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The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

State of the University: Interview with President Rev. Linnane


On Oct. 23, The Greyhound sat down with President Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J to discuss his latest State of the University address. Below is the transcript of the interview. 

The full recording of the address can be found here. Timestamps of the address can be found at the conclusion of this article

Q: In your fifteenth State of the University Address, you said you are “paid to tell the truth.” In truth, what is a challenge you’ve faced this semester unlike the past 14 years as president?

A: I think that the climate survey that we did last year and represented this year presents us with new challenges, new things that we have to work with. I spent a lot of time this semester dealing with the Maryland Higher Education Commission because we’d like to move some of our programs downtown, specifically the MBA, and the Commission won’t let us do it. And I haven’t dealt with anything like that before, I just thought that they were just making sure that the program had quality and all of those sorts of things, but they turned us down. I spent a lot of time with lawyers, going to hearings, and all that sort of thing. It’s very frustrating, as you might imagine. This isn’t new, but there is greater urgency around questions about equity, particularly what has come up this year, I think that’s always been an issue. But the whole role of the LGBTQ community, particularly with the transgender persons and how those persons seem to fit into the university and what questions they raise. 

Q: In your speech, you referred to the recent visit of the Board of Trustees. You cited their concern with the development of recent bias on campus, saying “our agenda nearly went off the rails because there was so much concern among the trustees.” What agenda were you referring to, and how was it affected? 

A: The board meeting is a two-day meeting, and the first day is committees. There are a number of committees that the Board of Trustees meets with, some students are on them. Then the next day is the full board meeting, and we have a number of things that we have to do, like approving the minutes, but there is also the president’s report, and the chair has a report. Those are all timed, so that generally the materials that I want to cover or things that I want to refer to have been sent out to them previously that they’ve read it, and that’s about 10 minutes and basically scripted. When we brought up these questions and issues that we wanted to highlight that this was going on, the trustees were very concerned. They are concerned and wanted to know specifically what happened and what steps the university took. They raised questions about the Student Code of Conduct and how that’s applied in these questions and it’s difficult for some of the trustees, although not all of them, that I’m an “off with their heads” kind of guy. Kids do this, they should get expelled. And that’s not the correct response. These are all first-year students in their first couple of weeks on campus. Hopefully, their engagement with the mission over the course of their undergraduate years will bring them to a place that’s different. So our response is more educational than punitive, yet some of the trustees thought “off with their heads.” In some of these instances, we knew who the person was and in others, we didn’t, and we did it for two reasons: 1) the student didn’t know them or 2) the student didn’t disclose who it was. So we really only have one of those incidents that we can act on. That probably took us 25 minutes, and I had a lot of things in my report so we could outline this, and the [trustees] all had suggestions and responses to this. Should we put this into the honor code? Should we in some way do something like “Think About It,” in terms of what our standards are and what is acceptable or unacceptable in terms of civil behavior? There were a lot of things for us to think about, and as you might imagine, Student Development and Academic Affairs have been working on things we can do to address this. I believe that this has all been discussed in Messina, so there have been proactive steps taken.

Q: Do you think the steps for change that you cited, such as trainings and workshops, are getting the university back on track?

A: I think so. One of the things that goes on in your development as an adolescent is your realization of your capacity to hurt other people. For a long time, you don’t really think you can hurt anybody, or even think of it because you are more afraid of being hurt than hurting. Then you realize the power of your words; that’s something that needs to be calibrated in a young person. I think a lot of these sorts of discussions are very fruitful and opportunities to be sensitive to other people that are different than I might be. I think those things are very valuable, I think that they do good work. The young woman who was told “to go back to where she came from”…where did that kind of language come from? This is in the air, the president [of the United States] is talking this way, it’s unfathomable. That kind of stuff is out there, people think it’s cool or funny to say these sorts of things when in fact they do really hurt people. And as I said in my talk, the trustees are concerned about the well-being of the students, and they don’t want these sorts of things to happen. They believe these things undermine the life of the university, which is based on the free exchange of ideas and the common pursuit of what is true, but there is also a business angle of this, and they have to protect the reputation of the university. We need to have students to pay off faculty and cut the lawns, and if we get a reputation of being “that school,” that can really hurt us in terms of the financial well-being and vitality of the school. 

Q: Additionally, you mentioned it in your speech, and in regard to the trustees, there have been recent developments on campus which have caught the attention of many students and faculty, who show deep concern with this topic: what wine do you and the trustees drink on your academic tour of the campus? It’s pressing. 

A: Really? Well, it’s chardonnay.

Q: At the end of your address, you mentioned a recent mental health conference you attended, sponsored by Georgetown University and the Mary Christie Foundation. You stated you “didn’t know why [you] received an invitation, and [you] weren’t inclined to go…” Before you were encouraged to attend, what about the conference made you hesitant to participate?

A: Well, first of all, it’s another two days. Even though it’s to Washington, it’s travel, packing, going. I thought they were casting a huge net to see who would come. I talked to Dr. Cook about it, and she really encouraged me to go, and I found out it was only 30 schools, and the reason we were selected was because we are known for our ways in which we care for our students and the concern that we show, particularly in the area of mental health but across the board. It’s interesting because there are different titles for the Office of Student Development at different schools, very often it is Student Affairs, but that title is taken very self-consciously because it is about helping the students to develop into emerging adults, and the type of programming and support is available for them as they maneuver this emergence that they are going through to become their adult self. When I went [to the conference], first of all, it was very interesting. Very interesting presenters, the other presidents were very interesting, only a few of whom I’ve ever met. [The conference] gave me a lot of good ideas. 

