What a Good University Does
We are getting ready for commencement this week. Students are taking and faculty are grading final exams. By the middle of next week, students will be off to summer work, or missions, or camps, or study-travel tours--or taking more classes to catch up or get ahead. The pace will change, and most will take mental rest for a few days. Believe it or not, the last month of a university year is hectic, demanding, and exhausting. Saturday, May 9, about 400 students--bachelor's and master's candidates will walk across the stage to the cheers of their friends and families.
This last few weeks at Fresno Pacific we have had a host of events in the traditional undergraduate program--the annual honors convocation, a research fair, dinners or deserts for many departments, senior thesis presentations, musical performances, senior recitals, the mainstage play, championship tournaments. Everything comes to its conclusion and is celebrated. It is a wonderful time of the year, and the calendar is busy. We all wish we could get to more events than we can possibly attend.
It struck me this week that we had more than the usual events. Our students and faculty were engaged as well with political and social issues and hosted events to educate themselves and the broader public. One such event was the "Encouraging Care of Creation" conference to discuss sustainable agriculture, natural habitats, water shortages and air pollution. The faculty organizers invited speakers from throughout the region--specialists in technical fields and activists. A student group, Democracy Matters, hosted a showing of two films, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Fahrenhype 9/11 (including free food--always encourages student attendance). The students seem to have wanted discussion, and debate. I couldn't be there, but wish I could have heard the conversation. We had discussed how to understand the problem of terrorism in the modern world the same week in a class I teach on the history of political theory. Some of the students involved were in that class.
And another student group, the Sunbird Conservatives, organized a day long conference attended by about 300, on the state of conservatism in California and in the US. Somehow they managed to get two congressman, local politicians, a radio personality, alumni, faculty members, and the nationally known commentator and classicist Victor Davis Hanson to speak or participate (truth in advertising--I gave a brief talk and serve as an advisor to the club). Along with some cheering and gnashing of teeth over the loss of conservative representation as a result the last election, there was a good deal of debate and disagreement about what conservatives think, why they have trouble agreeing, what is happening in the world today and what might be done about it.
All of these events took place on the FPU campus. Students and professors, along with the public, listened, considered, discussed and debated. They put their energies behind their passions. They carried what they are working on in their courses out into the world they live in and will someday lead. They discussed ideas and needs using the intellectual tools and ethical sensitivities they have gained in their science, history, biblical studies, and literature and social science courses. FPU does not and should not, I believe, take official political positions, but neither should it ignore the issues of the day. Here three groups--students and professors-- came together, planned, organized, and hosted events to continue the discussion of ideas about the state of our region, cities, churches and nation. They did this out of their sense of personal calling and as an offering to the public. All three were gifts to the university community.
This is what a good university does.