Supreme Court’s ruling stopped the Florida vote recount and effectively awarded the election to George W. Bush, defeating Al Gore.

    In his speech conceding the election to President-elect Bush, then-Vice President Al Gore said,

    “This has been an extraordinary election, but in one of God’s unforeseen paths, this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny. Indeed, that history gives us many examples of contests as hotly debated, as fiercely fought, with their own challenges to the popular will. Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution, and each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in a spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us…I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country…While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. “

    (Richard Nixon departs the White House August 9, 1974, photo credit)

    I remember standing in a huge crowd on the ellipse in August 1974 watching disgraced President Richard Nixon’s helicopter take off from the south lawn of the White House while Vice President Gerald Ford took the oath of office to replace Nixon after his resignation over the Watergate scandal.  A little more than two years later, in January 1977, I watched newly elected Democratic President Jimmy Carter stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue in victory over the Republican President Ford.  Four years later,  I remember standing at the foot of the U.S. Capitol in 1981 as Republican President Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as the soundly defeated Democratic President Jimmy Carter looked on, just as the news broke that Iran had released 52 American hostages after 444 days in captivity, a crisis that contributed to Carter’s defeat.  Eight years later, I was on the Mall for the inauguration of Democrat Bill Clinton who defeated Republican President George H.W. Bush in a hard-fought election contest. All of these were peaceful, dignified transfers of power, even in challenging circumstances.

    President Bush left a hand-written note for President Clinton that read, in part, “There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

    (Rev. Franklin Graham prays at George W. Bush’s inauguration (Bush right of center with bright blue tie) as President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore (far right) look on – photo credit)

    After the bitter disappointment of the 2000 election, defeated Democratic candidate and Vice President Al Gore stood alongside Democratic President Bill Clinton as Republican President George W. Bush took the oath of office on January 20, 2001.  Looking on was former Republican President George H.W. Bush who was defeated by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

    (President Barack Obama takes the oath of office as President Bush (center, left) looks on photo credit)

    Eight years later, on January 20, 2009, I was again at the foot of the U.S. Capitol to witness another peaceful transfer of presidential power when Democratic President Barack Obama took the oath of office as former President George W. Bush looked on.  And on January 20, 2017, Democratic President Obama and defeated Democratic candidate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were on the dais when Republican President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office.

    I offer this brief excursion through the history of presidential transitions to illustrate a fundamental principle of our way of life in the United States:  no matter how hard-fought the election contest, no matter how acerbic the debates or how deep the differences of political philosophy and opinion, in the end we have a peaceful transfer of power among presidents.

    While we celebrate the 4th of July as the date of American Independence, in a sense, January 20 should be celebrated as the day the nation is reborn every four years at the presidential inauguration.  The date is sacred; the transfer of power occurs at noon according to prescribed rituals and traditions.  The President takes an oath of office that reads:

    • “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

    NEVER has any outgoing president — whether defeated or ending two terms — NEVER has any president refused to leave office, or worse, threatened to disrupt and impede the democratic process by possibly using force to stay in power.  There are countries where this happens.  We call them tyrannies, juntas, dictatorships, fascist.

    The current president of the United States refuses to say that he will accept the results of the election.  He is doing his level best to undermine the validity of the electoral process by making false claims about the security of mail-in ballots, by lying about fraud in prior elections, by using judicial processes to block and upset state plans for the administration of elections during the pandemic crisis, by supporting state actions that make it harder for citizens to vote, especially Black citizens.

    Worse, the current president refuses to say that he will leave office peacefully, that he will honor 239 years of American democracy and self-determination going back to the days when Washington, Adams and Jefferson had full and robust arguments but, in the end, acted for the best of the nation.

    If he is defeated, President Trump must concede and leave office peacefully on January 20, 2021 at noon.  He does not need to attend the inauguration, that is not required, although former presidents with maturity, grace and good manners did so because they realize that the peaceful transition of power is one of the greatest symbols of American strength to the world and the durability of our republic.  But if he loses, the nation should not begrudge him an early trip to Mar-a-Lago.

    And it goes without saying that the same is true if former Vice President Biden loses, he, too, must concede peacefully and respectfully.  What we cannot tolerate is disruption and threats to American electoral process; what we must demand is respect for and affirmation of a peaceful transfer of power.  It’s the only way we will be able to move forward.  We, the People, must prevail.

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    Understanding Trinity’s Budget

    September 30, 2020

    Our “Campus Conversations” on Thursday, October 1, will include a discussion of Trinity’s budget.  This blog provides some basic information to help members of the campus community understand the elements of Trinity’s budget, tuition price and financial aid.

    We start with revenues, the money we receive that is the basis for our budget:

    In Fiscal 2021, the budget anticipates that Trinity will collect about $45 million in gross revenues.  Of that amount, we expect about $33 million in gross tuition revenues.  “Gross” means the total value before we apply discounts and reductions, explained in the next illustration.  In addition to tuition revenues, we receive about $12 million in other revenues.  So, overall, we receive $45 million in gross revenues.

