Towards Strategic Planning at Sanata Dharma University

[Address:  Seminar for University Officials on “The Identity and Role of Jesuit Universities in Contemporary Southeast Asia,” Sanata Dharma University, Jogjakarta, Indonesia, 20 July 2017.]

It is a great honor for me to be here with you this evening.  When I received the invitation from Fr. Bagus Laksana, S.J., I accepted because I read of your desire to develop a five-year strategic plan, and because of your wish to understand better “the identity and role that a Jesuit university like Sanata Dharma can and should play in the context of a developing country like Indonesia as well as in the context of Southeast Asia.” – “including the interaction with Muslim communities.”

In my eighteen years of being a President of a Jesuit University in the Philippines, I thought certainly I would have something to share about the identity and role of a Jesuit university in social change.  Because my last six years were spent leading the Ateneo de Davao University in Mindanao, I thought I would have something to say about interaction with Muslim communities.

So I accepted the invitation.

After my acceptance, the “terms of reference” for this seminar were sent to me.  These included the economy, politics and culture of particular countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, East Timor, and even the Philippines.  The election of our President Rodrigo Duterte is described as “a shocking development of democracy.”  But why should it be “shocking” that democracy elect the choice of the overwhelming majority instead of the well-behaved darlings of the oligarchy?   You are interested in the nexus between demographic changes, migration and cultural changes, the knowledge-based society, the survival of local communities, the younger generation in Indonesia and how foreign cultures from the West, from Korea and Japan impact on the youth, the huge problem of religion in southeast Asia vs. multiple ethnicities vs. religious identities – or diversities – and its impact on political life, including the phenomenon of radicalism.  You are interested in a description of the dynamics of the Southeast Asian region, the role Sanata Dharma as a Jesuit university can play here – particularly considering the knowledge-based society.

Honestly, I was so intimidated by the terms of reference, I wanted to take back my acceptance.  I am not an Asia Pacific expert.  But even if I were, I do not think the issues involved could be appropriately addressed in the course of a two-day seminar, and much less in the course of this one-hour talk.

What I would like to do in this talk therefore is very modest:  simply to give you some points for conversation during your strategic planning.  Some points will have to deal with the idea of the Jesuit university, the mission and vision of Sanata Dharma University, and the importance of clarifying your mission and vision for strategic planning and quality assurance in the ASEAN context.  Other points will have to consider areas that the Jesuit university may address qua Jesuit university.  My vantage point will be the animation of a Jesuit university rather than a scholarly discussion, admitting however at the outset that the context of my experience is the largely Catholic country of the Philippines.  Because of this context certain things may be more possible for us than they are to you.  Yet, considering them may help clarify what you do.

The idea of a Jesuit University

The university must clarify for itself what it means to be a Jesuit university. This has to be a presupposition of your strategic planning. If the presupposition is not clear, it is the first task of the strategic planning exercise.  What is the university’s Jesuit identity?  Therefore, from this identity, what is its mission?  If the identity is to be meaningful, and not just a poster on the wall for accreditors, it must have the buy-in of those who actually live the identity of the university and carry out its mission.  This is why the participation of all in the strategic planning is a practical imperative.

I have used the document “Jesuits and University Life” from General Congregation (GC) 34 to help my university understand what the Jesuit university is.  The Jesuit university is first a noun.  But it is as importantly an adjective.

It is first a university. It is a community (“universitas”) of scholars and teachers who come together in academic freedom in search and service of truth.  “The noun guarantees a commitment to the fundamental autonomy, integrity and honesty of a university, precisely as a university: a place of serene and open search for and discussion of the truth.  It also points to the mission proper to every university – its dedication to research, teaching and the various forms of service that correspond to its cultural mission – as the indispensable horizon and context for a genuine preservation, renewal and communication of knowledge and human values.”[1]

I have always found it helpful to remind those of my university community of this fundamental identity and general mission locked in the noun, university.  Ultimately they co-operate in the autonomous service of truth, not of salaries, university rankings, compliance with government regulations, university profits and the like.  Their calling is much bigger than just implementing standard lesson plans or doing what the authorities say.  It is in fulfilling this calling that they should find their deepest joy, purpose and self-fulfillment.

But we speak not only of a noun.  As strongly, we speak of an adjective.  We speak of a Jesuit university.  In a further specification of its identity and general humanistic mission as university, the Jesuit university participates in the Jesuit identity and mission.  “We affirm the adjective, ‘Jesuit,’ no less strongly,” GC 34 insists. “This presupposes the authentic participation in our basic Jesuit identity and mission of any university calling itself Jesuit.”[2] In its academic freedom, the university fundamentally determines for itself an inter-relational identity with the Jesuits and an appropriation of the Jesuit mission.  During GC 34, the latter was defined to be the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, and interreligious dialogue.  As we will see later, the Jesuit mission has since been further specified.

