Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., Ph.D. on Philosophy, Higher Education, and Pope Francis ☆

Daniel-HendricksonPhilosophy and Education alumnus Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., Ph.D. (2012) was recently named as the new President of Creighton University. In the following interview with Timothy Ignaffo, Philosophy and Education PhD student, he characterizes his views on philosophy, the role of a university president, and the Jesuit leadership of Pope Francis.

Why did you choose Philosophy of Education?

My interest in philosophy intensified while studying at Fordham University in a graduate program that reads and discusses the paradigm shifts of western philosophy. Columbia University’s program in Philosophy and Education, in my experience, shares that perspective, and complements it, but it does so with a special focus on the role of education and its desire to keep questioning what it means flourish as a person, as well as a community. Moreover, as a member of the Jesuits, I am personally and professionally invested in a renaissance humanist pedagogy that, through the study of history, literature, philosophy, theology, for instance, hopes to transform people and places. Philosophy of Education allows me to keep assessing the Jesuit educational tradition that I work and live within, and placing it in perspective with other educational ideals.

Tell us about your PhD research?

Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age was published in 2007, my first year in doctoral studies in Columbia University’s Philosophy and Education program, and after reading it, there was no turning back. Taylor’s historical overview represents my philosophical training, and his interest in the idea of “fullness” instantly captivated me. For Taylor, a sense of fullness in our lives is essential, and it occurs in relational ways. My work considers a set of corresponding relationships, representing specific pedagogies of fullness inherent to higher education in the Jesuit tradition. I discuss how pedagogies of study, solidarity, and grace orient and open us within, to others, and toward an Other.

When did you decide you wanted to be a Professor? Was this decision related to your decision to become a Jesuit?

When I was completing graduate studies in philosophy at Fordham University as a Jesuit scholastic, I was hoping to receive a three-year teaching assignment at a Jesuit college or university. This time in my formation as a Jesuit is referred to as “regency,” a stage of active work that precedes graduate studies in theology. My mind was on fire with philosophy, and I sought permission to interview for an adjunct position at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska so I could share it with others. I knew too that in teaching philosophy, I would continue learning it.

All Jesuits are required to study philosophy. In a traditional sense, and with Thomistic appreciation, philosophy is regarded as a foundation for theology, which is also a disciplinary requisite for most Jesuits. But philosophy also provides the language and tools of analysis – of self, of society, and so on. As Jesuits embrace a sense of mission that promotes expressions of faith and actions of social justice, how could philosophy not be studied? Also, the prayer of Jesuit spirituality is not monastic or cloistered, but evaluative. It demands awareness. The twentieth century philosopher Bernard Lonergan, in his work Insight (1957), represents a philosophical schema of Jesuit spirituality. Pierre Hadot’s work on ancient spiritual exercises is also helpful.

What did, and what do you enjoy most about being a Professor?

The study of philosophy demands a personal investment from students, one that questions the basic beliefs and values of our lives. Presenting those questions to others is such a privilege – it lets students wonder who they are, what they believe, how they can grow, where they can go. The philosophical ideas about our lives and the world around us can be affirming, threatening, exciting, or inciting. Such questions have to be asked, and the questions they evoke have to be appreciated, and doing this in an undergraduate context is so timely. I enjoy the surprise of ideas, and their relationships to the personal, cultural, social, political, and religious dimensions of our lives.

Will you continue to teach classes as President of Creighton?

As president of Creighton University, I hope to teach a philosophy course, and the Chair of the department already indicated her interest, too! Being president of an institution of higher learning is increasingly more complex, but if I can effectively balance my time and priorities, and if the department is open to the idea, I would love to return to the classrooms of Creighton. I have already asked to assume one of the sections of the first year experience, an impressive Ratio Studiorum Program course that introduces new students to academic demands and services of the university.

How did you come to the decision to go into Higher Ed Administration?