    But the tuition figure is based on the anticipated number of enrollments in each academic school and program, and some of that tuition revenue is discounted because of Trinity grants and internal scholarships.  The amount of the discount is $13 million in Fiscal 2021 (our fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30).  So, to calculate net tuition revenues, we subtract the amount of the discount from the amount of the gross tuition revenues as seen in this illustration:

    With the $20 million in net tuition revenues and $12 million in other revenues, we have $32 million in net revenues to subsidize all of our expenses in Fiscal 2021.

    Note that the “discount” is only Trinity institutional grants and scholarships; it does not include federal financial aid, state aid or other outside support.  At the bottom of this blog there’s a discussion of financial aid and those sources.  Simply put, all of those other outside sources subsidize the $20 million in net tuition revenues that Trinity receives, and also provide some refunds to students on the federal loans.

    So, Trinity has $32 million to spend on its expenses in Fiscal 2021.  Here’s how we spend that money:

    63% of the expense budget, or $20 million, is for salaries and fringe benefits, which is fairly typical in higher education.  Our salaries are modest compared to peer schools, and our staff is relatively small.  I am always so grateful to all of our faculty and staff for their devotion to Trinity and our students despite the fact that they could make a lot more money elsewhere.  Thank you!

    After salaries and benefits, the next biggest budget item is for our physical plant — 14% of the budget or $4.5 million which goes to pay for utilities (electric, gas, water add up to $1.8 million!) and the services of our Aramark partners for mechanical and engineering staff, housekeeping, grounds and repairs.

    About 5% of the budget goes toward Security and the shuttle service — a big chunk of expense that is essential.

    Beyond those categories, you can see in the illustration some of the other major expenses like food service, insurance, library databases, maintenance contracts on our technology.  You see a $700,000 number for “bad debt” which is mostly unpaid tuition — when students do not pay tuition, after a while the accountants have to treat that as a bad debt and the accounting rules require that we set aside money to offset that loss.  We call this “accounts receivable” and the number has grown in recent years, something we are trying to address with improved financial counseling and enlarged financial aid resources.

    After all of those listed expenses, we have just $2.9 million for “everything else” which is not a lot of money for a long list of direct expenses for everything from printing and postage, to office supplies, travel expenses, marketing and advertising, and similar costs.

    Below are illustrations that are a different way to look at our net revenues and expenses:

    Financial Aid is a big part of our budget discussion, and financial aid starts with setting tuition price each year.  Trinity’s tuition price is significantly lower than other private colleges.  The two illustrations below show how Trinity compares to the national average tuition for private colleges since 1991, and how Trinity’s full-time tuition, room and board stack up against other similar colleges and universities:

    In the chart above, Trinity’s full-time tuition and room/board charges for Fiscal 18-19-20-21 are in the purple columns toward the left, and the illustration shows that they are just about the lowest of the cohort.  We have similar charts for our part-time undergraduate and graduate per-credit tuitions.

    We know that our students need subsidies to pay for tuition at Trinity.  This chart shows the sources of the subsidies (financial aid):

    Adding up all of those sources of financial aid, the total is $31,794,213 — this aid covers not only tuition but “total cost of attendance” expenses for students like room and board, books and other expenses.  In addition, some of the federal loan money is returned to students in the form of refunds.

    These snapshots of our budget and financial aid provide a window into some important areas of Trinity’s finances, but there’s a lot more in our total financial picture which I will save for another time.  Understanding Trinity’s budget is the baseline, and its complicated, but there are no secrets and it’s a good way for everyone in the community to know more about how we operate.  I will be happy to answer questions and provide additional information during our Campus Conversations, or send me a message and I will answer.

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    God, Caesar and the 2020 Election

    September 27, 2020

    (Left:  Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett; Right:  Presidential Nominee Joe Biden)

    I am old enough to remember when the idea of a Catholic president invited frenzied opposition from those who believed that the Catholic candidate John F. Kennedy would be a tool of the Vatican in governing the United States. The opposition grew so intense that a group of Protestant ministers asked him to address the concerns.  JFK’s speech on September 12, 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association is worth reading in full, and these excerpts are especially relevant now, 60 years later in September 2020 as we consider the religious issues entwined with the 2020 presidential election:

    Presidential Nominee John F. Kennedy in September 1960:  “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. 

    I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all….For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew– or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. 

    Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

    How we render to God and Caesar are issues as old as the New Testament, and ever-present in American life, but in this presidential campaign season they have exploded upon the landscape as Catholic candidates are now nominees for President and for Supreme Court Justice.  But this is not just any old Church-State debate; the two candidates illustrate in very sharp relief the remarkable political differences among Catholics, as well as the dangerous ways in which extremists try to use religion as a wedge for political gain, and how the national view of Catholic candidates for public office has changed.

    Today, unlike in 1960, the very same Protestant evangelicals who once harbored clearly anti-Catholic views on the grounds that Catholics would impose their religious beliefs on government now embrace the conservative Catholic candidate for the Supreme Court precisely because they think that she will make decisions according to her religious beliefs.  Billy Graham tried to deny Kennedy the presidency in 1960 on the grounds that a Catholic president would do the Vatican’s bidding.  But his son Franklin Graham was at the White House for the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court and wrote admiringly about her faith on his Facebook page.

