Quality of Life, UIC,
and the Catholic Contribution
By Albert Schorsch, III,
Associate Dean, UIC College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs
7/30/96, revised 7/20/00
Copyright 1996, 2000, Albert Schorsch, III, All Rights Reserved
At a downtown meeting to plan how Chicagoís universities
could help our local grade and high schools get connected to computer resources
like the Internet a few years ago, a very dedicated professor from a
prestigious university stated that, although the purpose of his university was
to educate world leaders in their fields, his institution found it valuable to
help children in local K-12 schools get resources--if it did not interfere with
their own university students studies. This great university was
experimenting with what for them was a new concept, the assignment of graduate
student assistants to community research and service.
It was a happy moment for me, not only because a student community service and research model pioneered by UIC two decades ago was being adopted by one of the worlds great universities, but because that university also concluded that such a program wouldnít interfere with a student becoming a world leader in their field!
Afterward, I struggled to express, in just so many commonsense words, the mission of the
But then reality hit me, a contradiction. It is easier for a professor or professional at UIC to accept the proposition that UIC exists to improve our quality of life, than it is for a new undergraduate student lost in a big classroom or waiting in line to straighten out a snafu to accept it. A UIC professor or professional, especially when involved in one of our UIC Great Cities projects, knows that were helping to lead the world, really, in what a university can do for its community and state, whether in education, in public health, in community computing, in economic development, in computer imaging, in the integrated teaching of math and science, in information management, in urban planning, economics, and administration, in public access to information through libraries and information systems, in languages and philosophy--the list goes on. For UIC faculty or professional staff, this is a very stimulating and exciting place, with now an international reputation for research and public service. From the top-down point of view, UIC is a great institution.
What about from the bottom-up? How can faculty better share this excitement and experience with our students? We have to acknowledge that people and things do still get lost at UIC. We have a big bureaucracy to contend with. Not everyone speaks the same language. Not everyone, because many of our students, and some faculty, are concerned with their day jobs, has time--to relax, to socialize, to have fun, or to study as much as they would like. Because UIC is now a world access point for Third World students seeking the chance to jump to the
The missing dimension in every bureaucracy is the personal dimension. And here is where our religious traditions can really contribute to the solution to the intractable problem of impersonal bureaucracy. For the Catholic Christian, the person is more than matter, but also spirit. Our Catholic, Christian personalist tradition passes down from Jesus through saints like Benedict, Francis of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila--and put succinctly, surprise, by the philosopher Immanuel Kant--to the dictum of treating a person not as an object, but as a subject. Each of us can begin this change through the sometimes radical act of treating each person we meet at UIC, not as a thing, but as a person. That person sitting behind a desk shuffling papers reacts quite differently when we first say, Good morning, instead of Iíve got a problem. If we first recognize a person as a person, many good things can happen.
Faculty and staff must practice the discipline of realizing that behind each piece of paper or e-mail directed their way represents a human being deserving of respect and challenge. We faculty must make a constant and greater effort to include students and their points of view in our decisions and plans. Recently, a newspaper story contained the confession of a dean elsewhere that he had not read student evaluations of faculty for years! We have a responsibility, as faculty and staff, to pay attention to students, even if their opinions sit on a silent pile of papers on our desks. On the other hand, veteran staff, who carefully prepare guidebooks and important notices which can direct students to important resources and deadlines, often complain that these lay unread on students desks as well, even when personally mailed to the students homes. Reading each others messages is a two-way street. Communication takes work, and faculty, staff, and students can improve our UIC quality of life by doing the grunt work of better communication.
So here are a few personalist suggestions for changing the human ecology of UIC, which can be useful to students and staff alike.
Despite our ďmedievalĒ reputation among some intellectuals, Catholicism has been a leader in the human rights revolution which has shaped the later part of this century, and has much to say about life influenced by technology, urbanization, poverty, and nationalism. These influences are very much a part of life at UIC. As a Catholic, or as a person exploring Catholicism, you have a special opportunity to contribute to the quality of life at UIC. I promise to do my part, and encourage you to do yours!
Albert Schorsch, III, an urban planner, works as associate dean in the