By Dr. Michael S. Brophy
Sixth President of Marymount College
April 27, 2007
Some of the questions that a college president hears most often are “Where is the college going? What is your vision for the college?” Important questions, certainly— and questions that prompt other questions:
Where we have been?
What do we know?
What should we do?
How will we do it?
A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend time with honors students at a faculty gathering. When asked what they appreciated most about the College, one of the students shared that he liked classes in which he felt the “teacher was learning along with me.”
I have come to find that this insight is at the core of what we do best at Marymount, so today I will address these four questions by offering what I have learned along with our campus this year.
Our first question: Where have we been?
Over the last 75 years, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, the Marymount’s founding order, has led in the development and evolution of our mission. Our story is one of transformation, evolution, innovation, and adapting to events and changing environments. Marymount College is blessed with a Catholic tradition grounded in a desire for social justice and a commitment to compassion, humility, and inquiry. In a world where we are presented with myriad ideologies, philosophies, political stances, and clashing cultures, we still one thing know for sure: the words of Christ rarely divide us.
And for those of us who have devoted our teaching and learning lives to the liberal arts, we know his teachings can infuse inquiry and a search for the truth. Marymount College now stands as a testament to the passionate and courageous leadership of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. We are blessed today with the presence of representatives from our founding order, so please join me in thanking them for leading us on this great journey.
As a liberal arts institution, we are responsible for leading our students through a comprehensive inquiry and consideration of humanity. We know that each and every student brings to Marymount College a special set of talents, aspirations, ambitions, and skills. It is our responsibility to present students with an empowering environment grounded in a Catholic tradition of excellence, inquiry, and an appreciation for what makes us human. We present students with faculty and staff who serve as mentors and role models, inspiring students as they fulfill their potential as human beings. Please join me in recognizing our faculty and staff for inspiring our students each and every day inside and outside of the classroom.
Who inspires our faculty and staff? It is our students. Today, we have presented our students to you. Their voices rang out over our gathering. Reading from the classics, singing our Alma Mater, and leading our processional with flags that represent the rich diversity of their backgrounds. Each and every day we are inspired by our students, so please join me in thanking them for the gift they bring to campus each day: the desire to learn and be inspired.
Finally, we recognize the leadership of our first five presidents—leadership that has successfully guided Marymount College through its 75 years. I am particularly indebted to President Emeritus Dr. Tom McFadden for his advice and counsel during the past year. Please join me in thanking him and his wife, Monica, for their 14 years of leadership at the College.
We now turn our attention to the present and to the future. Our second question is: What do we know?
We know that the terrain of American higher education has been changing rapidly over the last four decades. Certain institutions have been successful in navigating change during this time, and others have not. In 2007, thriving liberal arts and faith-based institutions that are situated in metropolitan areas have:
- made an effective case about how the study of the arts and sciences prepares students for life’s journey
- responded to the educational needs of students of all ages, with expanded lifelong learning programs
- developed innovative pedagogy, technological support, and curricula that meet students where they are on the learning continuum
- presented a curriculum that sustains their faith-based heritage
- made meaningful connections to urban education movements.
Where do we stand in comparison to these institutions? Based on our positive experiences with our liberal arts day college, Weekend College, community education partnerships, and Preschool, what other educational opportunities can Marymount College offer to students of all ages who live throughout Southern California and beyond? In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American educators like Horace Mann and John Dewey made the case that the success of our democracy was inextricably liked to the country’s ability to provide education for all. We now know they were right, so the burden is upon all of us to advance continuously lifelong learning programs that meet the needs of our citizenry.
Institutions that are able to recognize and respond to the challenges and opportunities of changing trends have succeeded. However, recent events in higher education remind us to expect the unexpected. During the past year, a period of presidential crisis at Harvard University culminated with the appointment of the first woman as president of Harvard. Even more unexpected, surely, were the tragic and horrific events that took place recently at Virginia Tech.
These events serve as a reminder that higher education communities are fragile and need to be tended to with generosity, love, and prayer.
Taking all of this into account, we come to our third question: What should Marymount do?
Last summer, I invited the faculty and staff to advise me on the top three things they thought I should turn my attention to when I arrived. Most of them took me up on my offer and wrote me letters that expressed their thoughts regarding the many opportunities and challenges that present themselves to the College. The faculty and staff know I keep their responses on my desk in a yellow file. As I shared with the campus community last August, there were three central questions that the campus wished to address:
What do we know about the students we serve, and how can we better engage students in our educational offerings?
How will we bring closure to advancing the campus facility improvement program?
How do we address short- and long-term questions regarding equity and accountability in our salary and performance appraisal programs?