    Meanwhile, the real opposition to the Catholic nominee for president, Joe Biden, is coming from … Catholics.  Some priests, bishops and lay Catholics have stated unequivocally that Catholics may not vote for Biden because he has political views on issues like the laws governing abortion and gay marriage that differ from Church teachings.  A few extremists have gone so far as to say that Biden is not Catholic, which is not true.

    Writing in the New York Times (“Biden could be our second Catholic president. Does it Matter?” September 23, 2020), columnist Elizabeth Bruenig notes, “…in one of history’s many strange reversals, Catholics’ midcentury success set the stage for white Catholics’ indifference — even active opposition — to the potential election of America’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden.”  Kennedy helped Catholics to assimilate into the mainstream of upper middle class American culture and as they moved along in wealth and power, their liberal roots frayed as they adopted increasingly conservative political positions more aligned with the evangelical right.  Other commentators have noted that, this year, it’s very obvious that white American Catholics, a majority of whom continue to embrace Trump despite his many actions that offend our faith teachings, are more likely to pay attention to political leaders they agree with than the pope, who the right wing considers almost a heretic.

    It’s important to note here that the official Church position is neutral on voting.  In “Faithful Citizenship,” the document of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Catholic bishops clearly state, “In this statement, we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”

    The bishops also make it clear why Catholics have an obligation to participate in political affairs:  “The Catholic community brings important assets to the political dialogue about our nation’s future. We bring a consistent moral framework-drawn from basic human reason that is illuminated by Scripture and the teaching of the Church-for assessing issues, political platforms, and campaigns. We also bring broad experience in serving those in need-educating the young, serving families in crisis, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, helping women who face difficult pregnancies, feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants and refugees, reaching out in global solidarity, and pursuing peace. We celebrate, with all our neighbors, the historically robust commitment to religious freedom in this country that has allowed the Church the freedom to serve the common good.”

    Making prudential political choices rooted in a well-developed understanding of the moral issues at stake in every political vote is what the Church expects of Catholic voters and politicians.  The Church acknowledges the reality that not every politician will choose what the Church wants on every issue.  If we are looking for a perfect alignment of Church teachings and political choices, we would have to withdraw entirely from political engagement.  In an extensive essay in America Magazine, former USCCB official John Carr analyzes the balancing act and choices before us as he endorses Biden for president while making it clear that he does not agree with Biden on every issue.  But the moral stakes are high in evaluating the ongoing damage to issues of human dignity and social justice wreaked by the Trump Administration while assessing whether and how Catholics might still influence a Biden administration.

    While those on the right criticize Biden for not always acting in alignment with Church teachings, some of those same voices scream fairly loudly when people ask whether Amy Coney Barrett will impose her religious beliefs on cases before the Supreme Court.  Villanova Theology Professor Massimo Faggioli wrote a compelling piece in Politico about “Why Amy Coney Barret’s Religious Beliefs Aren’t Off Limits” thus incurring the wrath of conservative backers of Barrett who are quick to point out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office.

    Let me just note for the record here that the same scrutineers of faith have not expressed any concerns about the apparent lack of fidelity or even moral formation in the current president who has committed grave offenses against the fundamental moral principles that most people of faith of all denominations hold dear.  Just sayin’…

    Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne made this point:  “What degrades religion to the level of political propaganda is conservative double-talk that it’s okay for them to criticize Biden’s brand of Catholicism, but not okay for liberals to challenge Barrett’s brand of Catholicism.”

    I do find myself hoping that everyone can turn down the temperature on judgmental religious scrutiny and return to an understanding of political and legal duties as serving the common good through a lens of social justice and moral cohesion.  I’m certainly with those who wish that the current president and his allies in the Senate would be more respectful of the moment and not rush through the appointment of the new Supreme Court justice.  But I also wish that those who are dismayed by the curdled politics of this appointment would not savage the reputation and personal life of Amy Coney Barrett who, from all I have read about her, is not a monster but a thoughtful and smart person who is certainly conservative — I disagree with her on many issues — but also deserves respect for her abilities and achievements and the personal choices she has made.

    In the same way, I think the demonization of Joe Biden by the right wing of the Catholic Church is appalling, a rejection of the true meaning of our faith.  Moreover, and this must be said loudly and clearly, the current occupant of the White House is a moral scandal to our humanity and nation.  There is nothing redeeming about the current president.  Aside from his personal moral failings and corrupt business practices, he has officially directed actions that offend human life and dignity, from his assaults on immigrants and refugees to separating families and caging babies, to reinstating the federal death penalty, to refusing the call out the abhorrent levels of racism in this country while giving aid and comfort to white supremacists, to undermining the Affordable Care Act that so many people depend upon, to reducing benefits for people living in poverty while increasing tax advantages for the wealthiest, to lowering environmental protection standards and selling off environmentally sensitive lands for commercial development, and so much more.  He has also destabilized international relations and put our country in grave danger of new war.

    The fate of our nation, our people, our values, our faith, our freedom is at stake in this election.  As John F. Kennedy said 60 years ago in his Houston speech, the debate about religious fidelity obscures the “real issues” that should decide the election are issues of our humanity:  “…war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.”  More than half a century later, those issues are as real and urgent today as ever.  The choice has never been so stark.