In practice, I have experienced no resistance to this university appropriation of the Jesuit mission, nor to the catholicity of the university that it implies.  Precisely because of the problem set that we face in our Philippine society, it has been inspiring for our academicians to consider and then personally appropriate the Jesuit mission in such as addressing challenges of belief and non-belief in a secular society, seeking to understand the meaning of the common good as demanded by social justice, addressing the cultural diversity of our indigenous peoples, and entering into a dialogue of life with our Filipino Muslim communities.  As a Catholic university, we have been encouraged by the academic freedom guaranteed by Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, even as we affirm the profound privilege as a university of presiding over the tension of, on the one hand, knowing Jesus as the Truth and yet, on the other hand, in our classrooms, our research, our disciplines, and our service to the community, of having to search for the truth.[3]

How you are a Jesuit university here in Sanata Dharma is a matter you must clarify as a university community in academic freedom.  In a university this is something that cannot be imposed.  At Ateneo de Davao, we addressed this in my first five-day workshop of university representatives when I became President.  We asked all, “Are you able to express your passion at the Ateneo de Davao?  If so, how?  If not, why not?”  Out of those passionate exchanges, we evolved together the Vision and Mission statement that we now use to guide us in all that we do.  It is from this statement that we win the collaboration and cooperation of all in in our various programs.  It is from this statement that we determine our academic, research and extension programs.  It is from this statement that we organize our university and allocate its resources.   It is from this vision and mission statement that we generate our strategic plan.

In our vision statement it is clear, “The Ateneo de Davao is a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino university.”  We are a noun, university.  But it is qualified by an adjective, Jesuit.

Where the university organization, operation and strategic plan must flow out of its vision and mission statement and you are interested in your role as a Jesuit university in the challenges of southeast Asia today, part of your conversation may be your vision and mission statement itself.  When I googled this I found under vision, “Being an excellent and humanistic truth-seeker for the realization of a more dignified society”, and under your mission, I found statements pertinent to “a holistic education system”, “a university academic community which respects academic freedom and scientific autonomy,” and institutional outcomes such as “enlightenment which sharpens the society’s mind,” “publication,” “the cooperation with various partners who have common vision and concerns”.  But cannot all of these things be said of any well-functioning university?  Considering the challenging terms of reference, however, of your seminar and strategic planning and your reference to yourself as a Jesuit university, your conversation may include a possible revision of the vision and mission to better articulate what is Jesuit about your mission.  Otherwise, the Jesuit identity and mission that drives your reflections today and gives it its urgency may seem extraneous to your mission and vision.

Normally the vision statement describes the identity of the institution.  It says what the noun is.  If stated rightly, the vision statement seldom changes.  It may be good if in your vision statement the noun “university” might appear.  If Jesuit is an adjective that is inseparable from the university you are, the adjective also belongs in the mission statement.

The mission statement is an articulation of what the Jesuit University expects to achieve in the next five to fifteen years.  This may include elements pertinent to your being university as such.  Or it may include imperatives emerging from your being a Jesuit university.  For this strategic planning session, you are focused on the latter.

Your vision and mission, including your Jesuit mission, will then determine the goals you set in strategic planning, your key result areas, your performance indicators, and your time lines.

Your strategic plan, of course, will further determine the terms of your internal quality assurance system.  The ASEAN quality assurance framework, to which we all subscribe, stresses today the importance of internal quality assurance and the internal quality assurance system.  What quality is involves the evidenced consistency between the institutional activities and the institution’s vision and mission.

Areas that the Jesuit University Ought to Address qua Jesuit

In academic freedom, the University appropriates the Jesuit mission.  We have mentioned above how GC 34 articulated this mission in terms of faith, justice, culture, and inter-religious dialogue.[4]  The most recent GC 36 issued “Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice” (Decree 1).  It speaks of a “call to share God’s work of reconciliation in our broken world” (21) and breaks this down into three: the call for reconciliation with God, the call for reconciliation with humanity, the call for reconciliation with creation.  Under each of these calls, I will suggest points for conversation in your strategic planning:

The Call for Reconciliation with God.

Under this call, GC 36 quotes Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and minds of all who encounter Jesus.”  Here, the Jesuit university may consider its mission to evangelize: to introduce students and staff to the Gospel and the person of Jesus Christ, and to guide them to the fullness of life that Jesus brings.  This includes the meaningful celebration of the Eucharist and sacraments, and a responsive campus ministry.  In the university, this evangelization must not be confused with proselytisation.  The Federation of Asian Bishops Conference speaks of evangelisation in term of dialogue.  It is a joyful sharing of truth, even as it remains open to truth in those who may not accept this truth.  Trusting in the Spirit, it fully respects and promotes religious freedom.

