Academic convocation

The Scroll: Academic Convocation and Power

Susan Alexander

Susan Alexander

Second only to commencement, the president’s academic convocation is the time for pomp and circumstance, reflection and invigoration. This year the theme was power.

Dr. Corrine Carvalho, chair of the faculty, set the stage with words from student Mike Best and words from Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience. Together these words reminded us that knowledge is power but knowledge without action is useless and weak.

Then the gonfalon fell. Now if you missed it, you will think I am making up this part. It was the School of Engineering banner. Right behind Dean Don Weinkauf’s head! Don leapt into action; no weakness there. He may have had a bit of trouble with the knowledge part, though. The bloomin’ banner kept slipping down the pole. Don, however, is never without resources. Employing his deanly powers of delegation, he immediately sought help from behind-the-scenes expert and actuarial science major Ben Rasche, who brought knowledge and action together to raise the flag high.

Once order was restored, President Julie Sullivan began her address.

As I listened to her vision for our future, illustrated by an avatar shifting shape and shifting scene, I thought about the power in the room. Filled with faculty and administrators together, OEC auditorium displayed the power needed for the changes Dr. Sullivan described – globalization, diversity and inclusion, national recognition for quality, connection to the Twin Cities, and disciplinary and interdisciplinary inquiry, inspired by Catholic thought.

Statistician that he is, Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness Mike Cogan did a word count on the address. The most frequently used word by far was “students,” 45 times. That is as it should be and not surprising. Other biggies included “world,” “working,” “community” and “changing.” These are indeed inspiring.

Economist that I am, I moved quickly from inspiration to contrarian worry. Haunted by thinkers of the past, I channeled Lord Acton – “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” At the very least, all this power is scary – and indeed the vision is a big bite to chew. We all worry about how we fit in, how we can contribute. What if the gonfalon falls on us?

But truly, the power of imagination is great. I can envision all of us working together so that the avatar of the future visits an amazing University of St. Thomas.

Dr. Sullivan asked, “How bold will we be?” and quoted our founder Archbishop John Ireland, who said, “For as we will it, so shall the future be.” I put aside my doubts and dumped Acton for T.S. Eliot:

“Only those who go too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”