By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
One of the characteristics that defines a Jesuit college or university is the inclusion of philosophy in its core curriculum. Though the number of required courses may differ from school to school, philosophy remains an essential part of the student experience of becoming Jesuit-educated.
Although we touched upon philosophy in my all-girls Catholic high school, I wasn’t truly immersed in the subject until my freshman year at Fordham University, when I took Philosophy of Human Nature to help fulfill my core curriculum requirement. I was, admittedly, skeptical about taking this course: even though I intentionally chose to go to a Jesuit school, I was much more interested in taking communication courses in the media capital of the world, in order to fulfill my major.
But in many ways, this particular philosophy course (and the one that I took my sophomore year, Philosophical Ethics) was one of the most useful and impactful courses that I took in my four years at Fordham. It helped that I had a great professor (Katherine Kirby), but it was the subject matter that opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and writing. I always loved writing, but this class helped me to become more thoughtful and mature in the ways that I approached my essays, my research and even my ability to rhyme (yes, I competed in a freestyle rap competition at Fordham my freshman year!). I came to appreciate how philosophy is one of the ways that professors at Jesuit schools teach their students to be more just, ethical and empathetic leaders, attuned to the needs of others.
In this issue of Connections, you will learn about the Philosophy, Politics and the Public Honors Program at Xavier University; the role of the Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University; interdisciplinary philosophy courses at Rockhurst University; and ways that philosophy professors at Le Moyne College and Seattle University explore diversity in all its forms. I hope that you enjoy learning about these programs and courses as much as I did—it certainly took me back to my freshman year at Fordham!
On behalf of all of us at AJCU, I wish you a meaningful Advent season and a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
By Matt Johnson, News and Marketing Editor/Writer, Regis University
Christopher Pramuk wears multiple hats at Regis University, but one of his job titles — Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination — receives the same reaction from almost everyone who hears it.
“[People] almost universally say that it’s the coolest job title they’ve ever heard,” Pramuk says.
One word from that title, Pramuk says, draws particular attention: imagination. The word’s inclusion in his title is not an accident. When he joined Regis for his second stint at the University in 2017, he advocated for the specific title because he hoped to help the University and the Jesuit network imagine the future of 21st century Jesuit education.
“Without imagination, we risk losing hope and just accommodating ourselves to the way things are — becoming well-adjusted to society as it is,” he explains. “‘This is reality. The sooner we accept it, the better.’ That’s not very far from despair or cynicism.”
In a practical sense, Pramuk applies his unique title by serving as a resource to Regis’ five colleges to help them infuse their work — whether in the classroom, in research or in a staff role — with elements of Ignatian spirituality.
Under the banner of Regis’ Office of Mission, he has served on search committees for major University roles, bringing an Ignatian-centered approach to the practical activity of vetting and considering candidates. Most Regis students hear from Pramuk at University gatherings, as he excels in distilling the philosophy and spirituality of Ignatius into digestible “Mission Talks.”
He also speaks to some of the areas where University staff may come into philosophical or theological disagreement with Church officials. One such situation occurred last year, when Denver’s chancery office and a Regis administrator shared conflicting views over LGBTQ issues on campus.
“The Jesuits have always been called to the frontier of thought and culture, and sometimes that brings tension points with the hierarchical church,” he says. “Sometimes it brings creative tension points with the culture — being within a culture but also being a voice of critique.”
As might be expected for someone so focused on imagination and expansion of mind, interactions with Pramuk in any of his roles at Regis are anything but standard. A conversation in his office is often accompanied by the soaring tones of a classical music soundtrack. As an associate professor of theology at the University, Pramuk sometimes begins class by picking up his guitar and playing a song for his students. He shares, “A student wrote me an appreciative note at the end of a class, saying, ‘I felt like when I walked into your class, time slowed down — time disappeared.’”
