Historic Summit between Presidents of Baylor, Yeshiva and Catholic University Focuses on ‘State of Higher Education and the Calling of Faith-based Universities’

  • (L to R) Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr discussed the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities Feb 4 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • (L to R) Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr discussed the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities Feb 4 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • (L to R) Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr discussed the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities Feb 4 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • (L to R) Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor, introduced the distinguished panel of Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • Catholic University President John Garvey. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • Yeshiva University President Richard Joel. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • (L to R) A light moment between Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr as they discussed the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities Feb 4 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • (L to R) Catholic University President John Garvey, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel and Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr discussed the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities Feb 4 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
  • Tommye Lou Davis, Baylor's vice president for constituent engagement and chief of staff to President Starr, welcomed guests to the event. (Robert Rogers/Baylor Marketing and Communications)
Feb. 5, 2015

Contact: Lori Fogleman, 254-710-6275
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 5, 2015) – Before an overflow crowd gathered inside (and outside) the National Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow Room, Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr, Catholic University of America President John Garvey and Yeshiva University President Richard Joel discussed a number of issues facing higher education and specifically faith-based universities, including government ratings systems, academic freedom and the value of a faith-based education.

The event was part of President Starr’s On Topic series of conversations about critical issues facing the United States and the world.

“Here we are on the eve of the National Prayer Breakfast, and we thought, what a propitious occasion, as Mr. Lincoln would say, ‘How fitting and proper,’ that as part of the extended festivities surrounding the National Prayer Breakfast that we pause here in this venerable place where first freedoms rank very highly – the first freedoms of a political democracy – to reflect on the state of higher education and the calling of faith-based universities,” President Starr said. “I think we all agree that education is more than a transmission belt, it’s more than attending classes and doing lab work. It's all about the students. Without the students, a university is just a research center.”

(Below is video from the program.)

Approximately 150 people listened to the conversation and then posed questions to the leaders of the historic and prominent academic institutions that each maintain a serious faith commitment. Baylor is Texas’s oldest continually operating university and the world’s largest Baptist university. Catholic University in D.C. is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. Yeshiva, based in New York City, is the oldest and most comprehensive educational institution under Jewish auspices in America.

The audience included congressional staff members, think-tank organizations, university alumni, faculty and students, as well as journalists from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Catholic Standard, Baptist News Global, Washington Jewish Week and the Christian Post. Also in attendance was retired Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who recently was named holder of The Jerry and Susie Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor.

Ennobling and Enabling Students

Among the topics discussed by the presidents were new criteria, particularly student outcomes such as job skills and earnings, that the U.S. Department of Education announced it will use to rate universities.

President Joel spoke about how Yeshiva “ennobles and enables” its students to matter in the world.

“I think it comes to the initial conceptualization of the worth of a human and whether we are simply the highest animals in the food chain or whether there is something noble about us or sacred. Do we teach them that they are supposed to do more than graze, make money and go shopping?” he asked.

“I understand that in America, unless you choose to go to a faith-based or mission-driven university, you want to go somewhere where you don't have to buy into an orthodoxy. It seems to me that we have gone a little too far to divorce that sense of struggling with the essence of the human being and saying that it is too dangerous in our pluralistic society to deal with it, so just deal with arts and science,” President Joel said.

The presidents also addressed academic freedom, with President Garvey making a point about the importance of academic freedom for individual professors but also the need to talk about academic freedom for institutions to determine their own goals, missions and visions.

A Distinctive Role

The distinctive role of faith-based institutions – especially in residential life, an area in which the three universities are intentional about helping students develop physically, mentally and spiritually healthy ways – also generated conversation among the presidents.

“I am fond of saying that the point of education is to help our students advance in wisdom and virtue,” President Garvey said. “These are both things that we do, and they are connected to one another in a surprising way.” Paraphrasing Aristotle, Garvey said when we are educating people, virtue makes us aim at the right mark and wisdom tells us how to choose the proper means.

“What he means is when we are learning about subjects like the history of capitalism, or the economy, or the environment or mercantilism, we cannot make proper judgments about these without having an ethical foundation to make our judgments. Our judgments will be better or worse depending on what kind of people we are,” President Garvey said.

Tommye Lou Davis, Baylor’s vice president for constituent engagement and chief of staff to President Starr, welcomed guests to the event. Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor, introduced the distinguished panel.

“It was a deeply ecumenical event that brought together presidents from three different religious traditions and, in that sense, for a pluralistic conversation, but one that is deeply concerned about what we all share, where our traditions overlap, and that is attempting to address from particular perspectives the most important questions regarding higher education and its role in American life today,” Hibbs said.

On Topic

President Starr’s past “On Topic” guests have included author, financier and alternative energy proponent T. Boone Pickens; former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; constitutional law scholar and Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar; former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell; writer and social critic Os Guinness; Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz; journalist and political commentator Juan Williams; and philanthropists Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy of “The Blind Side.”

Upcoming “On Topic” guests include former Rep. Wolf on March 18 and former Vermont Sen. Joe Lieberman on April 28. Both events will be held on the Baylor campus in Waco, Texas.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

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