    Constitution Day Reflections on Church and State

    For Constitution Day (September 17) this year, I asked members of the Trinity community to weigh in on these questions:

    The First Amendment says this about religion:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  What is your opinion? Should religion influence voter choices about candidates? Should bishops and priests preach about candidates and direct voters?  Do coronavirus restrictions impinge upon religious liberty?

    Here are some of the answers:

    • Sister Camilla Burns, SNDdeN, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies:

    Should bishops and priests preach about candidates and direct voters? 

    “My answer is a resounding NO to this question.  Their primary responsibility for the election is to preach about the sanctity of all life from birth to death in the spirit of Cardinal Bernadin’s image of all life as a “seamless garments.” Those who are making recommendations are single issue voters.  Single issue thinking is tantamount to putting on blinders to the rest of reality.  Yes, abortion is an issue but so is the death penalty and the humane care of immigrants, documented or undocumented.  Some clergy are being obligated to respond to public single issue endorsements as reported in the National Catholic Reporter.  “I think that a person in good conscience could vote for Mr. Biden,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said on September 15. “I, frankly, in my own way of thinking have a more difficult time with the other option.” “

    • Allison Martin, student in the MSN Program:

    Should religion influence voter choices about candidates?  No, not religious leaders in the literal sense. However, it does influence the person’s ideas on policies and how the government works. I found a quote that sums up the rationale that it does. According to Father James J. Martin in a Newsweek article (Fearnow, 2020),  “[We] bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.”

    Should bishops and priests preach about candidates and direct voters?   No. I don’t think bishops/priests should preach about candidates and direct voters to a particular candidate. Unfortunately, due to the state of the country due to covid-19, churches have been forced to discuss policies of the current President and the effects on society. However, I do believe religious leaders should encourage their parishioners to vote (on their own free will) and participate in the democratic process.

    Do coronavirus restrictions impinge upon religious liberty? No. The restrictions do not impinge on religious liberty. covid-19 restrictions are in place to protect public health during the global pandemic. Religion practice is protected by the Constitution and the restrictions do not deny practice of religion.

    • Sister Ann Howard, SNDdeN, Director of Campus Ministry:

    The First Amendment secures the freedom of religion for all Americans, thank God!  We can turn to our various faith communities to discover the merits and the costs of various decisions in our lives, weighing the ways we can move towards ‘forming a more perfect union’ while respecting diversity and ‘promoting the general welfare’ within our society .  Each has the freedom to vote according to [their] conscience, not taking instruction from anyone: parent, priest or political leader.  Read and listen and gather facts!  Definitely steer clear of a ‘herd mentality’ as each of us has the responsibility and the right to vote as well as to keep safe when and where we worship during a social pandemic.  Let’s cherish the freedoms we possess as we wade through these trying times in the USA, in the world, today.  To quote an English lad, “God bless us, everyone!” (Charles Dickens’s character, Tiny Tim, in A Christmas Carol)

    • Raneiya Ayim, CAS Health Services Major:

    It is my belief that religion is a social construct that should help to build and stabilize communities; and to impose a personal belief onto another is morally wrong. God him/herself does not infringe on our will, so to have an imperfect human “guide” my decisions is blasphemous. The pulpit is not meant to impose ideas about how a person should vote, and it’s definitely not a place to impose judgement, as that is God’s job. My personal example of how we should treat each other and how we should be is Jesus. He wanted us to know that God’s Love is ♾ infinite, and it goes beyond our understanding. He was kind to those who society deemed unworthy and he was patient with those who didn’t always do what was right. A building or structure is not the church. The people are the church, that has to be understood. The building is respected because it is a place of assembly. As the church, we need to take care of one another, honoring each other as we honor ourselves. Always remembering that the body is the temple in which God should dwell. Online services is what is needed right now. It’s hard, yet, honoring ourselves as God’s creation is a way to honor God. My vote will always go to the candidate that considers all people. A leader, needs to practice impartiality, with an understanding that the freedom to be oneself should not infringe on another’s ability to be themselves. Encouraging inequalities as it relates to all levels of life in society (racial, immigration, sexuality, religion, economics, etc.) does not move America forward. Improving on past mistakes and correcting the wrongs in society is how America will finally be Great.

    • Barbara Sanders, SPS First Year Student:

    No religion shouldn’t play a part in voting.  Knowing what people are going through, being a person with a heart for all people and a politician second.  Learn how to have compassion about today’s issues.

    What do you think about all of these many issues of religion, faith, politics and moral values at stake in the 2020 election?  Please share comments by clicking on the comments link below, or send me your thoughts on email and I will include them in a future blog.

    Whatever your opinion, VOTE!  Your responsibility as a person of faith, as a citizen is to VOTE.

    If you are not eligible to vote, you can still participate by working for candidates and helping to get out the vote.

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    Campus Survey: Think Spring!

    September 23, 2020

    We did a survey of the Trinity campus community to gauge how we are doing at the end of September 2020 as we work through this most extraordinary fall semester.  We are also starting to plan the Spring 2021 semester and so we need input on the framework for the schedule for what happens starting in January.  We invited all students, faculty and staff to answer a few short questions, and we will discuss the survey during our “Campus Conversations” on Thursday, September 24 at 4 pm on zoom.

