October 26, 2010

To a higher degree: Respect in politics central to SJU

St. John’s was founded by five Benedictine monks
who had traveled to Central Minnesota when it was
still a territory in 1857. Though more than 150
years have passed since its founding, we continue
to be guided by the principles and values that have
been part of the Benedictine tradition for more than
1,500 years.

“Listen … with the ear of your heart.” These are the
first words in the Prologue of The Rule of St.
Benedict. The Rule teaches about the basic monastic
virtues of humility, silence and obedience, and
provides directives for daily living. Those seven
words are not just significant for ancient monks and
Catholics, but for all of us who live in today’s world
of extreme political views, vitriolic discourse and
blistering sound bites meant to pass as persuasive

We have all heard enough political ads in recent
months to know that politicians and pundits are too
often not listening to each other at all, much less
with an open mind and heart.

As a Benedictine, liberal arts college, we have a deep
commitment to remaining open to the voices and
ideas of others. We are committed to providing
students with a broad-based education that teaches
students how to think, but not what to think. Our
mission is to send students into the world prepared
to lead and serve.

To do this we must be an intentionally welcoming
place for people of a variety of beliefs to engage in
respectful, open and challenging conversations
about current issues and problems. Like other
educational institutions, we can perform a valuable
service if we model the way and lead by positive

The Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and
Civic Engagement at St. John’s University is one
venue through which our students are provided
opportunities to learn about and engage in politics,
public policy development and service to the
common good.

The center was named for McCarthy, Minnesota’s
former Democratic senator and 19-year-old
graduate in St. John’s class of 1935. The center’s
website states, “In this day and age of ‘Crossfire’
political reasoning and us/them political rhetoric,
many young people are unfortunately steering away
from political engagement. As a result, the faculty
and core group of students from the Center work
diligently to create venues for constructive,
responsible and interesting civic debate and
engagement in community affairs.”

The center hosts a variety of seminars, study
programs, internships and public lectures. The
Mark Kennedy Frontiers of Freedom Lecture Series is
one such event. (The series is named for former
Republican U.S. Congressmen Mark Kennedy, SJU
class of 1979.) The goal of this lecture series is to
intentionally add “intellectual diversity” to the center
so that multiple political perspectives are presented
and critically evaluated.

The Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture is also hosted by
the Center and seeks to inspire a new generation of
young people to pursue fresh ideas, to challenge
the status quo, to effect positive change in their
communities and, like McCarthy himself, to lead with
honesty, integrity and courage.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., presented the fourth
annual lecture this year and was introduced by
former Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., SJU class of

In closing her lecture, Klobuchar quoted a 1967
speech by Eugene McCarthy in which he declared
that the American spirit has a grand purpose and a
clear prerogative, “to offer in place of doubt, trust;
in place of expediency, good judgment; in place of
incredibility, integrity; in place of murmuring, let us
have clear speech; let us again hear America

In this season of heated political debate, I urge you
to study the issues by listening with the ear of your
heart, and then respectfully express your opinion
through your vote at the polls.

This is the opinion of the Rev. Bob Koopmann, OSB,
president of St. John’s University. To A Higher
Degree is published the fourth Sunday of the month
and rotates among the presidents of the four largest
Central Minnesota higher education institutions.