Pause at 25

Thinking in Fresh Ways About the Future of Catholic Higher Education

If Collegium were being founded from scratch today, what would we want it to do?

Collegium turned 25 in 2017. Twenty-five seemed a good age to step back and examine our assumptions, to decide what still holds true and what we need to pay more attention to if we want to be as helpful as possible to our participants and our member schools.

In place our normal 2017 summer colloquy, Collegium held a larger, though shorter conference — a “Pause at 25” to examine the state of Catholic higher education today, and to consider our future work. The Pause at 25 was held in June 2017 at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota. Each Collegium member school sent a team of three participants this year, providing a chance for alumni/ae to re-engage with Collegium. Each team of alumni/ae included one early-career faculty member and one mid-career faculty member. We also asked that each school send one senior academic administrator — someone who may or may not be a Collegium alumnus/a, but who could think about the links between mission and teaching and learning, and who is in a position to implement change on campus.

At the Pause we had some opportunity to renew ourselves and celebrate what our work together has meant, but our time was primarily intended to assess some of the major challenges that face us today in terms of mission and to imagine new ways forward. On our first full day together, panels of leaders in Catholic higher education examined several aspects of the “ecology” of Catholic higher education today: structural challenges (e.g., with higher education under financial squeeze, relying on temporary, part-time adjuncts, and many more courses being taught online, how do we develop a meaningful, mission-oriented community? How do Catholic colleges navigate their own vision amidst so many outside accrediting voices that want to narrow what we do?), religio-cultural challenges (increasing religious indifference, a different position for the church in the world), and changes in academe (e.g., persistent cultural devaluation of the liberal arts that were long used as a means of communicating major themes of Catholic identity, intensifying trends toward specialization.)

Following those discussions, we worked in breakout sessions on the morning of the second day to discuss ways forward on themes that seem central for the future but are not well addressed so far, such as, “How do you develop a mission-centered community in an online teaching environment?” “How do you harness diversity among faculty as a resource for Catholic mission?”  

On the afternoon of the final day, participants spent time working in self-selected groups on a capstone imaginative exercise that asked, if we had a chance to start afresh, what kinds of Catholic colleges or universities would we start? Who would we serve? What would our curricula emphasize? We hope that they will imagine a whole range of institutions, all fulfilling Catholic mission, from those that serve Latino communities better, to ones that excel in science and in dialogue between faith and science, to those that model interreligious dialogue in the modern world. We hoped was that this exercise would help all of us think with fresh eyes about the institutions. We ended the Pause with a liturgy and festive meal to celebrate what we have done together and what we look forward to building.