Panelists: Pursue truth, courage, humility, and service in Catholic higher education

North Texas Catholic
(Nov 5, 2019) Local

University of Dallas president Thomas Hibbs (right) walks to the inauguration ceremony on Nov. 1 at the University of Dallas in Irving. (Photo courtesy University of Dallas)

IRVING — The future of Catholic higher education depends on students and faculty exercising courage, humility, a passion for truth, and practical service in a challenging current culture, according to scholars in a Nov. 1 panel discussion at the University of Dallas.

“Truth is so obscured these days that only those who love it will find it,” said moderator Thomas Hibbs, the former dean of the Honors college and distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University.

Shortly after the panel discussion, Hibbs was inaugurated as the ninth president of the University of Dallas and the first alumnus to be named to the post.

Other panelists were Bishop Daniel Flores from the Diocese of Brownsville and a University of Dallas graduate; Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, history professor at the University of Notre Dame; Heather Reynolds, former president and CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth and current managing director at Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) at the University of Notre Dame; and Robert P. George, director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, who joined the discussion via videoconference.

Several panelists talked about the need for courage and for humility to engage with those who disagree.

George said, “When we disagree, we treat each other as enemies rather than fellow truth-seekers.”

He said it was ironic and deeply regrettable that those in many university settings were among the worst at listening to others’ views.

“We need to love truth more than we love our own opinions,” George said.

Catholic universities have an advantage in that they can proclaim “the most important truth of all, that Christ Himself revealed that He is ‘the way, the truth and the life.’”

'Only God can make you good'

Fr. Miscamble encouraged those at the University of Dallas, “don’t lose your distinct calling as a Catholic university to gain favor in society.”

He said that faith and reason complement each other, and Catholic universities should display a deep love of the pursuit of truth. While some universities with Catholic roots have aimed to become more like Harvard and Princeton and lost some of their foundational precepts and teachings, the goal should be to “engage the world by bringing Christ into it,” Fr. Miscamble said.

Bishop Flores said that the pursuit of truth is informed by the revelation of Christ.

“The impact of the revelation is to know that the truth doesn’t make you good,” Bishop Flores said. “The university can make you smart, but only God can make you good.”

He urged Catholic educators and students to combine their love of truth-seeking with helping those who are suffering.

University of Dallas President Thomas Hibbs delivers his inaugural address Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy University of Dallas)

“You can respond with despair, or you can do something,” Bishop Flores said. “Don’t use the excuse that ‘you can’t do everything’ to do nothing.”

Reynolds, a former social worker and longtime leader of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, also urged Catholic educators to get students “outside these four walls” to engage those who are hurting.

“The goal is not to solve all the world’s problems, but to have that engagement for students,” Reynolds said.

She said her experience with Catholic Charities Fort Worth and Notre Dame researchers has shown her the importance of combining knowledge with practical means of assistance. Data can show the most productive ways to help people escape poverty through the work of nonprofit organizations in the field.

A challenging time

Several panelists said that those in Catholic higher education, along with Catholics and Christians, will continue to face challenges from society.

Fr. Miscamble said, “I expect, given the trajectory of academic and social forces, life will become increasingly difficult for religious institutions.”

George said that the changes in academia are a reflection of the culture.

“The days of comfortable Catholics are over for all of us,” he said. “If we exercise our views, we will be intolerable to those who wield cultural, economic, and political power.”

President Hibbs said that many people today take “a naive view of evil,” thinking they can have ethical behavior without relying on God.

After the panel discussion, Reynolds said she appreciated the opportunity of “pairing service with science” as a part of the Lab for Economic Opportunities.

While education is a key to helping people get out of poverty, barriers to education exist within poverty itself, she said.

“A focus on education alone is not the answer,” she said.

If a child goes to a homeless shelter after school, or a young adult can’t afford food, then the educational process breaks down.

When financial problems hit, “higher education is often the first thing to go,” Reynolds said.

That’s where the Church can step in and provide practical help to keep students in school, she said.

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