What Santa Clara Does Better than the Ivy League
Thomas G. Plante
You’ve likely had the experience of going on vacation only to return home having new insights into the pros and cons of your regular daily life. For example, perhaps you come to appreciate the weather, food, and friends that you might have taken for granted. Or perhaps you develop new insights into the downside of your home while away.
I recently returned from an academic-term sabbatical leave where I was hosted by the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. During my sabbatical, I worked on a new book project with my wife (who was also the co-author) titled, Graduating with Honor: Best Practices to Promote Ethics Development in College Students. There was a method to my madness in that my son is a college sophomore at Dartmouth. In addition to being a visiting professor working on my book and teaching in the college’s medical school, I was able to see him regularly, meet many of his friends and professors, and attend his many track meets as well. I was in heaven!
Dartmouth is a fairly small, very selective, Ivy League college, located in rural northern New Hampshire. It has been in operation since 1769 and is secular without any religious affiliation. Being immersed in academic life there I realized many valuable lessons about Catholic higher education in general and about Santa Clara in particular. Here are my top three.
- We Do Hospitality Right - Part of the Jesuit, Catholic higher education charism is that we do hospitality and take it very seriously. Part of this comes from the notion that we try to treat everyone as if they were Christ himself and see the divine within all. So, our campuses are very friendly, welcoming, and hospitable. We also take our food and wine seriously.
- Education Is Fundamentally Value Based - Catholic higher education takes seriously our mission and our values. We filter all that we do through the lens of competence, conscience, and compassion. We want our students to become leaders who seek to make the world more humane, just, and sustainable. These values animate and inform everything, and one feels it in every nook and cranny on campus. Attend campus events, poke around the website, and talk to faculty, staff, and students, and these values are palpable. They are organizing and centering principles.
- Reflection and Discernment Matters - I often joke that, at Santa Clara, if we are not reflecting then we must be discerning and if we aren’t discerning then we must be reflecting. Being thoughtful, mindful, and intentional about our place in the world and what we are called to do using our gifts to match with the world’s needs are critical to our approach to higher education. Ethical decision making is very much a part of this process as well and informs everything we do and say.
After interviewing many Dartmouth students for my book project I found them to be very smart and talented, yet, in general, they don’t have the tools and context that Santa Clara students do when it comes to reflection, discernment, ethical decision making, and the fundamental values to make the world better. For Dartmouth faculty and staff, hospitality and value-based mission is lacking in comparison to Santa Clara. I often joked with my Dartmouth faculty colleagues that I was there to help evangelize their secular and "Godless" school on the merits of Catholic higher education. They’d laugh heartily, acknowledge the great value of what we do at Santa Clara, and then say, “Good luck with that!”