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Response by Stephen A. Privett, S.J.,
President of the University of San Francisco, 
to the charges made on the website of
Friends of the St. Ignatius Institute.
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2001 07:51:17 -0800
From: "Theresa Moser, RSCJ" <moser@usfca.edu> 
Subject: Fwd: From the President re. the St. Ignatius Institute


I understand that stories are appearing in the press and on web sites about the decision of Steve Privett, S.J., to "restructure" the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco.  I thought you might like to hear his side of the story.  For those who are unfamiliar with the SII, it was founded a number of years ago by Joseph Fessio, S.J., and colleagues, and became known as a center of a very narrow understanding of orthodoxy.

In the current ecclesiastical climate, Fr. Privett has made a very courageous decision.

Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001 15:33:36 -0800 
From: "University Announcements"  <"DELTA::ANNOUNCE"@Beta.usfca.edu> 
Subject: From the President re. the St. Ignatius Institute 

To:  The USF Community (Faculty, Staff and Students) 
From: James L. Wiser, Provost

Copied below is a statement prepared by Fr. Privett which we trust is responsive to the concerns expressed about his recent appointment of Dr. Paul Murphy as director of the Saint Ignatius Institute.  In addition, Fr. Privett and others will be meeting with both the students and the faculty of the Institute to explore issues and review concerns. 

February 6, 2001

Dear Friend of the University:

In response to questions raised after my January 19 letter announcing the appointment of a new director for the Saint Ignatius Institute, I have prepared this additional information in a Question and Answer format. My intention is to clear up misunderstandings and dispel doubts about the University's commitment to the SII. Let me state very clearly that it is our hope that the Saint Ignatius Institute will be widely recognized as the premier program of its kind in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Shortly after accepting the presidency of USF I embarked on my first official visit -- to Archbishop William J. Levada. I wanted to personally tell him  that USF remains at the service of the local Church. For me, this was an important and characteristic step. After serving as the Principal of a Jesuit high school, I pursued a degree in Catechetics from The Catholic University of America because of my interest in and commitment to handing on the Catholic tradition. I served two terms on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Certification and Accreditation that reviews all ministry-training programs across the country in the name of the bishops.

I accepted the presidency of USF because, among other considerations, of its record of outstanding service to the city and Church of San Francisco and because of its unique capacity to be "the light shining on the hilltop. "   As stated in my inaugural address, it is the Catholic tradition that "maintains that our deepest desires to know and to love are of God, and far from being doomed to frustration impel us beyond ourselves towards the fullness of truth and love, which we believe is the person of God."  I am deeply committed and determined that the University, faithful to its Jesuit Catholic tradition, challenges itself to pursue together with all men and women of good will that truth and love which alone can satisfy the  longings of our hearts and the needs of our too human world.


Stephen A. Privett, S.J. President 

Question and Answer Session with Stephen A. Privett, S.J. February 6, 2001

RE:  New Director of the Saint Ignatius Institute

Q: Isn't the recent change in SII leadership really an attempt to dismantle the Institute?

A: No. The changes are neither an overt nor veiled attempt to dismantle or weaken the SII. As I stated in my January 19 letter to the University community, appointing a new director for SII provides the requisite academic leadership, promotes synergies between SII and other University programs, and creates efficiencies by consolidating resources.

Academic program directors recommend faculty to the dean, make assignments to courses, and shape curriculum. These are faculty responsibilities that should not be discharged by staff persons, no matter how dedicated or devoted. Currently, the SII devotes energy and resources to administration, such as running its own study abroad programs and recruiting students. The University has an office of international studies, and undergraduate admissions recruits USF students. For SII to duplicate services provided elsewhere in the University is inefficient, redundant, and expensive. USF cannot afford to do business this way.

Both SII and Catholic Studies are distinct programs aimed at promoting the Catholic intellectual tradition. They will remain distinct in their  approaches and emphases, and each program will flourish if we capitalize on their strengths. Some possible synergies between both programs that will benefit them and the entire University community might be shared faculty, newly created courses, joint sponsorship of a University lecture series,  celebrating liturgies, and offering a variety of retreat experiences for both SII and Catholic Studies participants.

The SII will remain an integrated, historically based program rooted in the Great Books and steeped in the Catholic tradition. SII students are, and will be, taking the same courses, celebrating daily Eucharist and having their retreat experiences. I do not want the administrative changes to weaken or undermine the SII. I cannot say it any more clearly.

Q: Why did the University replace such popular individuals as Director John Galten and Associate Director John Hamlon?

A: For the credibility and integrity of the program within the University and across the academy in general, the directors of academic programs must be faculty members. Messrs. Galten and Hamlon are not faculty members. As staff members, neither was qualified to judge the academic qualifications of prospective faculty, shape curriculum or assign courses to the appropriate faculty person. Staff have a very important role in the academy and their talents are central to the enterprise, but staff's role is to support faculty not substitute for them.

