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Integrate social justice with University business partners. (Controversy).

ON THE SURFACE, Wheeling Jesuit University may not look very different from the many other excellent liberal arts colleges that enrich the landscape of American higher education. We all combine good professional and scientific education with a solid humanities core curriculum, and we all seek to educate men and women who are professionally competent and wise. But Wheeling Jesuit University is one of only 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the country, and the only institution of higher education in the country with "Jesuit" in its name. As such, our mission and identity is linked to a 450-year-old tradition of Jesuit higher education. Our mission is to prepare future leaders who are not only professionally competent and wise, but also virtuous, possessed of discerning spirits and good hearts, committed and resourceful in their efforts to make the world a little bit better, especially for the least advantaged among us. I believe it means that we must take steps as an institution to remember both our mission and identity when forging business relationships.

During the late fall of 2000, one of our student organizations, Justice and Peace in Our Times (JAPOT), raised the question of whether we should continue our business partnership with our campus food-service provider, because the company manages for-profit prisons. The question was raised within the specific context of the commitment of the Jesuit religious order and the institutions it sponsors to the mission of the service of faith, integrated with the promotion of social justice, with a "preferential option for the poor."

The Jesuit tradition in higher education insists upon combining a rigorous, up-to-date understanding of each discipline with the durable insights of the humanities, so that graduates may be effective in the world, but also able to critically evaluate their choices from a vantage point of greater depth, wisdom, and conscience. This tradition also insists upon a commitment to the human dignity of each person, and a consideration of how the least advantaged members of society are affected by the decisions of the powerful. To our students, this provider's involvement in for-profit prisons ran counter to our mission and identity.

To research the issues in question and to advise me as to a just course for the University, I appointed a campuswide committee to focus especially on the degree of the company's openness about the extent of its prison-related activities, on the human rights implications of operating prisons for profit, and on the company's level of understanding of and compliance with the Catholic labor tradition. After much study and reflection, I announced in May 2002 that we could not continue with our food-service provider as a major business partner without incurring some complicity in what is now a global prison-industrial complex. My reasons included:

* The rapid expansion of the company's global prison operations. Its wholly owned U.K. subsidiary opened one new prison and won contracts for three more in 2001. Its wholly owned Australian subsidiary opened a new prison in 2001.

* Through contributions to the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporations in which this company had a significant share of ownership helped shape the laws under which ever more Americans spend ever more time in prisons. Some of the laws, such as the "three strikes" statutes, have been criticized by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as inappropriate.

* The decisions in many states to adopt the harsher sentencing laws that have driven the rapid, extensive prison expansions, and contributed to the eightfold increase in the number of people held in prisons and jails in the U.S. over the past 30 years. The use of prisons as a preferred response to non-violent crime is poor stewardship of resources, and is a preferential option against the poor.

* Additionally, I concluded, from documents I reviewed, that the company's posture towards collective bargaining left much to be desired from the perspective of the Catholic labor tradition.

For those reasons, I concluded that to continue our relationship with the food-service provider would be inconsistent with the call of our tradition to have a special concern for and solidarity with the poor. At the time of our decision, the company fed students at more than 900 campuses. We are one of only a handful of universities in the country that have publicly announced that we replaced the provider because of its prison role. We are not a perfect institution, and, like many other colleges and universities, face other issues dovetailing with social justice. Institutions of higher learning will find that it is often easier to talk about social justice than to make the hard decisions that are required to bring it about. University communities must work together--both internally and externally--for a more mature integration of justice in their missions and with vendors.

Dr. George F. Lundy, S.J., President, Wheeling Jesuit University
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Author:Lundy, George F.
Publication:University Business
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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