Under this call, GC 36 mentions Ignatian spirituality.  The Jesuit university may consider its mission to foster spirituality in a materialistic world, and especially to promote the treasures of Ignatian spirituality through the Spiritual Exercises.  At Ateneo de Davao, the silent retreat is a much appreciated experience, and the Spiritual Exercises are guided by lay retreat guides trained from among faculty and staff.   Lectures and treatises on spirituality are worthless if there are no visible witnesses to profound spirituality in the university.  Such witnesses are certainly not confined to Jesuits.

Under this call, GC 36, mentions secularism, a pluralistic world, believers abandoning the Church and the importance of theological and scriptural studies.  Here the Jesuit university may consider a mission to respond the challenge of religion in today’s world, the problems of religion vs. ideology, secularity vs. secularism, ascetism vs radicalism, martyrdom, jihad, violence and war.  There is a mission to deep theology that is not confined to clerics and religious, but also forms our laypersons.  But, as we have learned in the Philippines, there is also a mission to deeper understandings of our history, the injustices that have occurred in history but are roundly ignored, cultures and how some cultures have been damaged by errors in our evangelization, and the like.

The Call to Reconciliation with Humanity

Under this call, GC 36 mentions an array of social problems: the suffering of the poor, the excluded and the marginalized, the displacement of peoples, the growth of inequality in our world, human rights, the destruction of the environment, fundamentalism, ethnic-religious-political conflicts as a source of violence, distorted religious convictions.

Here the Jesuit university may consider its mission to promote social justice.  Social justice must be promoted in the classroom, in the formative program of co- or extra-curricular activities, in the university’s research agenda, in the outreach program of the university.  It is important that all our faculty and staff are sensitized to the problems of social injustice in our respective societies, and if Sanata Dharma is addressing this on the scale of southeast Asia, it must do so with corresponding instruction and research.  In our countries we have been speaking much recently of the ASEAN integration.  ASEAN seeks to integrate our countries in terms of political and security arrangements, the economy, and socio and cultural achievements.  Of these three, it is the economy that gets the most attention, whose presuppositions are neo-liberal and consumption driven.  A university mission that addresses social justice of the southeast Asian scale may address these presuppositions in the ASEAN economic model and critique them for their toll on the environment and for the segments of the population that they exclude. It should also address the social and cultural aspects of the ASEAN integration.  Between Brunei Darusalaam and Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, East Timor and Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore how does the ASEAN integration bring about a more socially just region?  The problems of course are magnified if we consider the other countries which belong to our Asia Pacific Conference like Japan, China and Taiwan.

The promotion of social justice poses a task particularly appropriate for the university with its multiple disciplines, that is, the articulation of the common good.  On the level of the state the common good is that set of conditions where under a given set of historical condition all human beings without exception can flourish as human beings.[5]  People with different interests and needs opt to cooperate to achieve the common good.  The Jesuit university is a privileged platform within which people enlightened by various academic disciplines might discuss and negotiate their respective roles in achieving the common good.  It is where the needs of the laborer can be weighed against the needs of the investor, where the needs of the economy can be weighed against the needs of the environment, where the urgent needs of the present generation can be weighed against the needs of future generations.  From such discussions imperatives based on the common good might be articulated, then advocated towards the appropriate articulation of public policy.  The complexity increases of course when one moves from the consideration of the common good of a nation to consideration of the common good of a region such as ASEAN or even that of ASIA PACIFIC.  How do we achieve the common good as we tackle the problem of transnational radicalism and its resultant violence and even war, as China engages in both economic and military expansionism, while the Philippines tackles the related scourges of drugs, human trafficking and gun smuggling and North Korea defends itself by taunting a nuclear war?

Which social problems a Jesuit university actually chooses to address may be the result of communal discernment and strategic planning within the university.  Sanata Dharma may as an Indonesian university and not merely as a university in Indonesia wish to address the problem of religious diversity and violent extremism in the light of the Pancasila, and may focus research on appreciating why the vast majority of Indonesians have not embraced Daesh, despite its persuasive narratives and many bloody attempts to win over the Muslim majority in Indonesia.  Part of this may be the unequivocal positions government and religious authorities have taken against Daesh, but part has also been the effective action of communities against Daesh attempting to infiltrate and hijack mosques.  It may in this mission develop multi-disciplinary counter narratives based on the theoretical incompatibility of Daesh with Pancasila, or based on the emotionally powerful stories of those who have fallen victim to Daesh terrorism.[6]

By way of the Jesuit mission to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, Ateneo de Davao has established six years ago an Al Qalam Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Southeast Asia, has set up a BS in Islamic Studies focusing on political economy and featuring courses in Islamic finance, and has participated actively in promoting a solution to injustices perpetrated against the Muslims of Mindanao over centuries.  It has supported the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro, and just before coming here I witnessed the formal turn-over by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission of the newly-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law to President Duterte.