    At the outset, I framed the questions with the reality of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and all of the uncertainty and concern we are living with every day.  None of us — not me, not the faculty or trustees or staff or students — not one of us has ever lived through anything like this, and not one of us has all the answers.  We depend on each other now, more than ever, to make our way through this strange era in human history.  We are also coping with the utterly toxic political environment, the crushing effects of racial hatred and ongoing unaddressed police brutality perpetrated against Black persons, the harsh and inhumane treatment of immigrants and the concerns about DACA, and the ongoing economic, social and psychological consequences of so many chaotic, painful, upsetting events every day.  Within that chaos, Trinity strives to be a place of some degree of calm, a center for learning and understanding, an environment that honors knowledge and rational thinking, that cares for every person here in the best ways we can.  We’re not always perfect, but our campus community is united in our commitment to social justice and our obligation to work for the common good.

    More than 215 students, faculty and staff responded to the community survey — thank you!  Here is the distribution of the respondents:

    Q2:  In general, in terms of my classes, I feel the Fall 2020 semester is….

    Interestingly enough, NO members of the faculty or staff responded “worse than expected” so those 20 replies are students.  Full-time faculty are the most positive with 59% saying “better than expected.”

    Students have more mixed reviews.  While the large majority of all students replied “better than expected” or “about the same as expected,” 15% of CAS students and 14% of NHP replied “worse than expected.”

    Some of the notable comments include:

    Select CAS Student Comments:

    • At first, I thought the semester would be pretty manageable. However, I have now missed a
      couple assignments because it is hard to keep up with a few professors, especially since there
      are no reminders. Additionally, some professors have a lot of assignments due. While, I
      understand they want us to learn the material many students, including myself, are just rushing
      through assignments to get them done and not retaining as much information. I have to work
      twice as much to help support my family financially and there are constantly unforeseen
      problems I have to add to the budget. Meaning, it is even more difficult to keep up with so
      many assignments. Lastly, online textbooks have been incredibly difficult to navigate, thus
      making the completion of assignments even harder.
    • I am doing better in my fine arts and public relations class than I expected. I feel proud of
      myself for expanding my writing skills. Finally, navigating zoom has been easier than expected
      which is really resourceful and important in these uncertain times.
    • I feel that professors are doing great at helping us adjust to the pandemic and the new online
      system however it is still pretty overwhelming, I feel that I am not learning and I feel
      overwhelmed with assignments on top of everyday life. A lot of us had to work to help sustain
      our families and continue our school at the same time. There is a lot of pressure but I
      understand we are all doing the best that we can.
    • Zoom is incredibly draining which is what I expected from last semester. I didn’t have high
      hopes for this semester but I also didn’t have negative expectations either. The aspects that
      were challenge last semester are not exactly things that can change. Having to be in front of a
      screen for over an hour multiple times a day is just rough and doesn’t seem like there’s much
      way around that. Also being at home and having to juggle home and family responsibilities and
      having a time and space to study successfully is another challenge I expect and again there
      isn’t much that can be done for that either.
    • The semester has been greatly organized so far as far as the zoom meetings and the
      professors are very responsive via zoom and email and more willing to help with clarity.
    • You can tell professors are adding more work. I guess it’s their way of making sure we are
      paying attention in lecture, but most students take 5+ courses. They should take it easy and
      keep that in mind.

    Select NHP Student Comments:

    • Adapting to an online schedule while dealing with children online schedule is a balancing act,
      especially when class times are nearly the same and there are computer issues on both sides.
    • Online instruction is going better than during the emergency iteration in the spring, but it is of
      course still nothing like in-person.
    • My classes are challenging and my teachers are very responsive in supporting with
    • Virtual learning has many shortcomings. I find trying to focus on a computer screen for 9 hours
      in one day very stressful. There is that obvious lack of interaction with professors and other
      students since zoom netiquette has to be observed. Also, it appears to me that more paper
      assignments are given as a way of ensuring that students are spending the hours at
      “school”.The problem with that is that many of us are experiencing academic overload due to
      the pressures of learning in this manner and still having to perform optimally.

    Select PGS Student Comments:

    • I had a lot of anxiety going into the Fall semester due to the university changing all grad school
      classes to online. However, to my surprise the zoom classes are going better than I
    • My Professor encourages participation, verbally and via chat, which keeps me engaged. We
      have had at least one breakout session and a guest lecturer, which has helped to break up the
      monotony of simply sitting in front of a PC and listening to a lecture.
    • It’s harder because I am not on campus in the classroom. Because of the pandemic I will just
      have to push harder.

    Faculty Comments:

    • I enjoy that the names of each student are online. It is difficult when they don’t use their
      camera. Teaching to a black square with a name is very difficult. It is helpful to see real, live
    • Students are participating regularly in our daily Zoom synchronous class sessions. I would like
      to “see more students” (actually engage with their cameras on) however, I understand the
      varying dynamics that may not make the feel comfortable turning on their cameras so as long
      as they continue to engage in the course discourse (has they have been doing) I expect the
      semester to move along smoothly.
    • Everyone is following social distancing and safety protocols. With the extensive preparation
      over the Summer, I was able to plan around the new regulations. This really helped in making
      the return to campus a success.

    Q3:  What would you change about your Fall 2020 classes?

