President Keefe’s March 20 proposal regarding a new undergraduate unit immediately captured the attention of University of Dallas alumni. Virtually overnight, over 2,300 UD alumni and friends joined a Facebook group created to discuss concerns about the proposal in a virtual “town hall” setting.
As a moderator of this group — and following several weeks of thoughtful, even vigorous, discussion — I would like to offer some personal observations.
UD alumni are a diverse crowd of liberal learners, and no one alumnus holds a monopoly on public opinion. That being said, there are some clearly shared concerns, not only the very reasonable fear that the president’s idea would be financially unprofitable, but also the ill-conceived notion of pursuing a program that could syphon away energy from UD’s truly remarkable, nationally renowned Core curriculum and Catholic mission.
Proponents of the president’s idea have responded to these concerns with two primary critiques. First, they argue, alumni fail to appreciate how the proposal is necessary to improve UD’s financial situation, saying it is a debacle caused in no small part by alumni themselves. Second, alumni are being “elitist,” ignorant of the demands of Catholic social justice teaching by opposing this proposal.
On the first point, alumni were disheartened to hear President Keefe’s remarks to Student Government last week, where he referred to alumni who disagree with the decisions made by UD’s administration, and so elect not to donate, as “sinful” individuals whom he would “punch […] in the nose.”
Setting aside such divisive rhetoric, as it would be fruitless to respond in kind, Keefe isn’t wrong: the alumni can do more. But leadership is needed.
President Keefe blamed alumni for poor giving rates. We disagree.
For starters, our Facebook group revealed an undeniable trend of mismanagement of alumni records. Alumni from every era expressed frustration at being contacted infrequently, if at all.
Moreover, in the midst of the discussion about the “Adult Degree Completion Program,” hundreds of UD alumni chose to couple their opposition to it with financial gifts — proof one can love their alma mater, rain or shine, while still voicing legitimate concerns. And just last weekend, UD alumni, on their own initiative, ran a successful peer-to-peer fundraising project to boost giving alumni rates.
If non-professional fundraisers can move the needle in the right direction in this way with shoestring efforts and on their own time, why can’t UD’s full-time professional fundraisers do more as well?
Regarding appeals to social justice, not every institution in Dallas should try to do every good thing that might be done for others. Forming the minds and hearts of UD students already does immeasurable good for the domestic, local and universal church. Using our faith’s teachings as a political cudgel to mark those who oppose the president’s new idea as uncharitable is simply disingenuous and, frankly, neither social nor just.
The proposed degree appears to be designed for students who have neither the time nor the desire to start our rigorous undergraduate program from the beginning. In all charity, how could we ask them to, if they have already sacrificed to put a few years into another kind of undergraduate degree already?
Watering down our Core (aka Core Lite) is not the answer. Instead, we should pursue strategies to attract more adults to our full program, so they can earn the dignity and ability to help others that comes with finishing this challenging race.
Keefe has asked us to stop telling him something is a “bad idea” and instead continue a dialogue. UD faculty and alumni are the last people I would ever accuse of thoughtlessness. The faculty practice what they teach, and their students do the same: ideas are to be examined carefully. Keefe already reversed his hasty decision to remove Dean Joshua Parens, and for that he deserves thanks. Let not the same hastiness propel UD over the cliff of permanent institutional reprogramming in the name of product development.
Take it from alumni: our product is great. It’s time to come together and sell it.