The University dealt fairly and generously with both Messrs. Galten and

Hamlon . Neither their dedication nor their service was questioned or disparaged. We agreed ahead of time that both of them could apply for other positions at  USF. They were not "expelled from the University." They were asked to accommodate Dr. Murphy's moving into the office on Monday, January 22. They did so and discussions continue with one of them regarding another position at the university.

Q: How can you say that replacing two full-time administrators with one director who also teaches will not weaken the SII?

A: In fact, Dr. Murphy will be assisted by a full-time administrative assistant rather than an associate director and some responsibilities currently assigned to the SII will be shared with other units in the University.  Undergraduate admissions and the dean's office will assume greater responsibility for student recruitment. SII's foreign studies programs will be administered by the University's Study Abroad office, an adjustment that will increase current SII offerings as well as eliminate  staff work and cut costs.

Q: What do you say to those who still feel that Messrs. Galten and Hamlon  were not treated properly? 

A: I appreciate the sense of community that permeates the SII and understand the concern behind this criticism.  The SII has one director, and I could not appoint a new director without removing the former director. There was no way to do this that would leave everyone satisfied, including myself.

Regarding concerns that the timing appeared abrupt, I felt that the circumstances required decisive action.  The Provost, the Dean and I felt it was important to make the appointment at a time when students would be on campus so that we could deal personally with them. Students have been the  main focus of attention for Dr. Murphy and Dean Nel. I will meet separately with SII students and faculty to answer questions and dispel unsupported  assertions that I intend to eliminate, dissolve or merge SII with Catholic Studies.

In contrast to my ordinary way of proceeding, I felt that consultation with SII faculty would only heighten tensions and exacerbate hostile feelings. The tenor of the written reaction from a minority of the faculty [five faculty, only four of whom are numbered among the 17 faculty who are teaching in the SII this academic year] confirms that judgment. I believe that their letter writing campaigns to colleagues, SII students, trustees, parents and alumni, the press, and other diocesan officials would have occurred whether or not we had consulted with them prior to appointing a new director.

Q: How do you answer the allegations that the Jesuit Community does not support the teachings of the Catholic Church and that you are moving to quiet "the voice of orthodoxy?"

A: It is difficult to answer such unsubstantiated assertions about the men I live and work with and for whom I have great respect and affection. Let me put it bluntly, I don't see any basis for questioning this Jesuit community's loyalty to the Catholic Church.  I cannot help but be struck by the ways in which these public attacks on "forces within the Jesuit community" resonate with similar charges in different contexts over the entire history of the Society of Jesus. In the face of assertions that I have received about Jesuits not being loyal to the Catholic Church, I need only refer to the blood of Jesuit martyrs over the ages which speaks more eloquently than I of the Society's authenticity, integrity, and loyalty to the Church.

On January 19, six SII faculty asserted in an email to the University community that my decision was "driven by jealousy and representative of that liberality which can abide all things but orthodoxy" and spoke of a "relentless assault on the Institute."  I do not see how or why those individuals assumed the role of judges of "orthodoxy."    That they lack the academic and ecclesiastical warrant for making such judgments is apparent to me, but inconsequential to them in this self-appointed role as the guardians of authentic Catholic theology.

A "one size fits all" approach to theology is contrary to the Catholic tradition, which from its origins has embraced distinctive theologies  those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, Hebrews, Augustine and Aquinas, for example.  There are different theological styles then, now, and always.  A common characteristic of authentic theology is universal charity and a willingness to engage in respectful dialogue.

Q:  What about the faculty members who say they will not voluntarily teach in SII?

A: Five faculty members remain committed to not teaching in SII. Their resignation from the program denies students access to their particular articulation of the tradition.  We did not dismiss them. They chose to  abandon the SII. They must take responsibility for their decision, as I do for mine. They could have responded with a call for constructive conversation.

Issues, especially theological ones, are rarely black and white, either/or. I am reminded of Augustine's dictum, "there are many whom the Church has whom God does not have, and there are many whom God has whom the Church does not have."  A Catholic university in particular should evidence Augustine's tolerance, respect, and understanding.  It must take people and culture seriously and engage them to the enrichment of all, acknowledging that God is always larger and more magnanimous than our own narrow minds and hearts.

Q: What would you like to say to current students of the Institute?

A: In the Institute that bears Ignatius' name, I think his admonition or "presupposition" for those embarking upon the Spiritual Exercises says it best: "A favorable interpretation should always be given to the other's statements. If misinterpretation seems possible, it should be cleared up with Christian understanding. So, too, if actual error seems to be held, the best possible interpretation should be presented so that a more correct understanding might develop."

When the University is accused of destroying the SII, I find myself in the difficult position of  "defending" what I have not done and have no intentions of doing.  I believe we can reason together to clear up misinterpretations and develop a mutual understanding about the richness of our tradition and the value of a Jesuit, Catholic education for the 21st century.

Q: How can concerned constituents express their views on this administrative change?

