Address to the Community

Oct. 30, 2019

Thank you for coming today. We have some questions to answer as a community, and my goal is to address them thoughtfully this afternoon in order to help us to move forward. We have begun what I believe are the steps to get us the answers we are seeking, and I want to share with you where we stand today.

First, I want to stress to you all that our primary goal is the physical and emotional well-being of our students. They are the reason that we are here working so diligently together, and we must ensure that we are providing a safe and welcoming living and learning environment for all of our students. I know you share this goal, and I have heard your repeated concern for our students. At the same time, we are also called to respect one another and to ensure that each member of our faculty and staff can work in safety.

The allegations I have heard over the past year are deeply distressing, and I grieve that such behavior could occur on our campus. Trust between faculty, staff and students is vital to the unique Jesuit, liberal arts education that we seek to provide our students. Any breach of trust that puts our students’ safety at risk is an affront to our community and our values.

Former students have come forward in the past few months with reports and information. They have shared their stories with us, and a few have asked to avail themselves of the counseling that we have offered. I have spoken with some personally, and I have offered to meet with anyone who has suffered misconduct by our faculty or staff after our internal process is complete. Their insights are proving helpful as we redesign our Title IX office and provide added resources.

I am grateful to those who have shared their stories in the hopes of making Holy Cross a better place. We will continue to follow up on any specific report that we receive, and we will honor the truths of our alumni who come forward, even while we acknowledge that those accused are innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to a full and fair process.  

As we continue to investigate and adjudicate instances of misconduct and work on our policies and processes to prevent future misconduct, I hear your questions about the past. How was misbehavior able to occur on our campus? Were there people who were aware of questionable behavior who didn’t speak up? And most importantly, if so, why? These are important questions that speak to our culture. We must get to the bottom of these questions, and reckon with our past. Only with this understanding and acknowledgement can we move toward healing.

To do so, I fully embrace a comprehensive investigation that will answer these questions.

Of course, there are many details that we need to figure out with regards to the investigation, but I hear you, and I agree with you that the investigation must be thorough and impartial, and that the investigator must be laser-focused on finding the truth.

As I shared in my email early last week, we will discern together how to conduct such an investigation. I have already spoken to the Speaker of the Faculty, Professor Miles Cahill, and the Chair of the ad hoc Committee on Faculty Sexual Misconduct, Professor Vickie Langohr. We have agreed that a small committee of faculty and administrators will work together to develop recommendations on goals and focus of the investigation, the process of choosing of an investigator and how to communicate findings. They will then share their recommendations with Rick Patterson, Chairman of the Board, and me. We will use these recommendations to choose a path and then move ahead with this investigation. I have asked Bill Phelan, who is the Chair of the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees, to coordinate this group.

Miles and Vickie will work with the AGC and the faculty on a process for choosing 3 faculty representatives to this committee and I will be naming 3 administrators to the group in the coming days. I am assuming that the committee will consult appropriately with students. Further, this committee will be provided with experienced outside counsel to help them understand the legal landscape where applicable.

This will be a cooperative effort. We will all have to give a little bit, and Rick and I will be as open as we possibly can. If there are areas where we can’t agree, we will address them. But we must bring this work to conclusion as quickly as possible so that the investigation can move forward.

The past year has been a difficult one for many. I know that it hasn’t been easy for those who have reported experiences of misconduct, or for other members of our community who live with these questions. This has gone on long enough, and we need to take the steps that we all agree we need to take with a strong sense of urgency so that we can resolve our questions, address any issues that may arise as a result, and get on with the other important work of the College.

I also want to update you on the investigation that I announced on October 8 into the recent report by an alumna that she had discussed a concern with her then class dean and her allegation that the College’s response at the time and subsequently may not have been appropriate. The Executive Committee of our Board of Trustees is working with an external investigator on this particular investigation, which is separate from the broader one that I have just outlined. The Executive Committee is made up of five members of the Board of Trustees, including the Board Chair and Vice Chair, two other trustees and me. I have recused myself from the Executive Committee’s work on the process of this investigation, and from a discussion of any questions that might arise during this investigation. This investigation has now begun. When finished, the investigator will prepare a report of the work undertaken and present that to the Executive Committee at the conclusion of the investigation. The Executive Committee will receive that report and determine how to proceed from there, including appropriate communication to the campus community.