Even as a professor of theology, Pramuk brings a philosophical perspective to his classes and creates space — both physically and mentally — for his students to expand their perspective and thought. He follows the philosophy of one of his favorite Catholic writers, Thomas Merton, who encouraged the lay community to embrace contemplation when many believed it was reserved for priests and monks.
“Merton was very influential in helping ordinary folks recover a sense of the contemplative dimension of everyday life,” Pramuk says. “In my teaching, I strive to really create what I would call a contemplative space of deep listening, appreciation for silence when it is helpful, and deep engagement with text, music, poetry and art.”
For Pramuk, however, contemplation alone is not enough. Taking cues from a number of pioneering Jesuit thinkers — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Pedro Arrupe, Karl Rahner, Anthony de Mello — Pramuk stresses the importance of embracing the Ignatian value of contemplatives in action.
“The monk more or less consults with his abbot or his spiritual director, but otherwise he lives a vow of silence,” he says. “St. Ignatius invites us to a communal way of thinking and imagining together into the future, and trying to build the kingdom of God in our little corner of the universe.”
To cultivate contemplation in action within higher education, Pramuk stresses the importance of the liberal arts and interdisciplinary thought. As education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields becomes a nationwide focus, Pramuk fears for institutions that become overly reliant on a technologically focused mindset. Focusing only on STEM, he says, risks cutting out the “realm of desire” that the arts often speak to. “We need the wisdom and expertise of all of our disciplines to speak the different languages that can help us move together as a human community,” he says.
He also encourages Jesuit colleges and universities to share resources and bring people together for dialogue, so that individual institutions can grow together and avoid overspending resources to support Ignatian-centered programs. One such successful partnership he cites is Regis’ and Creighton University’s joint program that offers faculty and staff the opportunity to make an Ignatian pilgrimage in Spain.
On an individual level, to bring Ignatian thought into one’s core being, Pramuk advises reflection — through journaling or merely slowing down — at the end of the day. Such a practice offers space to listen to oneself and to the call of God, and to one of Pramuk’s favorite activities: using one’s imagination.
“Find little ways to structure these little spiritual exercises or disciplines into your daily life — to slow down long enough to pay attention, to interrogate those experiences and to learn to trust them,” he says. “And, even better, to bring them into dialogue with others in community.”
By Shelby Lauter, Executive Assistant to the President, AJCU
While brainstorming ideas for this year’s topics in Connections, Deanna Howes Spiro and I both thought it would be interesting to dedicate an issue to philosophy at Jesuit institutions. As a former student of philosophy at Xavier University, I quickly became animated discussing my program – Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) – and the professors who have built and shaped it. Hearing my enthusiasm for the program, she instead challenged me to do something a little different: an interview with one of my former professors, Dr. Steven Frankel.
An expert in early modern philosophy, and a scholar of the Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, Dr. Steven Frankel joined the Philosophy Department at Xavier University in 2003, after getting his start at the American University of Paris. He currently teaches the junior block of the PPP program – a multidisciplinary major that combines history, philosophy, economics and political science with experiential learning opportunities.
As a professor in PPP, Frankel has been instrumental in creating immersion trips for students to Israel and Paris. In 2017, his efforts were rewarded when he was chosen by the student body as the Bishop Fenwick Teacher of the Year. More recently, he has worked to develop a philosophy-focused honors program in Xavier’s Williams College of Business, called the Smith Scholar Program, to bring more philosophy curriculum to business students. He teaches Philosophy 100 (Ethics) and 200 (Philosophical Perspectives) as a part of this program.
On the day of our interview, I called his office and was immediately greeted with his familiar voice, characteristically posing a string of questions about my life that would mislead an outsider to believe that I was the interviewee. We soon fell into a comfortable conversation about his career that placed me back in time to his classroom.
[The following conversation has been adapted for length]
Shelby Lauter: Can you tell me a little bit about your scholarly background? How did you first become interested in philosophy, and how did you land at Xavier after teaching in Paris?
