*Guest Editorial as published in The Spokesman Review, May 12, 2013
A year ago, Gonzaga University embarked on a commemoration of its 125th anniversary year and the centennial of its prestigious School of Law. Under the theme “tradition and transformation,” we embraced the opportunity to honor our institution’s essential Jesuit and Catholic identity, to celebrate the foundational, historic relationship between Spokane and Gonzaga, and to imagine the future as we together progress into this century.
For GU, the year grew into a rich abundance of opportunities to celebrate the power of great people and transformational ideas. We celebrated the impact of intellect, faith and courage, as well as the intrinsic value of service to those whose challenges are profound. We were inspired by many who allow us – through a deeper understanding of their life’s work – to imagine exciting new worlds and possibilities. From Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Jane Goodall, we have been gifted with some truly remarkable opportunities to pause, think and learn.
Spokane: Thank you for being part of the celebration. While we thank you for cheering on the Zags with such great passion (Spokane really is No. 1!), we thank you also for joining with us in our educational mission. Gonzaga students participated with other local college students at Whitworth University to present original, cutting-edge research last month at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research Conference. This year, our students, faculty and staff volunteered with more than 115 community partners in service as mentors, teachers, and guides. The Pursuit of Justice Conference, jointly sponsored by our Law School, the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies and the State Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, last month convened an extraordinary gathering of national and international leaders to understand hatred, confront intolerance and eliminate inequality. None of this would be possible without your support and participation.
Yet for all of the achievements that an anniversary allows one to celebrate, we also recognize that such success can neither be taken for granted nor assumed. Higher education finds itself at a crossroads, when many of the cultural and economic assumptions upon which traditional universities have been built are changing. Universities can no longer assume that taxpayer dollars will abundantly support student enrollments or research programs. The economic recession – which continues to express profound, multigenerational effects upon individuals, families, government and businesses – has forced a rethinking of the educational model that has served American society for nearly a century.
During periods of tremendous cultural change, it is important to respond both tactically and thoughtfully. At the heart of American higher education is an important cultural enterprise. Universities exist to promote and support the search for truth through the generation and free exchange of knowledge and information. Higher education must be dedicated to educating employable graduates, but it is important to remain committed to the development of the intellectual and social infrastructure of our society as well.
It has long been an expectation in our country that colleges and universities bear the responsibility for educating leaders, thinkers and creative problem-solvers. It is in the service of this mission – the education of people capable of successfully wrestling with the complex and real-life problems of our time – that we are compelled to create opportunities that challenge our students’ assumptions and engage difficult issues in an authentic manner. These processes have helped us to more clearly understand the path before us as the state’s oldest Jesuit and Catholic university as well: a focus on global engagement, new modes of delivering education, the responsibility to serve our church and local community, and the role we can play in Spokane’s growing health care and technology industries.
Gonzaga University is proud to serve this region together with our educational colleagues and partners at the Community Colleges of Spokane, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, Whitworth University and our local school districts. I congratulate our graduating class this weekend, as well as all area graduates who will walk across the stage in the coming weeks. With great enthusiasm, we look forward to developing innovative, courageous and contributive programs and initiatives that will continue to grow Spokane’s prominence as a significant intellectual and economic area. Despite the social and economic challenges facing us today, there is real reason for hope and optimism – born out of the knowledge that this is a community of dedicated, talented, hard-working people who want the best for their children, their city and their future.
Thank you, Spokane, for a great year, and the great years ahead! And a very happy Mother’s Day to all moms, everywhere
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.