Letters from London: As Paris returns to normal life
Reflections from a Jesuit President on Sabbatical
November 17, 2015
As we zip by the French countryside I find myself reflecting on the conversations I had in Paris this morning and about what I had observed as I walked from one American University building to another.
I am not very familiar with the 7th having, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, studiously avoided the rue de Grenelle for 35 years. But as I walked around today I was conscious of so many children in the neighborhood. I just don’t think of Paris and kids. But there was the young dad coaching his preschooler on his scooter and about three infants in strollers with their apprentice moms who had completely bundled them up out of an abundance of caution against the slight nip in the November air.
I thought about how these Parisians were coming back to a normal life. They were out there with their very vulnerable children living and going about their business. Not naive about or indifferent to what had happened on Friday, but simply asserting and recognizing that they can and will move forward.
My day started with a meeting with Dr. Celeste Schenck, president of the American University of Paris. Dr. Schenck is a warm and compassionate person. Although she would not use the Jesuit term cura personalis, it was evident to me that the university she directs is indeed committed to developing its students as whole persons—not just intellectually but also ethically and as global citizens poised for leadership.
As the leader of an American “style” university (like Loyola in that its primary focus is the personalized instruction of undergraduates) in Paris, Dr. Schenck has no presidential colleagues immediately at hand who understand the challenges of directing such an institution. So I think it was helpful for her to have another president with a similar educational philosophy to discuss the decisions to be made at AUP now and in the near future.
Dr. Schenck and I agree that the situation in Paris is stable and that the likelihood of harm coming to our students as a result of terrorism is negligible. We agree it is important for AUP to continue its academic programs and protect the integrity of its course offerings this semester.
Already in Brussels! That was fast!
We also talked about dealing with the concerns of parents and the challenge of managing their anxieties during times of crisis. It is often the case that some parents are more anxious than their students. This was certainly the case at Loyola when Baltimore experienced a brief period of civil unrest last April. This is understandable, because parents will walk through fire to protect their children and because, as adults, we have a more acute sense of the dangers out in the world. On account of this some parents are eager to have their children home from Paris now just as some parents urged me to close the University last spring.
But here’s the thing: We cannot protect our students from all the danger and unpleasantness in the world. They have to learn how to live and negotiate in a risky world. That is why Dr. Schenck and I feel it is important for the students to remain and complete their course work.
As I told our parents last spring, I would immediately send our students home if I had any belief that they were in harm’s way. But my best information told me that Loyola was all right, and we were. I feel the same about the current situation in Paris (and I by no means equate the vicious actions of the terrorists to what we experienced in Baltimore).
It is the case that every student is different and some face unique challenges. Each family must decide what is right for their student, and I will respect those decisions (which does not mean abandoning established academic regulations and the integrity of our degrees). I have never underestimated the talent and the resilience of our students—and I have not been disappointed.
As president at Loyola, I have never let the University’s finances or my personal reputation get in way of protecting our students and doing what I believe is in their best educational and personal interests. I am proud of our record during my decade as president of Loyola. We have always acted swiftly to safeguard our students when necessary but have also supported and challenged them to do their best in circumstances that are unsettling and less than ideal.
I next meet with our students in Leuven. As you know, there is a strong Belgian connection to the terrorist attacks and this has been upsetting for these students as well.
The Catholic University at Leuven dates from 1425. It is one of the jewels of the Christian West. Its library was destroyed by the Germans in World War One (those are very tough words for an academic and college president to ponder). The University’s library was rebuilt in the 1920s largely through the generosity of American Catholics. I hope this Belgian-American collaboration to reassert the absolute centrality of scholarship in service to faith and to justice will inspire our current young scholars!
Two posts I would like to share with you:
“Fearing Fear Itself” (The New York Times)
The Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland, is on sabbatical during the Fall 2015 semester, re-engaging with his academic scholarship during his appointment as a visiting scholar at Heythrop College. During his time abroad, he will share occasional reflections.