In the meantime, I recognize that the division of responsibilities between the Provost role and that of the Acting Dean of the College has raised some questions for some of you. We are working to resolves those questions at this time.

As you know, this past weekend was Family Weekend. I spoke with many parents and students during the course of the last few days, especially first year students and families, who with great consistency described how moved they are with the experience they have had in their two short months at Holy Cross. They love their classes, they are being challenged intellectually by faculty, they are settling in to campus life, and finding shared commitments to engage one another and serve our campus and local community. This is who we are. My commitment is to ensure that we are all able to focus on this important work and to provide a transformational experience that allows our students to leave Holy Cross and have a significant impact on our world.

Personal Reflections

Often during the past 18 months I have reflected on my own experience as a college student during the tumultuous late 60s and early 70s, seeking insight and wisdom from what was learned from that challenging time. Then, like now, there was great social upheaval focused on civil rights, liberation movements of all kinds, the sexual revolution, the reality of war, drug addiction, the migration of peoples, interreligious dialogue and the excitement of space exploration. Our campus speakers the last two nights, Dr. Tony Jack, the inaugural Ogretta McNeil emerging scholar speaker, and Dr. Scott Parazynski, physician, astronaut, and tech innovator, reminded me of both the hopes and struggles of those times and how, in different ways, these issues, and many others continue to influence the present. Now, of course, we hope that our perspective has broadened and our understanding and experience have helped us to move much further along with an expanded consciousness. Our understanding of the issues and their causes has led to new ways of reporting, responding and acting. And yet, we recognize that growth is still incremental and requires a lot of hard work, respectful listening, dialogue and patience.

I think we have learned that when change is too slow, it prompts increasing action and dissent. But when it is too fast, legitimate rights may be sacrificed and other forms of oppression begin.

We have learned that engaging emotions is a critically important fuel for social change as passion is needed for the long term commitments. And, passion needs to interact with reason and reflection to be lasting and just in the creation of new ways of proceeding.

We have learned that true healing not only requires accepting responsibility, true reconciliation also requires compassion and forgiveness.

We have learned that nonviolence in all its forms it hard and exhausting work. While anger is often necessary to fuel major change, over time it can dehumanize and manipulate. Listening to those with whom we disagree, seeking new ways of living and working together, realizing that all of us have to change, asks a great deal of all of us.

We have learned that real discernment requires inner freedom to let go of assumptions to find truth, the ability to assess the movements and sources of feelings to determine their reliability in making choices, the need for reason to complement affect, disciplined reflectivity to make good judgments and courage to make and live into good decisions. True discernment isn’t easy and requires a lot of discipline to get to inner freedom, openness and wisdom.

I say all this because in highly emotional times when the issues are very real and difficult, self-knowledge, reflectivity, dealing with anger, finding interior freedom, and knowing when and how to speak and act responsibly are extremely critical if we are to move forward as a community. As we have learned, all voices need to be heard, those silenced in the past and in the present for us to move forward. And it is difficult to know how to respond when we are all working so hard to keep up with our work and our responsibilities to our students and our families. But it is in tumultuous times that all voices are critically important.

For the vast majority of us, our work at the College is not just a job, but a vocation. Our shared work gives us meaning, is our way of making a difference and contributing to the future of humankind and our world. We make the sacrifices that we do because our work gives us joy and purpose. And I really do believe that the vast majority of us at the College live ethically, with integrity and generosity. And while we have important work to do to heal past wrongs and find a new way forward, we shouldn’t lose our basic trust in and respect for one another. The world around us is getting increasingly angry, divisive, distrusting, irrational, and cynical. I know that we are better than that, and our students need to see in us models of reflectivity, encouragement, excitement about the questions we encourage and the ability to disagree respectfully. I know that we are capable of this. We have important questions to answer, and I look forward to addressing them together.

Thank you.