Tuesday, January 31, 2012

There were two very interesting stories about universities in the U.S. that caught my attention. The first is about the ongoing debate over illegal immigration. At a recent conference, Sister Diane Kennedy, vice president for mission and ministry at Dominican University, proudly described 17 of Dominican’s students. Of the 17, several have achieved high academic honors, Kennedy said. And two, so far, have been arrested by immigration officials and spent time in jail. All 17 students are undocumented immigrants, and the college is spending $274,000 of its own money to help them pay tuition. At a session of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Kennedy and other Catholic leaders urged other colleges to follow Dominican’s example. Catholic colleges and the Catholic church, led by Cardinal Roger Mahony, who retired as archbishop of Los Angeles in 2011, are quietly stepping up efforts to enroll and assist students whose parents came to the United States illegally. In recent months, Mahony has held meetings with college leaders and students to find other ways to engage institutions on the issue. The church is planning to distribute several versions of an immigration curriculum, so that colleges can cover the issue from a Catholic perspective in a wide range of classes. In remarks to a small group of college presidents and vice presidents, Mahony cast advocacy for immigrants as part of the heritage of Catholic colleges and a core expression of Catholic values. This issue is so easily demonized. Politicians looking for votes very often describe the worst types of illegal immigrants, the folks who truly have evil in their heart and are coming over the border to cause trouble. This story points out that there are two sides to this issue. The second story is about the change in leadership at some of our Catholic colleges. The Loyola Marymount University Board of Trustees appointed David W. Burcham as the president of the university after a nationwide search. Burcham, who currently serves as the university's interim president and is a 1984 graduate of Loyola Law School, will be the first lay president in the university's 99-year history. Burcham's association with LMU began in 1981. He graduated first in his class from Loyola Law School and, after seven years in public and private practice, he returned to the law school and teaching. He was appointed senior vice president and dean of the law school in 2000, and served in that capacity until 2008 when he was named LMU's executive vice president and provost. In 2010, Burcham took over leadership of the university when Robert B. Lawton, S.J. resigned for health reasons. "We respect the process, procedures and the integrity of the Search Committee and their extraordinary efforts to find applicants, including Jesuit applicants," said both Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and Coadjutor Archbishop José Gomez. "We support the steps taken by the Board of Trustees and we look forward to working with David Burcham." "We set a very high bar for what we wanted and expected in our next president, including academic excellence, executive leadership, fundraising experience and furtherance of our Jesuit, Marymount and Catholic traditions," said vice chair of the LMU Board of Trustees and chair of the Presidential Search Committee, Kathleen Aikenhead. "Dave Burcham already has proved himself." The bar apparently did not include requiring that the leader of a Catholic university be a practicing Catholic. Really? Is that the best they can do? It is obvious that they are very sensitive about this hire. Just look at the number of folks who are trying to validate the "process." I for one am praying that Mr. Burcham is successful. Maybe someone will invite him to go through the RCIA process. By the way, what is the difference between Jesuit, Marymount, and Catholic traditions?