Almost immediately upon taking up his position at our beloved university, President Hibbs began to highlight a quintessential feature of the University of Dallas: friendship. In doing so he put his finger on the pulse of UD as an educational community. The word “friendship” does not show up in our mission statement, and yet it is the hidden strength that marks our community—and that is so often remarked upon by those who visit here.
Indeed, at the core of the teaching, learning and living that takes place at UD stands friendship: between professors and students, in their shared pursuit of truth, knowledge and wisdom; between students, in their shared experience of our challenging curriculum and of a campus life informed by an ethos of freedom for virtue; and between staff, students and faculty, in their common commitment to sustaining our university through mutual respect, hard work and cooperation.
Each one of us is blessed to participate in this unique, friendship-permeated educational community. We need only turn on the TV or read the news to discover that not all—indeed, very few—institutions of higher learning enjoy the unified dedication to fulfilling a university’s mission that we do here.
Our rigorous and “communifying” curriculum plays no small role in creating this environment, and the same can be said about the affability and good humor of students, staff and faculty, the sensible rules that regulate student life, the (mostly!) innocent fun and leisure with which students infuse communal living and the elevating and healing presence of the Transcendent through liturgy and the sacraments. All these factors contribute to the friendship-permeated educational community of which all of us are blessed to be part.
We cannot take the blessing of such a community for granted. During these contentious times in particular, such a community is a blessing to be preserved and nurtured with prudence and fortitude.
Our prudence must be rooted in clear-eyed recognition of the distinctive and precious good that our university is as well as a grateful appreciation of the effort, dedication and difficulties involved in maintaining it.
Our fortitude must be characterized by a willingness not to be stirred easily by the transient winds of the current cultural climate (especially in politics and higher education), nor to be drawn in by the tempting, often divisive discourse of social media. Our way forward, then, should be shaped by an objective accounting of the achievement that our community is as well as the affirmation that this achievement has been and will always have to be the fruit of our adherence to a mission that stands above the tempestuous cultural whims of the moment.
Not coincidentally, the prudence and fortitude required to sustain our unique community are also required to sustain the friendship that permeates it. In this case, our prudence must be rooted in a clear-eyed recognition of the distinctive good that each human person is as essentially “spiritual and physical, rational and free,” as our mission asserts. Additionally, this must be accompanied with a grateful appreciation of the effort, dedication and difficulties involved in arriving at that understanding of human personhood and living in accord with it.
Our fortitude must be marked by a willingness not to be stirred easily by categorizations of human persons foisted upon us by the current climate of politics and higher education, nor to be drawn in by the temptation to deal with one another in superficial ways that fall short of recognizing each other as the fully spiritual and physical being, and as the fully rational and free moral agent, that each human person is. Exercising such prudence and fortitude right now will be a tall task, to be sure, but I believe that we are up to it.
Early in Book II of the Confessions, Augustine recollects his stormy youth when he delighted so much “to love and to be loved.” He laments his failure to live up to the measure that ought to have informed his personal relationships, that is, the measure that ought to have informed his loving and being loved. “But,” he confesses, “the measure from soul all the way to soul was not held by me, even though this is the luminous path of friendship.” Yes, the path of friendship must reach from soul all the way to soul. To settle for less, to shorten this path in any way, ultimately dooms human relationships to failure.
If UD is to maintain itself as a friendship-permeated educational community, each of us must strive with prudence and fortitude to act in accord with this true measure of friendship, to walk along this luminous path that reaches from soul all the way to soul. At UD, our relationships must begin and end in the recognition of the full reality of the human person as spiritual and physical, rational and free, and we must refuse to stop anywhere short of the souls of human persons.
This does not entail that our relationships with one another have to be color-blind, sex-blind, disability-blind or the like, but it does entail that as a friendship-based community, we must be wary of either concentrating on such features or categorizing persons according to such features. Doing so would diminish not only those categorized, but even more those who categorize. This, in turn, would diminish our community’s potential for developing and sustaining friendships.
Year after year at UD, in the classroom, on the mall, during office hours and so on, I have witnessed our community’s distinctive ability to live up to the measure of friendship and to walk far along its luminous path. This is owing, no doubt, to the rich understanding of the human person articulated in our mission, which subtly informs the way we view one another. It is owing also to the prudence and fortitude that students, staff and faculty have exercised in denying deflationary accounts of the person that tend to result in labeling or “acronymizing” human beings, which has led to the unfriendly, deeply politicized condition that marks so many institutions of higher learning. In these tumultuous times, we would do well to avoid whatever might start us in that direction.
It is my sincere hope—indeed, it has been my daily prayer the last few months in particular—that we will continue to exercise such prudence and fortitude. These virtues will be demanded of each of us in the coming years in order to steer clear of the unhappy situations in which other colleges and universities find themselves and to sustain the unique, friendship-permeated educational community that we are.