Steven Frankel: I started off as a history major, and I was particularly interested in intellectual history, or the history of ideas and the causes of those ideas. This led me to philosophy. I guess I really got interested when I started reading a book called The Closing of the American Mind,* which spoke about liberal education. It became a model of what philosophy could be for me. I called up the author who, at the time, worked at the University of Chicago, and I – also living in Chicago – met with him. He later invited me to study there, and I got my Ph.D. in philosophy by just following my interests and falling into fortunate connections.
I began teaching in California because that’s where my wife was finishing school, and then we moved to Paris. As our kids started getting older, we thought we should move back to the United States. I was again fortunate because Xavier just happened to have an opening and the philosophy chair knew the people who I studied under at the University of Chicago. Once again, I was just very fortunate to have people along the way who helped me find my next step.
SL: I can see the connections between your early inspiration in the history of ideas and the focus of your classes.
SF: Yes, it has always been central to my teaching. In all of my classes, what I try to do is give students a vantage point for thinking about ideas and for seeing things in a deeper way. And by studying the text, I hope my students will not just grasp the main arguments, but will learn how to learn.
SL: As a scholar of Spinoza, you have written several articles and are currently writing a book analyzing Spinoza’s work. Spinoza was perhaps my least favorite philosopher, so I’m curious, what draws you back to him again and again?
SF: Well, he was really the first philosopher to argue that a liberal democracy is the best regime because it allows people to make their own decisions. He also has one of the most profound analyses of the relationship between philosophy and belief in scripture, which modernized the way we conceive of the two. In discussing this relationship, he presents the most serious challenges to faith, and that always appealed to me.
SL: Maybe I just need to give him another try. In addition to your current writing project on Spinoza, you are also focusing on the new Smith Scholars Program, which was launched after I graduated. Can you tell me a little bit about it and how you got involved?
SF: The Smith Scholars Program was started for business majors, and it was students who took my Philosophy 101 class who reached out to me requesting more opportunities to engage with philosophy. A benefactor also approached me, and the idea for a political economy program was born. It borrowed a lot from PPP in structure, like the cohort model in which 25 or so freshmen start the course sequence together. It was intended to be built as a model to connect professional schools to the liberal arts because a lot of programs find that after those core classes, students aren’t always getting the level of liberal arts that they may desire.
SL: Was your involvement in the development of the PPP program similar? Were you approached, or was it more of a general conversation within the philosophy department and an invitation for interested parties to pitch ideas?
SF: Being a part of PPP was proposed when I came for my interview at Xavier. Dr. E. Paul Colella [co-founder and former director of PPP] mentioned the program to me, including his idea for a trip to Paris, and he asked what I would do on such a trip since I was still living there. When I was hired, he gave me the space to develop the program and the Paris trip as I saw fit and, essentially, through trial and error.
My class and the Paris trip started as reactions in the Catholic Church to the French Revolution. Over time, that class evolved into a comparative revolutions course because students asked to learn more about the American Revolution. As that trip evolved, Dr. Colella suggested that we include more of a transnational or post-national identity component, so we added a short trip to Brussels at the end of the Paris trip. The future of the program might take a more economics-focused direction with the inclusion of the Smith Scholars.
SL: How did the Israel trip begin since it wasn’t in the initial plans for the PPP program?
SF: I was in Jerusalem for a conference, and I always knew that the Jesuits had a center there – the Pontifical Biblical Institute – so one day, I just knocked on their door. Fr. Stefano [Bittasi, S.J., our former tour guide and program partner] answered. It was a perfect coincidence because I was thinking up this new program, while Fr. Stefano said that he was praying for a way to attract more American schools to the Institute. Right then, we made a sort of pact to get started on a program together.
And the Israel trip evolved over time too, with student feedback. At first, it was more of a religious pilgrimage, but then we started hearing from the students that they were more interested in the politics of Israel, so we incorporated the political landscape and tried to get speakers from varying religious and political backgrounds. We also started adding more hiking and nature trips as students said that they found a lot of value walking the same paths that Jesus would have walked. We make our own itinerary so that we can be flexible and change it as we discover what works and what doesn’t.
