Deepening Faculty Engagement in Mission

By Kari Kloos

Since joining Regis University in 2005, I have been deeply impressed with the Jesuits’ hospitality, hope, and trust. When I arrived, I knew little about the Jesuits or what set their universities apart among Catholic universities. To my surprise, they graciously welcomed me, inviting new faculty members not to just contribute to their academic work but to be full partners in mission.

My new faculty peers shared a commitment to mission and to key Jesuit values like cura personalis and being “for and with others.” Yet after a few years our learning hit a plateau, and I sought out ways to learn more about Jesuit identity. Around that time, Regis was laying the foundation for a new university wide, three-year development program for new faculty, and I helped to create and implement it. This innovative program sought to address this problem: How do we support and encourage faculty to deepen their engagement with the Jesuit Catholic mission?

A new approach: Regis’s three-year new faculty development program

Launched in 2015, Regis’s new faculty development program took existing college programs and wove them into the fabric of shared experiences for all new faculty. Briefly, the Regis program includes four main components:

  • An overnight retreat on Jesuit Catholic mission for new faculty;

  • A monthly learning community during the first year;

  • A week-long Ignatian Summer Institute at the end of the first year;

  • A second Ignatian Summer Institute and attending an AJCU conference in years two and three.

I share here what we have learned, not to suggest that others replicate the program but to generate conversation about how AJCU schools deepen faculty engagement in ways appropriate to their distinctive contexts.

Building community

Photo featured courtesy of  Regis University .

Photo featured courtesy of Regis University.

It is not a coincidence that our first event for new faculty is a retreat. Many of them might not have yet unpacked their book boxes in their new offices when we ask them to travel 70 miles south of Denver to a Franciscan retreat center in Colorado Springs. Through spending 24 hours away from our ordinary business, we share meals, discuss readings and brief presentations, enjoy a beautiful natural setting, and share our own stories of what brought us to Regis. In short, we start building a community, accompanied by a group of veteran “Ignatian Faculty Fellows,” who share their experiences of mission from their diverse disciplines and backgrounds. Although the retreat features important content, equally important is the opportunity to build relationships where we can talk about our hopes, challenges, frustrations, and questions in a shared sense of mission.

Repeat encounters

Single events can be inspiring but too often do not have a significant impact on our daily work. Repetition of key encounters is vital. One of the distinctive features of the AJCU’s transformative Ignatian Colleagues Program, for instance, is the chance to continue conversation, in person or virtually, over 18 months. Similarly, the Regis new faculty program proceeds with monthly, then yearly, repeat encounters that extend faculty conversation.

First-year faculty gather monthly to discuss their deepening understanding of mission as their teaching, research, and service unfold. Through these regular encounters, faculty members are often willing to share personal challenges around workload and work-life balance in discussing, for example, how cura personalis applies to ourselves. They often become even more honest and vulnerable through sharing personal beliefs and ideals around spirituality and experiences of injustice. This first year concludes with a workshop on Ignatian pedagogy, supporting integration of mission into courses with a full year’s perspective on teaching at Regis.

This intensive first-year program provides a foundation in the characteristics of Jesuit higher education. To extend faculty engagement beyond their cohorts, faculty attend a second workshop on Ignatian identity and an AJCU conference in their second and third years. Community, conversation, and applying mission to one’s daily work again are the focus.

Integration and Recognition

Photo courtesy of  Regis University .

Photo courtesy of Regis University.

One of the more unusual features of our program is its inclusion in the faculty handbooks both as a requirement for new full-time faculty and among the criteria for promotion and tenure in all three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. With the latter, faculty can “count” their considerable commitment to the three-year program and receive institutional recognition for their mission contributions.

This allows for two kinds of integration: structural, into the experience and evaluation of all faculty members, and individual, into the service, teaching, and/or scholarship of each new faculty member. The goal is to create a culture both where all faculty are active partners in mission and where mission is not merely a slogan but lives in course design, pedagogy, research agendas, and governance of the faculty.

We have been asked: How did you get this requirement into the handbook? It would not have been possible without hospitality and trust extended by a previous generation of mission leaders, especially the former Vice President for Mission, Tom Reynolds. In years prior to launching the new faculty development program, Doctor Reynolds had created a number of smaller development programs for faculty, such as week-long college workshops and a new university faculty retreat.

During a university strategic planning process in 2013-14, two new colleges were created, and with them arose the need for more consistent faculty development programs. A task force on Jesuit and Catholic mission proposed this three-year program initiative for all new faculty, consulting with the college deans. Further, Doctor Reynolds approached the faculty handbook committees, listening to their concerns, asking for help in drafting language for the handbooks, and accepting faculty revisions. With this consultative process, the faculty voted to approve the handbook changes. In short, faculty approved the program requirement because most of the program components already existed; past faculty participants spoke highly of their value; and they recognized that the programs did not impose on their academic freedom.

Ignatian spirituality in a secular age

One important challenge is how to encourage and support a religiously, culturally diverse faculty, valued as they are, in understanding Ignatian spiritualty as the matrix of Jesuit higher education. By its nature, spirituality is experiential, involving one’s deepest sense of reality. In addition, any particular spirituality involves language and assumptions that others may not share. It can never be imposed, only explained and invited.

While I cannot claim answers, I have found several strategies helpful. I avoid dumbing down Ignatian concepts and instead present historical and contemporary sources along with questions like:

  • What did Ignatius mean by “God”?

  • How do people today understand transcendence and divine mystery compared to Ignatius’ 16th-century worldview?

  • How might others approach this concept in their own language?

  • Above all, how do our stories engage these concepts in very different contexts?

Faculty imagination and response are always greater than mine alone. By creating a vibrant faculty community, these stories keep growing.

Kari Kloos is assistant vice president for mission and professor of religious studies at Regis University. A theologian of early Christianity, her current research focuses on spirituality in higher education.