The Call for Reconciliation with Creation

GC 35 and 36 added the care for the environment to the Jesuit mission under a call for Reconciliation with Creation.  It leans on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si! calling for “a radical solution” that understands the interconnectedness between the unbridled consumption of the global community, the production mechanisms necessary o support that consumption, the destructive impact on the environment, and the suffering of the excluded and the poor.

Hence, the Jesuit university may consider its mission to preserve and protect the environment.  It does so foundationally in the instruction and formation of the university community in the need to develop a culture of care for the environment that first transforms the community, e.g., in separating waste, minimizing use of fossil fuels, conserving the use of fresh water, and the like.

But it also does so in engaging in the research necessary to militate against institutions that legally destroy the environment, and then in taking public stands against them.  Ateneo de Davao University has publicly opposed large-scale open-pit mining in Mindanao and in the Philippines.  In doing so it has lost benefactors, and gained enemies.  It has also championed green spaces in the Land-Use Plan of the City of Davao.

The manners in which Jesuit universities can appropriate the Jesuit mission towards reconciliation and transformation of society are myriad, but clearly GC 36 makes both part of the education apostolate: “Our educational apostolates at all levels , and our centers for communication and social research, should help form men and women committed to reconciliation and able to confront obstacles to reconciliation a propose solutions.  The educational apostolate should be strengthened to help in the transformation of our cultures and societies” (14).

Need for More Collaboration and Networking Among Jesuit Universities

In the service of this threefold reconciliation, networking and collaboration among our Jesuit schools is necessary.  Global problems are best tackled by a global organization;  regional  challenges are best tackled by a regional organization.  This was clear in the Mexico and Melbourne meetings of Jesuit schools worldwide, and the consistent resolution of our Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific (AJCU-AP).  However, the obstacles to networking and collaboration have been daunting: the tendency of the universities to get stuck in their own sets of local challenges and problems, the difficulty of communication across different cultures and languages using English that is not a first language to most, the insufficient time available to the universities in AJCU-AP meeting to solve organization and communications problems in collaboration, the lack of funds to support common action.   That, however, may now be different under the leadership of the current AJCU-AP Chair, your Dr. Yohanes Eka Priyatma.

The Jesuit University’s Most Important Contribution to Society

Let me close with a simple thought:  in the end, the most important contribution of the Jesuit University to society is its graduate.  The graduate must be one whom the university has formed uniquely precisely by applying its vision and mission to him or her.  He or she is not only a professional, he is a self-appreciating human being taking responsibility for a valued human society. This is the context of the graduate’s “higher learning”; he or she has learned how to think critically and speak insightfully, benefitting from higher humane and professional learning.  From being in a Jesuit university, he or she has appropriated something of the Jesuit mission, the commitment to be a servant of reconciliation with God, with humanity and with creation.  In a society where the relationship with God is either ignored or skewed, where social structures are unfeeling and inhumane, and where creation is roundly abused, the graduate is cast in a leadership role that is shaped precisely because of the university’s vision and mission impacting personally on him or her.  That leader will serve the faith, promote the common good, be sensitive to culture, work with people of diverse religions and convictions, and protect and promote the environment.  Forming that leader in every graduate also belongs to the mission of Sanata Dharma that is not only a university but a Jesuit university.



[1] GC 34, Decree 17, Jesuits and University Life, no. 6.

[2] ibid., no 7.

[3] cf. John Paul II, Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities (Vatican, 1990), Nos.12-14. GC 34 presupposes this doctrine.  The Jesuit university is necessarily also a Catholic university. “A Catholic University’s privileged task is to unite existentially by intellectual effort two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the font of truth” (No. 1).  In the Philippines through the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and the Phoenix House Educational Foundation, there is an effort to quality check the “catholicity” of our Catholic schools through the Philippine Catholic School Standards.  The instrument for basic education is complete and in use.  The instrument for higher education is a work in progress.  It would be a challenge for Jesuit schools and universities to create such an instrument.

[4] cf. GC 34, Decrees 1-5.  This includes “Servants of Christ’s Mission,” “Our Mission and Justice,” “Our Mission and Culture,” and “Our Mision and Interreligious Dialogue.”

[5] Cf. Patrick Riordan, A Grammar of the Common Good: How to Make Sense of Globalisation, (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008)

[6] cf. Thomas Koruth Samuel, Redicalisation in Southeast Asia: A selected Case Study of Daesh in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines  (Malaysia: Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counbter-Terrorism, 2016), pp 27-58.


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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