    Greater flexibility, more awareness of competing priorities with families and work, less screen time, more asynchronous delivery — these are all the top suggestions for change as we complete the first month of Fall 2020.

    Realizing that CAS students are the largest block of responders to the survey, we were curious if the survey results skewed in favor of students (yes) and how student responses compare to faculty responses.  We put together this chart comparing CAS students and all full-time faculty (note: the answer choices are all color coded by choice and match the chart above):

    What we can see pretty clearly is that while students and faculty agree on some issues (more independent academic work outside of class sessions, 11% in both cases), there is a wide divergence on critical issues:

    • 60% of students want more flexibility in assignments while only 18% of faculty chose that answer;
    • 46% of faculty want more student education for doing online learning well while only 14% of students selected that answer;
    • 52% of students want greater awareness of the challenges of managing families and work alongside their studies, but only 25% of faculty chose that issue;
    • 40% of students want less screen time in general while only 11% of faculty chose that item.

    Understanding where faculty and students have divergent perspectives and needs in the online learning environment is crucial for academic success.  We will be doing more with these topics in the weeks ahead.

    Q4: Planning the Spring 2021 Semester!

    The question read as follows:  For the Spring 2021 semester, we are proposing a schedule that moves back the start of CAS daytime and weekly classes from January 11 to January 25, and CAS classes will continue to be a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and online. To make up those two weeks so that we can still end on time, we will eliminate spring break (March 8-13 on the CAS calendar). Winter Term classes will extend over the first three weeks of January in online format only. Other classes for graduate and professional schools will start at the originally scheduled times and will continue to be online except those NHP labs and classes that need to meet face-to-face.

    We received 215 answers sorted according to these choices:

    We have read and considered all of the comments and suggestions, thanks to all for your robust engagement!!  While we will be discussing much more in our “Campus Conversations” and in meetings in the weeks ahead, I want to answer some of the most critical issues here:

     1. Concerns About Having A Semester Break in Spring 2021:  Yes!  Of course everyone needs a break… in taking out “spring break” for CAS we did not intend to have no breaks.  In fact, there are two breaks built into the calendar — President’s Day (February 15, a Monday holiday) and Easter, which comes very early in Spring 2021 (April 4).  Good Friday is already a holiday on April 2, and as we considered the comments, we decided to add Thursday (April 1) as well as Friday (April 2) to make a four day weekend.  These two breaks parallel fall semester breaks with a holiday this year on Election Day (November 3) and then Thanksgiving break.

    A major reason for not having a week-long spring break, which is something many universities are doing, is to keep resident students on campus and to avoid dispersion of students, faculty and staff  to many locales while the pandemic is ongoing.  Once residents are on campus for a semester we ask them to remain here for the duration, and we generally ask our personnel to avoid traveling.  That’s also true this fall. Remember, DC has a list of “hotspot” states that require quarantine upon returning to DC, and we believe this will continue into the spring.

    We are also fairly lenient about declaring a holiday when necessary, so we will keep an eye on stress levels and perhaps declare an extra “snow day” or two if it seems that a day off is useful.  The Farmer’s Almanac promises a lot of snow (!!) so perhaps we will have a weather break or two as well, it usually comes in February.  The schedule we propose has this necessary flexibility for additional days off.

    2.  Starting Date: Some of the comments said we were not clear about why we wanted to push back the CAS daytime and weekly class start dates from January 11 to January 25.  There are several reasons for this:

    a) We have no idea about the course of the pandemic but the likely dispersion of people around the holiday season may well require more safety precautions in January, including changing some plans; we would rather have more time to make adjustments and also to do screening for return-to-campus for those who can do so;

    b) The week of January 18, 2021 has two major holidays:  that Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and then Wednesday is the presidential inauguration; while we encourage everyone to participate in these events as you wish, the schedule disruptions suggest that it would be better to start the longer semesters after that week; we are also concerned about the anticipation of serious disruptions in Washington around the inauguration, again, not something we can predict but we have to plan prudently;

    c) Winter Term: we have offered this short one-week term for many years, usually the first or second week in January, and the courses are intensive day-long sessions all week with most students from the professional schools; this year, because all courses for the professional schools are online — and given so much student feedback about too much screen time each day — we are asking the faculty who teach in Winter Term to design the courses to occur in shorter sessions over a longer 2-3 week period; the deans will work with faculty on this.  Yes, there may also be some overlap with the start of Term 1 for professional classes, but we will manage this carefully.

    3.  End of Semester Dates: Some of the comments asked why we simply cannot end the semester later.  The spring ending date is fairly constrained by expectations of students who are graduating — and the graduation schedule will be more complicated than ever this year — and also, we start the summer term immediately after Memorial Day.  So, there is not much “wiggle room” in the May calendar if we want to get everyone graduated and get ready for the summer term.

    We are continuing to review all of the comments and suggestions and we will certainly take them into account as we refine the plans for Spring.  What is not known at this point is whether and how we will be able to do more “live” classes and other activities on campus.  While everyone knows that online will remain the primary modality, there is a sense of weariness with some of the requirements.  Several comments lamented the need to stay in pandemic mode and expressed a desire to get back to “normal.”  I understand this frustration!!  But we remain committed to the principles in the Reopening Plan that we crafted for this fall, chiefly, the need to protect everyone’s health and safety while also ensuring academic progress.  We also remain subject to the Mayor’s Orders and DC regulations about the pandemic, so while some of the comments suggested we could relent a bit, in fact, the city insists that we stick to the rules.