Those experiences are something that you can’t find in a classroom. Travel is truly the best way to learn, and study abroad, especially, challenges you and opens up new questions. By preparing for the trip and knowing the background pre-study abroad, you are able to see what’s going on in a way that is not obvious to a tourist. Travelling also provides new opportunities that you wouldn’t have as a tourist, like hearing from expert speakers or going to private events. It’s a special thing to be able to experience.
SL: If you had to pick just one trip – as many students now must do due to funding – which one would you choose?
SF: Well, I love Paris and I always have – the art, good food, wine. But the Israel trip forces you to ask questions about faith. It has more impact.
SL: I’d agree with you. Israel was such a different kind of experience that you can’t get elsewhere. I think a lot of PPP students have felt the same way and were inspired by that trip.
Right after we got back from Israel, you were named the Bishop Fenwick Teacher of the Year, which is awarded to professors based on student feedback. How did you react when you found out that you’d won? Did this honor change any aspects of your teaching or how you approach your courses?
SF: Well, it was very flattering and surprising. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate my students more and more. When I first started teaching, I was closer in age to my students and I thought that I had to be the expert on everything, but now I realize that we are all students of the texts and that I am still learning every day alongside my students. By putting myself on the same side as them, I have grown to admire and respect them even more.
SL: Dr. Frankel, before we end our conversation with one final question, I just want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and for being so enthusiastic. Now I’d love to know, what’s the most fun you’ve had while teaching at Xavier?
SF: The most thrilling days are when I can go to class and just sit back while the class carries the conversation. Seeing the enthusiasm in the students and seeing them start to get the text and be changed by it is just so exciting. That never gets old.
*Bloom, A. (1987). The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. New York: Simon and Schuster.
By Paul Kidder, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Seattle University
I was not required to take philosophy as an undergraduate student. I stumbled upon it, signing up for an introductory ethics class because it sounded vaguely relevant to current affairs. Once in the class, I was bowled over by how different the discussions were from typical discourse on public issues. We were considering very polarized topics, like war, euthanasia and abortion in a remarkably non-polarizing way. Every position on the questions was given its due, but each was rigorously challenged to make a coherent case and to address reasoned objections. The approach seemed to grant an extraordinary kind of respect for the difficulty of grappling with moral problems, while at the same time celebrating the liberating quality of thought-enlivened dialogue.
So smitten was I with this new form of inquiry that I registered the next term for an upper-division moral theory class. Though perhaps unwise from a G.P.A. perspective, this leap to advanced theory granted me another invigorating kind of intellectual revelation, for here, fundamental theories were brought into confrontation with one another at a far deeper level than I had seen before. I had experienced so many classes where students studied problems or readings through the lens of the professor’s theoretical orientation, but here a whole range of theories were made to stand and make their case in light of alternatives. Working at this level of comparative analysis felt like being at the very heart of the educational enterprise.
What had captured my imagination, it turns out, was something quite ancient. It was a curious habit of the Greek philosopher, Zeno, to approach philosophical questions not through a single argument but by lining up arguments on multiple sides. The approach is enshrined in Plato’s Parmenides dialogue, where the old philosopher of the dialogue’s title confuses everyone by addressing the conundrum for which he was most famous—whether being is ultimately one or many—with a catalog of competing answers. This practice of meeting every argument with attempted refutations and responses to them is at the core of what we call the Socratic method, characterized by that philosopher as a kind of serious play. It is serious, for it tackles ultimate questions and matters of life and death, but it puts off decision-making so as to play with ideas, the conviction being that only in a kind of playful spirit are we capable of being open to forms of reasoning that challenge our prejudices and assumptions.