When I was invited to consider a senior administrative job at Marquette University, I was offered a chance to work within the big picture of the place, assessing and participating in the institutional decisions of academic programs and pursuits, as well as working with various personnel and positions that make them happen. Though full-time, I was able to keep teaching, so I taught a philosophy of education course most semesters. I also accepted the responsibilities of co-directing a service scholarship program. The program’s seminars routinely place me in conversation with some of Marquette’s best students, and it lets me work with a seasoned colleague who teaches me so much to begin with.

What is the hardest part about having a senior administrative role at a university, and being a leader in higher education?

Many challenges come to mind. In particular, the daily work of higher education is costly, and the competition for resources and support is fierce. And yet, it allows us to build better relationships with local communities, alumni, local and national sponsors, and more, as well as to tell the compelling stories of our institutions. I am excited to share with others both the history and the hopes of Creighton University, and to invite others to join us as we strive toward new heights.

I imagine a University President has to juggle and balance a great deal of tasks and responsibilities, what is your administrative philosophy? What will be your primary focus, what do you hope to achieve at Creighton?

In my current job, I am regarded as collegial, thoughtful, and decisive. And I am often thanked for good listening. If I can hold on to these skills, and grow in them, they will be helpful. I have some budding interests for what I might focus on in my role as president, but I would first like to learn more about the current issues and interests of faculty, staff, and students. As I complete projects at one place, and begin saying goodbye, I am simultaneously in transition to a new place, connecting with former colleagues and meeting new ones, and much of this transition program is about listening and asking. I will say this, though, that being tried and tested by what’s different – by otherness, or alterity – of persons, places, and perspectives – of the foreign, or the afar – has been hugely impactful in my life, both as a student and a practitioner of Jesuit higher education.

What hopes and concerns do you have for the future of public education, higher education, and Jesuit education, and where do you see Philosophers and Philosophers of Education playing a role?

Higher education in the United States is in a paradigm shift. Relationships to the state and federal governments, funding sources and philanthropy, national and global economies, research opportunities, tuition and fees, basic operational costs on campuses, evolving student services, technology, global outreach, the role of the humanities – all these and other realities have changed dramatically in recent years. Some of the differences are exciting and even enticing, others less so. Consider the humanities, for instance. They are fundament of Jesuit higher education, and yet they are undervalued, and oftentimes insufficiently assessed. We may see how they foster good writing, reading, arguing, and analyzing, but I think we fail to recognize how they cultivate imagination, empathy, and intuition. Philosophers of all kinds alone can show us how important it is to explore, query, and converse about the gritty realities of our own lives and lives of others. When the chapter on higher education of our time is written, I hope it manifests our Jesuit higher education and other traditions of liberal arts higher education fought to preserve and creatively renew programs in the humanities.

Pope Francis has been described as something of a “Rock Star Pope” who has spoken out on socioeconomic issues, in particular on wealth inequality, and is expected to address the United Nations about climate change. As a President of a Jesuit University, are you inspired by the Pope’s work and message to tackle these issues? How can a University help to combat wealth inequality and climate change?

Pope Francis is a tremendous inspiration to so many people. That he is a Jesuit is fascinating, and already telling. He reveals an orientation of thoughtfulness and awareness, which is very Jesuit – his sense of self; his empathy and compassion for others; his friendliness to the ordinary realities of our lives; his playfulness; his prayerfulness. He’s wonderfully grounded, and he’s graced. His interest in the poor is directly related to Jesuit higher educational ideals for graduates to be women and men for others. The sense of service is renaissance humanist, and points back to Cicero and other civic-minded individuals of antiquity. But it is also Christian, and the practice of service comes right from the Gospel preferential option for the poor. In that regard, he’s also focusing on issues that compromise human flourishing, such as those you name – wealth inequality and climate change. Universities – and Jesuit ones in particular – should be focused on such issues, and many already are.

What is particularly wonderful of Pope Francis, however, is his style of leadership. I think he’s giving us a new paradigm of governance – certainly in the Church, but also in Church-related projects, such as Catholic and Jesuit universities. His leadership is courageous, informed, intentional, and so on, but it is also personal. Francis is wonderfully human, and that’s an important part of his global leadership.