    4.  Commencement:  I love graduation and know how important it is for all of our students.  So many of you commented on your desire to have some kind of “face to face” ceremony in May 2021.  Yes!  We will be working to create a plan that will have a “live” element if at all possible!  I’m going to devote a special survey and time later this semester to all students who are planning to graduate this year and will invite your ideas on how we can conduct small graduation ceremonies safely and still get the great satisfaction of that wonderful ceremony of achievement.

    Thanks to everyone who weighed in thoughtfully on this question!

    Q5:  Please rate your experience with campus services during the fall semester:

    We asked you to rate your experience with campus services during the first month and the answers are above and also we received numerous comments.  We are sharing the comments with the managers responsible for the services and we appreciate everyone’s candor.  We will be checking back with the campus community about this kind of rating survey every so often so we can collect data across time to measure improvement.

    Q6: What else would you like to tell us about your Fall 2020 experience or our plans for Spring 2021?

    More than 120 responses to this question, so just a few samples here, but rest assured we are reading all of them and talking among the senior staff about how we can include the great ideas in our planning!

    A CAS student writes:  My Fall 2020 is great, I would like for more flexibility with the assignments and due dates. It
    gets overwhelm when you get all these assignments pile up. As well as, limiting the screen time usage.

    A full-time faculty member writes: I know some of the behind the scenes work that has gone into preparing for Fall 2020 and I stand and applaud the persons responsible. Virtual learning is a new territory but I appreciate it because it keeps us all safe! I think flexibility around coming to campus should remain and no one should be forced to do so. We have no idea what Jan 2021 is going to look like, so I think we should bone up on distance learning tools and tips and be prepared for a continued online presence.

    A staff member writes: Seeing as enrollment has been and retention have been favorable. I highly recommend the
    administration compose a committee of advisors to discuss student success strategy(ies) to help retain students. Starfish is good but we should incorporate check-ins. Advisors should play a key role in facilitating these support strategies.

    A member of the adjunct faculty writes: Never realized how stressful these times are and Covid restrictions are just one component. But thanks to Trinity center for arranging Zoom workout sessions – they have been a lifesaver!

    A student in NHP writes: Thank you for taking the need to stay remote/virtual due to health risks so seriously. Thank
    you also for the work you are doing to understand the needs of students with children of their own, and creating flexible plans to support them time and financially. These are steps that support justice. This is something that makes me proud to be spending my time and tuition at Trinity.

    A CAS student writes: I think so far the format is good but having more asynchronous classes would be helpful to
    those that have children at home and cant join at the indicated class. Due to children having classes online now too it would be a huge help but maintaining the resources around campus that we do have.

    A PGS student writes: My experience enrolling into grad school has been an overall better experience and the staff is
    very supportive during this time. I think Trinity should be more flexible with assignments going into Spring 2021.

    A member of the full-time faculty writes: These are incredibly stressful times. I am sure, like everyone else, I am working every hour of the day, every day of the week. I will do everything I can to keep going and do a good job. I value the support and flexibility Trinity is providing. I am impressed with the students and their willingness to keep pushing forward.

    A CAS student writes: Right now I’m in school and my nephew is also in school. We usually are in class at the same
    time often I have to help him with his class. If they are not allowed to go back to school I wouldn’t be able to go to class because i take care of him. With everything going on teachers expect us to sit there for the full hour, but when you have kids in school, or if their school day end and they running around, its harder to sit in the class. My nephew is 3 with certain disabilities and I struggle finding the balance sometimes with helping him and being in class and being able to follow along and focus.

    A full-time faculty member writes:  I think that the students have adjusted pretty well and when I have asked my advisees how they feel about the online environment they do not mind it but they would rather be face-to-face but at the same time they understand the need to be online to keep everyone safe and they would understand if they were online in the spring given the lack of a vaccine and the flu season.

    BONUS QUESTION:  Should the U.S. Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg prior to the November 3 election?

    Lots of comments on this one, but will keep them private for now so we don’t start political arguments while we’re still trying to figure out the semester!

    Thanks to the 220 respondents to this question and the more than 225 Trinity students, faculty and staff who participated in this survey!  If you did not complete the survey yet and want to add your comments, I will link it again in my next email.  And please join us for “Campus Conversations” on Thursday at 4 pm to discuss!  Watch your email for the link.

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    Remembering RBG

    September 20, 2020

    (photo credit: Supreme Court Collection)

    The first time I met Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in 1986 at a glorious dinner honoring her husband Marty who was a tax law professor at Georgetown Law Center, my law school alma mater where I was then working as the assistant dean for development.  The evening at the Ritz Carlton (back when it was on Massachusetts Avenue) was to announce the establishment of the Martin Ginsburg Chair in Tax Law at Georgetown funded by Marty’s very grateful client, a business titan by the name of Ross Perot (years later, an unsuccessful third party candidate for U.S. president).  As the story goes, Marty did some tax law work for Ross in the General Motors’ acquisition of Perot’s company EDS and the business titan was so grateful he established the chair (which Marty never held, it remained vacant until his death in 2010.)