Q: You cited the keynote speaker of the event, saying “to think of this not as a crisis of mental health as much as it is a crisis of the human spirit, while acknowledging that there are persons who have mental illness, but many of the students just need help adjusting and adapting.” In talking with SGA, they expressed that it is important for students with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues to not be forgotten. What do you interpret a “crisis of the human spirit” being? 

A: There are a couple of realities here. There are students on this campus who couldn’t have gone away to college when I was in college 40 years ago. But, because of various treatments, among them psychiatric drugs and the like, they are able to contain their mental health issues to a degree that allows them to live away from home and engage in studies and be successful. There are people, probably more people, who have mental health issues. We just did a campus survey, 43 percent of the students report some type of a mental health issue. A friend of mine explained this to me that in the DSM-5, there are diagnoses, and some of those diagnoses are what’s called “v-codes.” “V-codes” are, unlike a mental illness per se, an adjustment disorder, that somehow one is dealing with their sexuality, relationships, and those sorts of things. And many of those things aren’t necessarily mental health issues, per se, and as we learned at the conference, most of the psychologists are working in student health centers not doing therapy, but teaching coping skills to students so they know how to negotiate these things. A lot of those things can be mitigated by a conversation with a mentor or professor or something like that. When I was teaching, I used to go back to my office after dinner to do some work. I realized that period, say from seven o’clock until the early hours of the morning is a time when there aren’t really many adults on campus; it’s sort of like the student world. When I would be in my office, a lot of times there would be a space where kids would like to study, and they would come by and shoot the breeze. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me, but they wanted to tell me about a test they were studying for, and I realized that they were eager for a conversation with an adult. It wasn’t anything heavy, and I think that is something that helps. They use the example of a young woman of color who goes to see her chemistry professor, who she likes. She goes to talk to him about the problems that they have, but in the course of the conversation, she reveals she has been a victim of microaggressions, and she doesn’t really feel like she belongs. She then starts to cry. The first thing that the professor does is say, “You need to go to the counseling center. We have great resources, you need to go there.” Well, in fact, she probably doesn’t need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist, she needs somebody to talk to, who will understand her plight and encourage her or point her to resources which will directly address this issue, which is not a mental health issue. It can become one, but at that point it’s feeling like you don’t belong. That’s the sense of being included that’s so important. I don’t at all want to take away the real mental health issues that require treatment, and in fact, generally, in those situations, we have to refer the students off-campus. There are persons in Student Development who monitor students of concern to make sure they are seeing their therapists, that they are taking their medication. The Counseling Center isn’t equipped to give those students a weekly therapeutic training. Those students are here and we are concerned about them, we have good results with them, but we don’t want to suggest that a good chat and a cup of tea will sort everything out. So, yes, there’s that dimension of real clinical problems, and then there are things that through the right kind of conversations and care won’t require professional intervention. 

Q: Do you believe there is a major mental health issue on campus? 

A: Yes. There is a national mental health crisis. Many people are seeking treatments. Many people are affected by depression and anxiety. I think that affects the success of students to a degree, and I think it undermines the cohesiveness of the community, which is a reason why we always have to be taking this seriously and working very diligently around these questions. In my time as a professor and as president, there are kids that you would never think have mental health problems because they seem to be on the top of the world, but then you find out that they do have these issues. It is very important to attend to them, to be supportive around these issues. You look at your generation and what you’ve grown up with as compared to what I grew up with. You have probably had drills for an active shooter in your school, that’s unimaginable. We used to do these little exercises, get underneath our desks in case there was a nuclear bomb coming. But that was like playing, you’d never heard of such a thing happening. But for you, it’s very anxiety-provoking. This affects your own psychological stability. The other thing is the endless wars that we’ve been in for young people. I think there’s also a lot of pressure on students today to succeed because the investment is staggering. When I was in college, I remember the year my tuition at Boston College went above $3,000 a year. And we thought that was a lot. That puts a lot of pressure on students, and it even comes up in the survey we did. A very large percentage of students are worried about money. We have students that are food insecure, they don’t have enough to eat. We have students that are housing insecure. These are all problems that engender anxiety and hopelessness. Those are very serious. 

Q: You mentioned at the start of your address that you wished you had more time to talk more about what’s happened in the past year. What are a few things that you wish you had time to touch on? 

A: I think I really touched upon the important things. One of the things I marvel at is the percentage of our students who study abroad. It’s huge. I was talking to the president of another Jesuit school, and I was telling her that 60 percent of our students have an academic experience abroad. She told me they probably have 20 students, not 20 percent. We do that so effectively. The students are safe, cared for and have these intellectual and cultural exchanges, I just think it is really incredible. I think we have been able to hire some fantastic faculty in the last few years. I don’t have a lot to do with hiring faculty, but I do approve of their tenure. Their accomplishments, as both teachers and scholars, are amazing. It makes me very proud, and I think students see that in their experience in the classroom. 

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State of the University: Interview with President Rev. Linnane