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Regarding Xavier's mission statement

By Fr. Joe Wagner
On February 7, 2012

The University Mission Statement Task Force has recently

released its third draft of a proposed mission statement for Xavier University. If the end result is to be a mission statement that may speak to Xavier's core purpose and identity for some years to come, then the Xavier community ought to look very closely and carefully at the trajectory on which the Task

Force is placing us. My reaction to the continued revisions of the mission statement is that the committee is writing a statement that

may ultimately have the very opposite effect of what it intends. Perhaps paradoxically, in its inability to confront

directly the (first) religious and (second) Catholic identity of

the University and the place of religious faith on campus, it risks making Xavier appear exclusively Catholic, such that those of other faiths not already familiar with Xavier would have no idea if they could find a place here or not. In my best vision of Xavier as a religiously affiliated institution,

I imagine a university in which people of all faiths are welcome, not simply because we value "inclusivity" and "diversity" in the same generic sense as every other

mainstream institution of higher learning but because our religious, historically faith-based character actively encourages all members of the community to explore,

deepen, develop and practice their own faith within their own traditions. It seems to me that this can be (and is) what Xavier at its best is about in its own distinctive way.

Come to Xavier and know that you will find support, encouragement and resources for the growth and practice of your faith and not merely "tolerance" by an otherwise Catholic university interested primarily in conforming

to the ever-changing social standards and norms for what diversity entails. Come to Xavier and find a religious tradition that takes seriously the possibility that reason and faith can coexist and even speak to one another. The current draft of the mission statement, to the contrary, does nothing but attach the "scary" word Catholic to an otherwise generic statement about the value of diversity and open inquiry.

In doing so, it says nothing about anyone of any other faith

whatsoever. No one who does not already know Xavier could possibly read that mission statement and gain any insight into Xavier's attempts to forge a vibrant community

in which the diversity of faith is actively promoted and not merely tolerated. The committee takes pains to explain its omission of a comma in its description of Xavier as a

"Jesuit Catholic" university in the opening words to a statement that might just as well appear on the websites of hundreds of other colleges and universities that are neither Jesuit nor Catholic. I regret to say that I am offended

by the term "Jesuit Catholic" (comma omitted) in its suggestion that Catholicism comes in different brands. Xavier University is a Roman Catholic institution, and the effort needed by the committee to explain its decision to force an adjective into the role of an adverb reflects the same contortions it is going through to avoid admitting that many on the committee and within the University community find Xavier's Roman Catholic identity to be embarrassing,

regrettable or perhaps just a lingering historical accident.

At what point will we stop pretending that this issue is going

to go away without confronting it in the "environment of

open and free inquiry" that we so insistently say we value?

For all its claims to value open inquiry, the committee itself appears to me to be showing only little integrity and even less courage by failing to acknowledge and discuss with the larger Xavier community the discomfort and tension faced by acknowledging our Jesuit and Roman Catholic

identity and the uniquely situated possibilities for the spirited,

faith-supportive campus that its instantiation at Xavier offers. In doing so, the committee has produced a mission statement that can easily be read to describe an exclusively Catholic environment, if only because of the conspicuous

absence of the mention of any other faith presence at the University. This is the crux of the matter: Because the committee will not ascribe a role to the Catholic faith in Xavier's mission, it cannot admit the presence of any

faith at all. Until the committee and, indeed, the larger Xavier community, can freely and openly embrace the University's (Roman) Catholic identity, it will never embrace with integrity the religious pluralism it claims to value.

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