If I could convey the sound of trumpets sounding and the angelic choir sinning, I would. But I can’t. The inauguration of Marquette’s 23rd president, Fr. Scott Pilarz, is the first step towards a renewed vision for Marquette University. But what is the renewed vision that Fr. Pilarz brings to Marquette? How is he going to change the Marquette University we know and love? Simply by doing the things any good Jesuit university should do: create opportunities for students to obtain higher education and strive for Marquette’s student to engage reality on an intimate level.
With respectful admiration for Marquette’s history and identity, Pilarz laid the foundation for some ambitious goals. He noted that Jacques Marquette was “convinced that making [a map of the Mississippi] would enhance human experience and open opportunities for the spread of God’s good news.” With that in mind, he asked the question, “What is our Mississippi River? What keeps us up at night at Marquette?”
For Pilarz, Marquette’s goal is “access and a new excellence.” Since the founding of the university, Marquette has served students who are the first in their families to attend college. Nearly 25 percent of the class of 2015 will be the first in their families to attend college. Helping students gain access to higher education and and the opportunities that such an education has to offer is vital for a healthy and productive society – especially with the way economic conditions have been over the past decade.
What concerns me, however, is how Pilarz intends to accomplish this goal. Over the past few years, class sizes have steady grown; the class of 2015 is one of the largest classes yet to descend on campus. If creating access means what I think it means – increasing enrollment – Fr. Pilarz, I hope you have a sound plan because as it is, we have lost study spaces and lounges in dorms. If this is not enough, there is the possibility of an even greater problem when this year’s freshmen begin to look for off-campus housing.
During his term at Scranton, Pilarz achieved record admissions, and established a capital campaign that was so successful that its goal was raised from $100 million to $125 million. Some of that money was dedicated to the construction of a new residence hall at Scranton. Could Pilarz’s success at Scranton be an indication of what is to come to Marquette? At a recent MUSG Senate meeting, Jim McMahon, associate vice president for student affairs, stated that building another dormitory would be an “expensive proposition,” but is under consideration. Residence halls are in the “master plan.”
If my hunch is right and greater access does mean greater enrollment, Pilarz had better get down to work (and please do not raise tuition rates because that is counterproductive as well). I am eager to see how Pilarz intends to accomplish this goal, because favoring applicants that would be the firsts in their families to attend college over someone with higher academic qualification is not right either. We aren’t UW-Madison.
As for Pilarz’s second goal, it is by far a much more idealistic and intangible one: “new excellence.” This goal is rooted in an April 2010 address by the Superior General of the Jesuits, in which he expressed fear that we are losing the “ability to engage with the real,” as Pilarz put it. Because Jesuit education depends on “a profound engagement with the real,” Pilarz said he intends to confront the problem by recommitting to “learned ministry” – the emphasis of arts and science in the curriculum by which we can experience “the mystery of God and simultaneously make our world more gentle, more just.” Hope, he advocated, is essential to face the uncertain future that lies ahead.
But if we are to engage the real, if we are to go out and make a difference in our world to advocate for the voiceless, protect and assist the poor, or do whatever our calling in life may be, then you can’t teach awareness, dedication, compassion and love. Fr. Pilarz, while I admire your good intentions, until we perfect the art of education through experience, I am afraid that hoping, as passive as it is, is all Marquette can do if we wish to instill these values in her students.
I wish you the best as you start off on your presidency here at Marquette University, Fr. Pilarz. I think Fr. Ryan Maher said it best in his homily during the inaugural mass: “Tend the embers that burn in the heart of Marquette and fan them to a vibrant flame that will bring light and warmth to the world.” And together, Fr. Pilarz, we, the students, faculty, staff, and administrators will achieve the ultimate goal of our beloved university and truly set the world on fire.
by Evan Umpir