    Marty was an absolutely delightful person, always seeming in good humor, terrifyingly smart but not one to make others feel less so.  He was also renowned for his recipes and real joy in preparing delicious meals for friends.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and husband, Martin Ginsburg in 2003.

    (photo credit: Supreme Court Photo Collection in People Magazine)

    That night, when the Ginsburgs arrived at the banquet, the entire Ritz Carlton ballroom was filled with Georgetown law faculty and spouses, Dean Bob Pitofsky and Georgetown President Father Tim Healy, and of course Perot and his entourage.  But everyone wanted to say hello to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  For me, meeting Ross Perot that day (he stopped by the ballroom in the afternoon to review the place settings and centerpieces!) was a big deal — but meeting Judge Ginsburg was dazzling.  Her reputation as a champion for women’s rights made her an icon for so many of us at the law school.  I had heard so much about her I was nervous about meeting her, but I soon realized she was so warm and pleasant, albeit as shy as Marty was outgoing.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the women of her generation — largely the first women in law schools nationwide — truly did blaze trails for the rest of us who reaped so many benefits from those pioneers.  My class at Georgetown in 1974-1977 was about 25% women and we also confronted many barriers, though more subtle than the first generation.  Truth be told, we all faced our bitter moments of sex discrimination at work.  I can still hear a boss explaining why he hired an older male to fill a position one step above my own at a much higher salary while begging me not to quit:  “We need a graybeard,” said my boss, a phrase that still stings nearly 40 years later, “but you can do this work far better than he can.”  That kind of workplace discrimination continues even to this day, but thanks to Justice Ginsburg and other women’s rights advocates like her, women have many more remedies available than we had back then.

    I left Georgetown in 1989 to become Trinity’s president but had the good fortune to return from time to time for various occasions including in 2001 the 50th Anniversary of women’s admission to Georgetown Law (yes, a big deal…!). Justice Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, spoke at one of these occasions.  I was captivated listening to her personal story of confronting discrimination early in her career and eventually triumphing over the ingrained sexist attitudes that originally barred her from employment because she was a woman, a Jewish woman, a Jewish woman who was also a mother. She was a hero for women trying to figure out how to make our way in a world often hostile to our gender, our tendency to have children, our desire to balance work and family, our life choices.  Over the years I heard her speak many times, most recently at a Women’s Forum dinner a year or two ago at the Supreme Court.  Her message was always consistent — we must persist even more ardently in the quest for equality and justice.

    I reflect often on the fact that we are not really that far along in reaching a level playing field — all I need to do is look around in a room full of college presidents, or business executives, or a board room at a for-profit company and I can see that while women have made some progress, we still live in an age where, “Well, we have one…” is considered enough.  True for women, even more true for Black and Latino women and men.  Justice Ginsburg famously said, “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

    At some level it may seem hard to fathom in the Year 2020 that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second woman in American history to make it to the Supreme Court, and that was in 1993, more than 200 years into our republic, joining the first woman justice, the great Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, now retired, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1981.  Two other women followed Ginsburg, both appointees of President Obama — Justices Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. But then we also realize that no woman has ever been president or vice president of the United States, and only four women have ever even been nominated for those positions.  We are so proud that a Trinity Woman, Nancy Pelosi ’63, is the highest ranking elected woman in American History now serving her second stint as Speaker of the House of the United States, but Speaker Pelosi always says, “We have made history, but now we must make progress!”

    Progress is now the concern of so many Americans, women and men, as right wing ideologues threaten to use the vacancy created by Justice Ginsburg’s death to get a new justice appointed who will swing the Supreme Court majority toward rolling back women’s rights, civil rights, human rights across a range of issues.  President Trump on Saturday claimed that he would nominate a woman for the open seat, but we must not let biology alone be the standard — a woman who votes against progress for women, for African Americans, for LGBTQ citizens, for those who are impoverished, for those who depend on the Affordable Care Act to cover their healthcare needs — a woman who does not uphold and advance the progress already made is not the kind of successor that America needs right now.  Aside from dishonoring and dismantling Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, a hasty political appointment rammed through in the heat of this election year will further rupture the social compact of this nation, already stressed and showing real fractures.  A genuinely wise leader concerned about the entire nation would at the very least respect the timetable (and the history his own party made in 2016 in refusing to move President Obama’s nominee forward in an election year) if not the substance of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy.

    Marty Ginsburg’s death in 2010 was a huge loss for Ruth; but she kept going despite her grief, her ongoing battle with recurring cancer and other illnesses.  In the national outpouring of grief this past weekend upon receiving the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, many have commented that perhaps we expected too much of her, that resting the weight of the future of justice for all in this country on her tiny shoulders was somehow unfair.  I think she’d hate that idea.  She would surely reply, in her measured but firm way, that she made her own life choices; that she chose her own pathway and accepted the burdens it imposed.  And she would also remind us that accepting the burdens is the price we must be willing to pay for equality and freedom — those precious gifts that demand our utmost stewardship and accountability to enlarge them for future generations.

    The best, most urgent, thing we can do to honor the legacy of Justice Ginsburg is to pick up her torch and run with it, not in a little while, not after things settle down — NOW.  There’s no time to lose.  Let’s get going!

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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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