Benedictine aims to be 'good steward'
The longer I serve as president of Benedictine University, the more aware I become of how beliefs and ideas can steer an institution.
In addition to its Catholic tradition and heritage, the university is guided by seven Benedictine "values:" a search for God by oneself and with others; a tradition of hospitality; an appreciation for living and working in community; a concern for the development of each person; an emphasis on a life lived in balance; a dedication to responsible stewardship; and a commitment to academic excellence
As the nation's economic crisis has swirled around us in recent weeks, I have become much more attuned to our value of "stewardship." While this is traditionally associated with the environment (and we strive to be a "green" campus), I have discovered a new dimension to this centuries-old value - a dimension probably always present for our Benedictine predecessors, but a new dimension for me.
To appreciate my new understanding of stewardship, I ask you to think for a moment about the role of a university president. An institution like Benedictine is like a ship at sea. The university's day-to-day operations are handled by able people who steer the ship almost flawlessly. As a matter of course, I believe a president should empower them and get out of their way. The university functions quite well with little need for a captain until it finds itself in the midst of troubled waters.
In these times, the captain takes the helm and steers the ship. This country's economic crisis is such a time when intervention in the daily operations of the university is required. When the captain takes the helm in troubled seas, charts, graphs and even modern day electronic devices might not be of much use. What is paramount is the ability of the captain to steer the ship out of troubled waters using the skills that have become innate through his many years at sea.
When universities are beset with raging seas, presidents must rely on the values of the institution as their compass and guide. But how do values translate into a compass and a guide? How do the values of Benedictine University help us in this economic storm? The answer is rather simple: These values point the direction in which we should go. They craft the response to the challenges the university faces.
While all seven of the Benedictine values mentioned at the outset are pertinent, the one that has struck me the most in this difficult time is the value of stewardship. Stewardship views time as practically endless with community pervasive throughout. Under stewardship's mantel, we view the Benedictine community as all those who have come before us and will follow us. As part of this human chain, we have a monumental obligation to pass on to those who follow us a better university than the one we inherited.
Using the value of stewardship as our compass and guide in times like these, we must decide what options are the best for us not only today but for those who will come tomorrow. No matter what is happening in Washington, D.C., regarding economic matters, families have been shaken to their core. Retirement funds have disappeared, savings are depleted and tomorrow seems guaranteed to no one.
For Benedictine University to go on as if the recent economic crisis never happened is foolhardy. Given the fear of economic doom being experienced by most Americans, doing business as usual would be unusual at best. When we hear that families' "nest eggs" are being depleted, we know that these nest eggs are where families build funds for college education. If they are being depleted, so are the dreams and aspirations of the families who own them. The university needs to reach out to its community and to partner with its families.
To move the university forward and to provide a life raft for families in this sea of economic turbulence, I challenged the Benedictine University board of trustees to act. The board accepted the challenge and took a major step toward helping families deal with the economic crisis at their meeting Oct. 16. The trustees voted to freeze tuition at its current level through spring 2010 for all students already attending Benedictine, and have guaranteed that next year's freshman class will not see a tuition increase through spring 2011. The board felt that we must hold the line on the cost of college so as not to endanger the futures of so many promising young people.
While a private higher education (and higher education in general) continues to be expensive, perhaps we can slow the escalating tide through this tuition freeze. The Benedictine value of stewardship, as I have learned to understand it, requires us to look out for one another. A rising tide raises all boats; a lowering tide grounds some boats. In being good stewards, the university must take into account the economic viability of its present and future constituents. We must be flexible in our approach in these difficult economic times.
These are extremely troubling times for students and their families. Although most of our students receive some form of aid, we are committed to doing as much as possible to ensure that education is a lifelong journey, not a lifelong burden. In the course of the coming weeks, additional measures will be considered to help alleviate the financial burden of the Benedictine community - not only those who are here today, but those who will join us tomorrow.
• William Carroll is president of Benedictine University in Lisle. His column runs monthly in Neighbor.