SCS Dean Kelly Otter and Vice Dean for Education and Faculty Affairs Shenita Ray have published a book chapter in Moving Horizontally: The New Dimensions of At Scale Learning in the time of COVID-19 about how the School has relied upon Jesuit values to guide its decision-making during the global pandemic. The chapter entitled, “Strategic Leadership and Partnerships to Scale a Remote Teaching Infrastructure Rooted in Jesuit Values,” speaks to the way that SCS administrative and faculty leadership have created a “thriving organization in the midst of uncertainty” by applying two key Jesuit values: cura personalis (care of the person) and cura apostolica (care of the work or institution). The text is an informative and inspiring insight to the degree that Georgetown’s mission and values have been intentionally embedded in SCS strategy and operations in recent years.
Dean Otter and Vice Dean Ray introduce the chapter with the many shared and differentiated challenges facing SCS in particular and Georgetown as a whole. This respect for the unique context frames the SCS approach and is consistent with the first step in the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (more on the IPP and teaching in the Jesuit style here in a prior Mission in Motion post). SCS’s considerable experience in creating, developing, and growing online programs made it a valuable institutional partner when the pandemic forced a quick transition to remote coursework in March 2020. The School focused on a three-pronged approach, writes Otter and Ray: “Creating a remote course template faculty could use to rapidly develop, deploy, and transition a face-to-face course to a remote class; restructuring and training existing internal personnel to support the transition for all full- and part-time faculty (400+); and establishing a faculty development program to provide weekly and one-on-one instruction on online pedagogy.”
The complexities of scaling this effort to meet the needs of students and faculty required significant collaboration and coordination of many units across SCS. These efforts were undertaken after coalescing around shared principles for the endeavor, like adaptability as conditions and exigent factors shifted, and shared goals, like raising awareness and changing the language across the instructional community about the distinctions among online, remote, and in-person courses substituted with synchronous tools. With a framework in place for strategic decision-making, Dean Otter and Vice Dean Ray point to the way that applying Jesuit values explicitly in this work reinforced a sense of community in teaching and learning when the virtual learning environment had the potential to foster significant dislocation, reduced educational quality, and a sense of disconnection.
The chapter goes on to outline strategic implications revealed by COVID-19, presenting a series of challenges that the pandemic surfaced and the way that SCS addressed these challenges. Of note, Otter and Ray point out that strengthening the School’s focus on integration of Jesuit values helped guide these efforts and ensured the University’s commitment to academic excellence: “Faculty and staff recognized that relying on ethics and values such as cura personalis and cura apostolica as the foundation for identifying and analyzing alternatives to solve unprecedented challenges in extraordinary times, would help to assure the quality of the School’s collective decision-making processes.”
It is with hope that the chapter ends. COVID-19 has helped SCS sharpen its approaches to key elements of decision-making and ongoing strategy formation. With “renewed vision for teaching and learning,” Dean Otter and Vice Dean Ray offer some key lessons about how an intentional incorporation of Jesuit values in working, teaching, and learning can help address the myriad challenges facing our communities and the world. This chapter reminds me of several themes from Jesuit history of education. In his chapter “Mission and the Early Jesuits” in the book Saints or Devils Incarnate? Studies in Jesuit History, renowned historian Fr. John O’ Malley writes that the educational strategy of the religious order has always been ministerial and about boldly serving mission in spite of challenging circumstances:
“First, the schools became an instrument of ministry that the Jesuits carried with them as they set out to new places in Europe or elsewhere, and in that way the geographic sense of ‘mission’ continued to be fulfilled. Second, the schools were themselves a great innovation for a religious order, and hence can be understood as going out to meet a challenge rather than sitting passively on the sidelines. Constitutive of the idea of ‘mission’ was ‘seeking out,’ as Paul had done. The schools were simply one more instance of the inventive proliferation of new ministries in the sixteenth century that the Jesuits promoted and exemplified – signaling a great break with the highly formalized and ritualized service offered by the local clergy. This was all part of being ‘apostolic.’”
I see some parallels in the inspiration for Jesuit schools in its early period and the way that SCS has innovated to flexibly and adaptably meet the working, teaching, and learning needs arising from COVID-19. As this chapter makes clear, SCS has gone out to meet great challenges in the midst of uncertainty by relying on Georgetown’s foundational values and mission.