Numerous reports in The Intelligencer and the News-Register this past week described the imminent end of a vital and much appreciated institution: Wheeling Jesuit University. For many of us who labored at the school from one to 40 years, sadness is the main emotion. From its inception, the school labored with periodic economic struggles, but none as threatening as those of the past two decades. That it would become a victim of the recent struggles caused by high tuition costs and questions about the benefits of such education is not surprising. Smaller liberal arts colleges, many of which have religious ties, have been particularly victimized by these trends.
In the report released from President Mihalyo’s office, the goal of these changes is “realigning its academic programs to better equip students for the 21st Century.” Programs chosen were “in health sciences, business administration and education,” presumably the more lucrative and most attractive programs to lure students to WJU. However, the Provincial of the Maryland Province, while acknowledging the need for such changes to achieve a vibrant future, nonetheless concluded that “this will not allow our Jesuit affiliation to continue beyond the current academic year.” Is that not tantamount to “damning with faint praise?” That statement effectively means the death of Wheeling JESUIT on May 4, 2019.
What is even more troubling is the reasoning spewing forth from President Mihalyo in defense of these moves. He claims that “we will be able to maintain a Jesuit presence and influence and continue our rich Catholic tradition.” Really? By destroying the entire liberal arts programs, by firing virtually all full-time faculty in those departments? Who will be the educators dealing with complex issues in medical, business and social ethics? Who will strive to foster critical thinking about this rich Catholic tradition in classes required of everyone by the core curriculum? Or has that also disappeared?
The president’s memo indicated that the Jesuit presence would continue to “offer Mass and Catholic (sic) campus ministry” as well as retreats. Does one not find that at West Liberty as well? As for the Ignatian “ideals of service and Catholic teachings on social justice, these will be continued by the Appalachian Institute!” Really! While doing a fair amount of good over the years, this Institute has not lived up to President Mihalyo’s glowing description of its achievements. All participation in the Institute’s offerings is purely freely chosen and reaches at best a relatively small number of students. Is this truly enough to see the “new” college as maintaining the Jesuit presence and the rich Catholic tradition? I think not.
The loser in this will be our country. College education’s goals are now seen to be widely focused on job-preparation. How will I become a better lawyer, doctor … etc.? The key question being severely overlooked in this realignment is: how will I define and become a better PERSON! In destroying that primary purpose of a religious, liberal arts college education, Wheeling Jesuit was indeed effectively killed. Farewell, beloved Wheeling Jesuit University.
Normand Paulhus, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Dean Emeritus
Wheeling Jesuit University