A: Email and letters are the most effective way to communicate with me, as long as people understand that I am not able to personally respond to every communication. Whether I respond or not, I do read and consider all opinions.

I would encourage everyone to temper their rhetoric and argue from specific evidence and a genuine concern for our students and the future of SII. Angry threats appear to be coercive in their intent and are not compelling in a University that values solid evidence and well-reasoned arguments.

Q: Are the "polls" running for or against your decision?

A: I haven't tried to take any "polls," but I have listened carefully to different perspectives and fresh considerations.  There has been strong written and verbal support for the administrative change from within the University community and in the broader community, especially from other religious and theologians.  There is vocal written opposition to the change, spearheaded by an organization called "Friends of the Saint Ignatius Institute." Judging from the correspondence they have promoted, their information is not always accurate.

I am confident that as people hear the University's story, doubt and even outright opposition will be transformed into support for what we intend to accomplish. I am told that this is not the first time SII partisans predicted an imminent death for the program. I believe that those who value the SII  will ultimately support changes that will only strengthen it.

Q: You made this decision after only four months on the job. Are you acting rashly and with insufficient knowledge of the University and SII?

A: I do not think so. From day one, I found the anomaly of a staff person running an academic program of SII's stature unacceptable and it was the subject of an early conversation between the dean and me.

I became further disenchanted with the daily operations of the SII when I learned that, for the past year and half, the daily liturgies for SII  students were celebrated off campus and no Jesuit from the University was allowed to preside. When I questioned this practice, the director offered a "compromise" resolution that was unacceptable. I subsequently instructed the director to work with University ministry to provide a daily liturgy on campus for SII students using priests from the Jesuit community as presiders. It is important that the table of the Lord be open to all  believers and that the SII be an integral part of the University, eager to spread its influence and open its arms to other students. While I chose not to consult with SII faculty, for reasons stated previously, I reviewed my planned action with the Executive Officers of the University, the Cabinet, the Leadership Team, individual Trustees and the Executive Committee of the Board of  Trustees .  Any allegations that I "shot from the hip" are false. I made a fully informed decision for which I am accountable to the Board of Trustees.

Q: Why didn't you consult with the SII Advisory Board, as required by  their by -laws?

A: The by-laws of the SII Advisory Board represent a unilateral document drafted by its members. Once I was informed of the existence of this Advisory Board, further research showed that no executive officer of the University ever approved the by-laws of the SII Advisory Board.

A careful reading of the by-laws revealed that members of the Advisory Board are elected by fellow board members without any prior consultation or subsequent approval by an executive officer of the University. The  current by- laws are amended by a simple majority vote, without consultation or  subsequent approval by the University. The by-laws were last amended at the time of my inaugural celebration last year.

Holding the University accountable to a board of advisors that we have no voice in naming and by-laws that we had no voice in writing or amending and have never accepted is like holding someone to a contract they neither  drafted nor approved. I welcome constructive dialogue with the board about its  role in the future of the Institute.

Q:  Any final comments?

A: I want to say a word about "faith seeking understanding," which was Anselm's definition of theology.  To my way of thinking, faith is not a commodity that one keeps under wraps for fear of contamination.  The "deposit of faith" was not given to us to be buried in the ground like a pirate's treasure.

In the Catholic tradition, faith, whether recognized as such or not, is the dynamism that drives the whole human enterprise. Faith compels us to always seek a deeper and richer understanding of ourselves, our world, our God. Jesus talked about faith as the leaven that raises up the whole loaf; the light from the mountain that illuminates the valley below; a coin that one invests to yield ten and twenty fold; a seed that God recklessly sows on all manner of soil; a treasure that one discovers through constant searching; a gift from a God who invites all  especially the poor and sinners  to a  banquet of rich foods and fine wines.  This is the faith to which we witness. Jesus, in our tradition, found this faith more deeply rooted in the hearts of  sinners , prostitutes, tax collectors, and shepherds than in hearts of the religious and the self-righteous.  He encouraged us not to separate wheat from chaff, but to take care of the fields entrusted to our care and leave judgments to God.

My hope is that the USF community will not identify with the disciples  huddled in the upper room with the doors and windows locked shut for fear of the people outside, but will see itself as spirited spokespersons of a power  and a love bigger and stronger than us all. USF, and SII in particular, aims to offer the knowledge, skills, values and sensitivities that enable us to proclaim that power and love to peoples of every race and language and way of life. I am sure that many of our USF and SII alumni live their lives just  this way. This is an exciting time to be at USF and a critical moment in its ongoing development as a premier Jesuit, Catholic urban university.

--  M.Theresa Moser, RSCJ, Ph.D. 
Assistant Dean, Arts and Sciences University of San Francisco, 
Harney 240 
e-mail: moser@usfca.edu 
2130 Fulton Street 
Fax: (415) 422-5700 San Francisco, CA 94117-1080 
Telephone: (415) 422-2256

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(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 10 February 2001
Last updated 10 March 2001
Electronic version copyright © 2001 Ingrid H. Shafer
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