The Socratic style was formalized in the practice of Scholastic disputation in the Middle Ages. This was the form of pedagogy that shaped early Jesuit education and inspired the quaestio structure of the great Medieval Summas. Though the Medieval period generally was a time of religious conflict, in the world of philosophy, Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars were learning from one another how to interpret the wisdom of the past and use it to better understand and defend their faith traditions.
Given my strong undergraduate experience of philosophy’s value, it is natural that I would gravitate toward universities that put the discipline at the heart of their liberal arts education. Philosophy has always been part of what makes Jesuit institutions different, playing a key role in their identity. Philosophy is part of how we show students the possibility of being in the world but not of it, of questioning what others take for granted, of taking the role of a gadfly out of a sense of duty to truth-seeking. Philosophy contributes to the Jesuit strategy of cultivating students who are not mere ideologues, but impassioned thinkers.
In recent decades, philosophy in Jesuit higher education has been changing, both from without and within—from without, because fewer faculty and administrators have experienced it in their own educational backgrounds; from within, because of the inclusion of an ever-greater range of types of philosophy, expanding to under-recognized regions of the world and bringing in voices of those that the discipline has too long excluded. The watchword today is diversity, mirroring the growing diversity among students and faculty, but born also of an inherently ravenous philosophical appetite for views.
In the face of this dramatic shift, there is justified concern that an ever-greater diversity of orientations—including many that are atheist and anti-clerical—will drown out the arguments for rational faith that have grounded the very justification of a religiously-affiliated university. This is a very real risk, and yet I might argue that in the world of Catholic higher education, the situation was ever thus. Medieval universities were wracked with the controversy of pagan philosophies taking up residence in the core curriculum. Scholastic Christian thinkers seemed to lend as much credence to Muslim and Jewish thinkers as to Church fathers. Within the university walls, battles raged among realists, nominalists, determinists and a host of other mutually incompatible views. From the parallax view of our own time, we lump all of this under the heading of “scholasticism,” but from within the debates, the alternatives seemed very far apart indeed.
Our own range of discourse is broader, to be sure, and yet there is something very characteristic of the Jesuit spirit in seeking an ever-wider and more daunting range of ideas and points of view. In fact, it has seemed to me, at times, that there was no philosophy so radical or anti-religious but that some Jesuit father was specializing in its study. It has been a hallmark of the Jesuit intellectual tradition that its confidence in the truth of its faith is demonstrated in a willingness to be challenged by the worldliest perspectives and the greatest minds of every stripe. By virtue of the inherent openness of the philosophical project, identity is found in the very welcoming of diversity, seeing in that diversity not merely the many paths of human experience and thought, but the endless richness of divine creation.
By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University
Philosophy has a reputation for concerning itself with the abstract: focusing on heady topics such as existence itself, our place in the world, the meaning of everything, and big questions on life and ethics. The eagerness with which philosophy grapples with these topics is one of the subject’s strengths, but also one of the reasons it fills some students with a sense of not-so-existential dread.
But this doesn’t have to be so — in fact, as the Rockhurst University Department of Philosophy demonstrates, the pursuit of truth and knowledge complements any other degree and provides an avenue toward understanding the greater world: one of the goals of a Jesuit education.
Brendan Sweetman, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department, said that that is by design. With faculty who bring a wide range of expertise, a collective mindset toward foregrounding contemporary issues, and a focus on interdisciplinary work, the Rockhurst philosophy department is making sure that their courses remain relevant to students of Generation Z and beyond.
Today’s college students were infants or toddlers on September 11, 2001. For those in higher education, the tragic attacks of that day, and events afterward, were too big to ignore. From that point forward, Rockhurst’s philosophy faculty made it a point to engage students on ethical issues, such as just war and the morality of the fight against terrorism, as a way to bring them into the lesson.
“Life and culture continually give rise to new questions,” says Sweetman. “I think the role of us as faculty is to allow students the opportunity to wrestle with those questions and to think them through carefully.”