I am pleased to share that we have addressed these questions through our campus governance program in a thoughtful and consultative manner. And, as we end our year together, I commend our faculty and staff for the energy and time they devoted to these yearlong conversations. We now have a greater sense of what we wish to achieve with our new facilities. We have greater insights into what we could do to enhance student success and development. And we have a greater appreciation for the need for equity and accountability in our salary and performance appraisal programs. We’re establishing a culture of greater engagement and communication. This takes great energy, time, and patience, and we have miles to go on many fronts. However, given our experience from this year, I am convinced that we have the courage to address questions central to advancing the College.
So, we come to our final question: How will we do this? We will advance the College with a passion that inspires ourselves and others. How do I know this? Because I experienced this time and time again throughout my first year. I saw it when:
- Our honors faculty came together to establish an honors symposium for our students.
- A professor delivered an impassioned presentation about St. Augustine in our chapel during the Lenten season.
- Our faculty and staff came together to offer college courses to urban students studying at a charter high school in Central Los Angeles.
- A professor played soccer with our students here on this very field.
- Under the mentorship of a faculty member, students came together to produce and direct a play written by one of their own.
- A group of faculty came together to develop an innovative program for students to study in London this coming summer.
- Faculty and staff came together to assemble a summer 2007 program rich in innovation and expanded offerings for students of all ages.
- Our staff worked together to expand the technological capacities of the campus.
- Our staff and faculty worked tirelessly with students to help them develop our first on-line radio station.
- Members of our Board of Trustees and our Alumni Board provided great counsel and advice as we strengthened connections for our campus throughout the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Southern California.
- Faculty and staff leadership came forward and presented me with the wisdom and guidance that I needed regarding the direction of the campus.
We did these things together, as a team, and with passion and courage to advance the College.
The 75th anniversary events that were held over the last two weeks were equally inspiring. These events gave expression to our appreciation of the past, present, and future and remind us that the Marymount experience includes our faith, our history, our artistic expression, our natural environment, and our educational mission. Through these experiences, we know we have the capacity to inspire ourselves. As we consider our next 75 years, we know we will need to inspire others. We will need to inspire:
- the municipality of Rancho Palos Verdes to approve our campus improvement program.
- the City of San Pedro, as we co-develop plans for Marymount to become the city’s first institution of higher education.
- future Marymount faculty and staff who will be considering joining our ranks as we enter the next phase of our growth and development.
- current and future supporters, because we will certainly need their assistance as we advance the campus.
I was inspired this fall when I accompanied 30 students, faculty, and staff on a retreat of inquiry and reflection to a Catholic mission near Tijuana. Our students spent the weekend in a community whose residents live in abject poverty. Thankfully, these men, women, and children are served by a Catholic mission. Under the leadership of the mission, our students performed manual labor, helping to prepare different sites throughout the community for learning, worship, health care, and recreation. In fewer than 48 hours, you could see our students growing, learning, and changing. Our students returned to campus with a much greater awareness of what connects all of humanity: our shared desire to live lives of meaning, compassion, courage, and faith.
This mission was much more than a church where the poor came to pray for 45 minutes each week. This mission was central to the lives of these poor people. It was their sustenance, their connection to something greater, and their inspiration. This experience provides for a reflection of what Marymount is and what it can become. Marymount College provides much more than a roster of classes and cultural opportunities to its students and the Los Angeles community. As a great liberal arts college, we serve as a model for inquiry about what it means to be human. As a Catholic college in the RSHM tradition, we are responsible for empowering students to develop a passion for lifelong learning and personal growth, a commitment to social justice, and an appreciation that the diversity of humanity does not divide us—it unites us.
Earlier, we heard one of our students read from Wordsworth’s poem, “Tintern Abbey.” In preparing today’s comments, I have been drawn to one of the lines from the poem, which reads:
And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts; a sense of something far more deeply interfused.
Can one be disturbed by the joy of elevated thoughts? Is this question not at the center of our educational enterprise? Future questions and challenges may come from our external environment, but the answers will surely come from within the Marymount community.
I would like to conclude with a quote that I shared at faculty and staff gatherings earlier this year. This wisdom comes from Saint Benedict’s Twelve Degrees of Humility, given as advice to those entering the monastic order:
“We learn that community itself is a source of wisdom for us, that the major relationships of our lives have not been given to us to be exploited by us; they have been given to us to teach us. We learn we are not the center of the universe but that there is plenty that we can gain from others at every age. We learn that we will never arrive and that is all right.”
Thank you for your kind attention, and God bless Marymount College.