Sanford’s Arete Lecture Series: Cultivating virtue and excellence

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President Sanford’s new lecture series will highlight the mission of UD. Photo by Mary Kate Leonard.

President Sanford’s lecture series, titled “Arete: Renewing Our Culture through Educational Excellence, officially launched on Sept. 30, 2021. The series is meant to shed light on the mission of the University of Dallas, while also discussing the importance of education and the role it plays in our culture. It has been taking place at both the local and national level, including events in California, Washington D.C. and the UD campus in Irving.

Kris Muñoz Vetter, vice president for advancement, said, “UD has this unique mission and the president wants to make sure that we’re sharing what that mission is with a much broader audience.”

The series is one of many lectures and discussions with featured guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds. Sanford described the series: “We’re engaged in a series of reflections with a number of local individuals, not just in the academy, but in the arts and business, and in many other walks of life, thinking about the necessary role of education.”

Describing his motivation behind the idea for this lecture series, Sanford said, “I’ve been thinking about how to educate well for a long time, been thinking about challenges we have in our culture and trying to find a way to bring to light ways in which when we are engaged in serious education, we’re actually building culture.”

As the title suggests, the overarching topic of this series is the role of education in culture. “This is a timely topic for a number of reasons,” said Sanford. “I don’t think I have to persuade you that our culture is indeed in need of some renewal. One sign of this is the rather poor performance we have in the public square when it comes to the ability to engage in rational discourse.”

As to why current debates and discourses are so devoid of logic and rationality, Sanford says that he believes that the present culture has lost a true understanding of the nature and purpose of humanity. 

The return to rationality in debate and virtue in culture is through the liberal education. Sanford said: “A serious liberal education enables us to reflect upon the questions that are animated around the fundamental question that has to do with what [human] nature is. Through the kind of careful study that is part and parcel to the University of Dallas experience, we learn how to argue without quarreling. We learn to test ourselves and we learn to test others.” 

When asked what he finds most valuable about the series, Sanford replied that it is “the level of rigor and the wealth of experience and wisdom that the speakers are bringing to bear on these issues.”

Behind the scenes for this series is the Office of University Advancement. Speaking of the role Advancement plays in this lecture series, Vetter said, “[Our role is] helping to support the president in putting these events on, inviting our alumni, donors, parents in those communities, but also other people who believe in the value of a Catholic liberal arts education, and helping them hear more about the message of what UD’s doing in that space.”

Vetter’s team is the public relations for this lecture series, while also taking care of fundraising and engagement. Vetter is also working closely with marketing and communications. 

Vetter said, “[What] our office is really preparing to do, especially with President Sanford moving into the presidency this last year, is how do we get the message out about the university’s mission and his vision to become the premier Catholic liberal arts university in the country.”

This series and its scope would not be possible without generous investors and donors,  who include several members of the university’s board of trustees, both current and former.

 “We’re very deeply grateful to those who invested in the series,” said Vetter. “It’s really important for us to send that message because they’re making it possible for us to share the mission of the university with a much broader audience.”

Sanford’s inauguration ushered in a new era for UD and the “Arete” lecture series is a part of this era. On whether or not the series will continue after the current academic year, Sanford said: “I do [plan on continuing this lecture series] at least for another year and then it may morph into other things. ‘Arete’ means virtue or excellence and ultimately, we’re striving to cultivate both the intellectual and the moral virtues.”

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