As technology has continued to transform the world, students have discussed artificial intelligence and other topics related to the ethics of humankind’s relationships to machines. Trends in health care, science and politics are also among topics that faculty draw on for discussions. Sweetman observes that they don’t shy away from those subjects because they have implications in each student’s own life, no matter where they go after college.
This approach is rooted in the Jesuit idea of wisdom, meaning the pursuit of knowledge as an avenue to make the world a better place. But it’s also rooted in a very human desire to understand the world better. “I think philosophy awakens something in these students,” Sweetman says. “There’s a philosopher asleep in everybody — we’re philosophical beings by nature.”
That sentimentality has created some interdisciplinary opportunities, another area of focus for the department. In 2008, Turner White, Executive Assistant Professor of Management, sat in on Sweetman’s ethical theory course and connected with Sweetman’s idea, later developed into a book, of worldviews — the perspective on the world informed by one’s values. It inspired him to work with Sweetman on a new course for Rockhurst’s Executive MBA program, which asks business leaders to discuss the ethical complexities of their careers — asking them not just what their worldview is, but to explain why it is so.
“My hope is that students leave the course with the habit of thinking deeply about how their worldviews and values influence the actions that they take at work and in life,” White says. “Among the students who have taken the course that Brendan and I developed collaboratively, all have said that this is the first time that they have been asked to explore the questions posed by developing and articulating their worldviews.”
That course has become a challenging, but appreciated, staple of the Executive MBA curriculum. And White notes that it’s no abstract exercise: These are current future executives and leaders who will have to make tough decisions, and their conversations are based in real-world examples. Encouraging students to investigate what motivates their decision-making could have wide-ranging implications for the world. In other words, if the course can get them thinking on a regular basis about their worldviews and how they live out their values through them, then, White explains, “We have made a transformative difference in their lives and equipped them with tools to navigate difficult decision-making.”
Similarly, Rockhurst’s philosophy department has sought to design degrees geared toward the types of careers that students are looking for. This past year, the department launched two new degree tracks: bioethics and social justice. As the number of students seeking degrees in health care-related fields or nonprofit leadership continues to grow at Rockhurst, these pathways are designed to make the subjects more relatable.
Those offerings have drawn interest from students who were not otherwise looking at philosophy. Austin Messmer, a senior, came to Rockhurst for a biomedical physics degree; philosophy was not on his radar as a future health care professional. But he took an introductory course and found himself drawn to the subject. “I was instantly hooked,” he says. “The logical nature of philosophy made a lot of sense to me, and I appreciated how it could be used effectively throughout life.”
For Messmer, studying philosophy has practical implications for his career path as well. He says, “It helped me out incredibly for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section of the MCAT, as I could approach any problem with a critical, inductive reasoning to reach a solution.”
It’s not the first time that Sweetman has heard comments like that. The number of philosophy majors at Rockhurst remains healthy, he notes, in part because of interdisciplinary opportunities, the department’s contemporary outlook, and new programs. But at its heart, philosophy’s strength is teaching students to ask questions. Sweetman says, “When you’re coming to [the subject] for the first time, you can’t beat that. When I talk to philosophy majors, I tell them not to waste the opportunity. You’ll never get the opportunity to read and think about important ideas all day again.”
By Molly K. McCarthy, Writer-Editor, Office of Communications at Le Moyne College
For Tabor Fisher, Ph.D., the world changed one beautiful sunny afternoon, as she sat in a college courtyard, enjoying her lunch and studying Plato’s Phaedo. Fisher found herself increasingly drawn to the ancient text’s central theme – that the human soul is immortal – and to the author’s dramatic way of writing. Before she knew it, she was in tears. Something inside of her changed, and she has not looked back since.
Today, Fisher is an associate professor of philosophy at Le Moyne College. She teaches her students to think critically, examine their beliefs carefully, and engage respectfully with those who disagree with them. She encourages them to enter into discussion rather than debate, and invites them to ask: What can we learn from one other? How can we interact politely with those who hold differing opinions? Fisher’s classroom is a place where her undergraduates can “think out loud, try on ideas and work through problems” – and potentially even change their minds about an important issue after a thoughtful conversation.
