Declining number of Jesuits prompts debate over policy
THE SANTA CLARA
October 29, 2015
As the number of men joining the Jesuit Order has drastically dwindled over the past few decades, Santa Clara may have to break its oldest tradition.
The University could one day allow an unordained person, commonly referred to as a layperson, to serve as its president.
Out of 28 schools within the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, 11 currently have lay people serving as presidents. In 2001, Georgetown University became the first Jesuit institution to appoint a layperson, John J. DeGioia, as president.
The discussion to allow a layperson to serve as president at Santa Clara has been an ongoing one.
In 2003, a task force on gender climate was created and submitted a report to the University Coordinating Committee, which advocated that the university open up all administrative positions to women, including the presidency.
Per Article VII of the current university bylaws, the president of the university must be a member of the Society of Jesus, a distinguishment that excludes all women.
“Although the policy requiring that the university presidency be held by a Jesuit is quite understandable at a Jesuit institution, and although Santa Clara has been very well served by its Jesuit presidents, the exclusion of women from the university’s highest office sends the wrong signal to women and places an unnecessary constraint on the university’s ability to search for the best candidates to lead the institution,” the report reads.
Economics professor Bill Sundstrom, who is active on faculty committees and has been involved in various university task forces for at least 20 years, said that the gender issue is quite important, in part for symbolic reasons, but also because it restricts the pool of talent from which the university can draw from.
According to Nineteen Sixty-four, a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of Jesuits in the United States has steadily declined over the last three decades.
The most recent data from 2013 cited the total number of Jesuits in the United States as being only 2,395, compared to 4,823 in 1988 when the data begins.
“The job is really the CEO of a major institution with lots of employees and lots of complex issues and so I think the university, just from a recruiting point of view – moving forward with a diminishing pool of Jesuits to select from – would be prudent to sort of have a wider array of talent to look for,” Sundstrom said.
History professor Nancy Unger also cited the diminishing pool of qualified Jesuits as a reason to open the position to lay people, adding that there may be unintended consequences for maintaining the current rule.
“The next president that we get, if he would be a Jesuit, I think that person almost immediately comes in under a cloud of suspicion,” she said. “Is this person really the best person we could get or is this the best Jesuit we could get?”
For a layman or laywoman to be able to serve as university president, it would require an amendment to the university bylaws. According to John Ottoboni, the university’s general counsel, three quarters of the 46 trustees would have to pass the amendment. Ottoboni said that an amendment to allow a layperson to serve as president is not currently being discussed, nor does he anticipate that it will be in the near future since President Michael Engh, S.J., was renewed for a new term by the board of trustees in January of this year.
Another part of this discussion is the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. It is one of only two schools of theology in the United States, the only other one being the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. Established in 1969, the school was independent up until 2009 when it became affiliated as a graduate school of Santa Clara.
“It gives out these – the ecclesiastical degrees – and so it has a direct relationship with the Holy Church. And so in that case, in cases where there’s a pontifical faculty, there has been a precedent that the president has to be a member – has to be a priest or has to be a member of a religious organization,” said Fr. Michael Zampelli, S.J., the rector of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community.
Upon closer inspection of statutes of the Jesuit School of Theology, which were approved by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education in 2009, Fr. Tom Massaro, S.J., the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology, said that only two of the four officials listed in the document are required to be Jesuits.
The chancellor and vice chancellor, both Jesuits residing in Rome and Washington, D.C. respectively, are required to be members of the Society of Jesus, but nowhere is it stated that the same is required of the president of the university or the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology.
“It doesn’t say that I have to be a Jesuit and it doesn’t say that the president has to be a Jesuit,” Massaro said. “The people who made these statutes years ago have anticipated the possibility that the President of Santa Clara might not be a Jesuit and they’ve actually structured their board of directors membership criteria to account for that fact.”
Though this issue appears to be at a standstill, mostly due to Engh’s recent renewal, Sundstrom said this is the time to be discussing it.
“I think that’s a good time to be talking about it,” he said. “Not when you’re thinking about getting a new president, but when things are kind of calm and we can sort of think about whether it’s desirable to make a change.”
Contact Jenni Sigl at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.