To that end, she regularly puts her students in small groups during their classes, where they can chew on a problem in confidence, without worrying that a confrontation will erupt. “I love teaching young people who are at the age where they are beginning to develop their own ideas, launching off from what they learned from their parents or guardians, but moving in new directions,” Fisher says. “It’s an exciting time.”
A key component of Jesuit higher education, philosophy continues to play a central role at colleges and universities like Le Moyne. It is both an art and a science, nurturing and inspiring the higher-level critical thinking that is required for dealing with 21st century problems and challenges. Philosophy is centered on close reading, clear writing and logical analysis. It urges students to consider how their thoughts affect their actions, and invites them to take part in the hard work of not just uncovering their assumptions, but also challenging them. What’s more, core courses in philosophy, such as the ones that Fisher teaches, build the foundation for the study of related disciplines, including theology, religious studies and political science. They provide students with critical context, as well as content. Put simply, these classes prepare students for the rest of their lives – as individuals, as professionals, and as members of their communities.
“Le Moyne graduates often stand out among others because of their integrity and the ethical ways in which they comport themselves,” says Rev. Joseph Marina, S.J., provost and vice president for academic affairs at Le Moyne. “A lot of that comes from their families and upbringing. But Le Moyne provides the context for understanding oneself. When our students study ethics and moral theology on the Heights, they are empowered with that self-knowledge and the knowledge of ethics to go out into the world and be fine examples for their colleagues in the workplace.”
That knowledge is precisely what Fisher hopes to impart to her students. She is aware that, when it comes to philosophy, people tend to think of ancient figures like Plato or Aristotle or 18th century thinkers like Immanuel Kant. But philosophy is relevant to every age, especially today, in the work of peace and social justice. Fisher teaches her students to see the vital role that philosophers can play in expanding our view of the world. She is particularly drawn to the work of modern feminists of color, including Maria Lugones, Gloria Anzaldúa and Kimberlé Crenshaw, who tackle a range of issues, including knowledge, language, identity, social relations and oppression.
“Every time period provokes new philosophy as humanity grapples with new challenges,” Fisher says. “Living in a period of intense globalization after the spread of democracy in the modern era raises questions of how people relate to others who are different from themselves in new ways. We cannot retreat to ‘imagined’ homogeneous communities. Note that I say ‘imagined’ because there aren’t any homogenous communities. So, we have to think about the issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism and all other “isms” that divide us.”
Fisher is keenly aware of the impact her work is making on the larger community at Le Moyne. In addition to her responsibilities in the classroom, she researches the philosophy of space in relation to social justice, focusing on questions of race, gender, sexuality and class. She writes about space, oppression and resistance, and teaches courses on space, masculinity and education. Fisher is also the director of Le Moyne’s Literacy Empowers All People program, which encourages local children who live in poverty to get their words out into the world, and the organizer of Le Moyne’s new Diversity Central series, which explores difference in all of its forms through the lens of social justice.
Fisher says, “It’s important to me to be involved in some kind of social justice work and to transform my understanding of the world from one of the ‘great war against all’ that [English philosopher] Thomas Hobbes described, to an understanding of interdependence that makes human life possible. Everyone has something they care about deeply. For me, that is bridging the artificial barriers that have been created through race, gender and class.”
By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Here in Washington, D.C., we policy wonks often dream that as we near the end of the legislative session, the year’s work will wrap up just like a holiday gift, tied with a bow. Wouldn’t it be great to receive such a gift as the 116th Congress concludes its first session and heads out for a long holiday / district work period?
But in the policy world, that happy picture is seldom our reality, and more often, we close the year with loose ends. While a handful of legislative days remain, it is likely that we end with unfinished business that will impact students and institutions of higher education, along with increased uncertainty about what is in store for 2020. There are several consequential issues that will require us to return to in the new year with renewed commitment to engage, inform, educate and lend our voices to these debates. Here is a list of outstanding issues and our hopes for 2020:
FY 2020 Appropriations
The 2020 Fiscal Year began on October 1, but Congress is still grappling to reach agreement on final federal spending levels for all government agencies. While House and Senate appropriators have agreed on 302 b allocations (a term that is named after a section of the Budget Control Act requiring the chairs of the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate to set their respective top line numbers for each of the appropriations bills) for the twelve appropriations subcommittees, there are significant hurdles for reaching a final agreement on the allocations for specific programs within each of the individual spending bills. The current continuing resolution expires on December 20, and appropriators continue to work on their funding packages in hopes of moving them (not individually but in some combined form) before the deadline.
Hope for 2020: Our advocacy will have paid off and for FY 2020, there will be significant increases in funding for federal education programs in the Labor, HHS and Education appropriations account.
Higher Education Act Reauthorization
Now that the House Education and Labor Committee passed the College Affordability Act (HR 4674) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee renewed their reauthorization conversations, the Higher Education Act (HEA) is finally receiving greater consideration for reauthorization. While many issues remain unresolved, it is still possible that a reauthorization bill could be signed into law in the 116th Congress.
Hope for 2020: As key Congressional committees continue to prioritize and make progress on HEA, AJCU hopes that Committee leaders will stand by their commitment to increase federal investments in student aid and continue to engage with advocates to further improve their reauthorization proposals.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
On Tuesday, November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on three cases pertaining to DACA. That morning, AJCU – in partnership and solidarity with DACA recipients and faith leaders – stood witness outside of the Court. The Court’s decision on DACA will impact the approximately 700,000 Dreamers who came to the United States when they were young. The current program (launched by President Obama in 2012), grants temporary protection to individuals who meet certain requirements and pass a background check, allowing them to work and go to school.
Hope for 2020: AJCU hopes that the Supreme Court will rule to protect and preserve DACA. If the Supreme Court declares DACA illegal, AJCU will advocate that Congress must act immediately to protect all Dreamers.
The U.S. Department of Education has yet to release final regulations with implications for schools and students. Expanded reporting requirements of foreign gifts for institutions of higher education (Section 117) will burden all schools receiving Title IV funds. Final Title IX regulations establishing new guidelines for how colleges must handle allegations of sexual misconduct on campus (currently under final review from the Office of Management and Budget [OMB]) are certain to make a significant impact on students and campuses. Public meetings are scheduled at OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs through January 30. It is not clear if the final regulations will be released before those meetings are held.
Hope for 2020: Working in partnership with other higher education associations, AJCU will inform key Congressional leaders and the U.S. Department of Education about the effect of these regulatory changes on campuses, in hopes that they will address these concerns.
Several tax issues that arose in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 remain of concern to the higher education and larger nonprofit communities. These problematic tax provisions include the Kiddie Tax, Parking Tax, Endowment Tax and the extension of the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses. Some provisions, like the Kiddie Tax, have wide-spread, bipartisan support, yet still have not been able to find a path forward on the Congressional agenda.
Hope for 2020: With Congress working toward finalizing the must-pass appropriations bills by the end of December, advocates (and congressional staff) are eyeing those bills as the vehicle to advance tax policy changes.
What does this mean for AJCU? The message is clear for us and for all other organizations that care about higher education issues related to student access and success: We must continue our strong engagement, strategic advocacy and continued partnerships to advance opportunities for all students seeking growth and advancement through education.
But is there some additional advice we can rely on today? What might St. Ignatius recommend? “Act as if everything depended on you. Trust as if everything depended on God.”
We must continue to work hard every day to be voices for our students, faculty and institutions, and have faith that good will come. That is the way we hope to wrap up 2019 and start the new year.