UDM in 2013

2013 is not 1950

To understand how UDM lives its mission today it helps to compare the university now with The University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit in 1950. What was the country like and how did those two schools understand their mission then?

1950 - America's short window of consensus

It is good to remember two things about America in 1950. First, almost every American believed that World War II was a moral obligation and that we conquered two dangerous enemies (Hitler's Nazis and the Japanese Empire). Second, we did it with our courage and sacrifice but also with brilliant science and technology (for example: DDT, Penicillin, jet engines, radar, leading edge aircraft and the atomic bomb). Mercy College and U of D students, like most Americans, believed that "we the people" represented a united America.

The GI Bill -- College for working class students

Because of the GI Bill, any of the 16,000,000 men and women serving in the armed forces during World War II received a full four year college education. The law's effect was revolutionary. For the first time in U.S. history the sons and daughters of factory workers could afford college. Many of those factory worker families were Catholic and Catholic schools like U of D and Mercy expanded rapidly to provide them with an education.

A clear and focused mission:

U of D and Mercy College both understood their task as part of the American Catholic Church's long struggle to help its marginal immigrant people move into mainstream America. Becoming first-class citizens, moving from working class to middle class: these powerful desires shaped the sense of mission at Mercy College and U of D for students and faculty alike. It was a time when America was as unified as at any time before or since.

It is not difficult to feel nostalgia for the Mercy College and U of D of 1950. World War II is the only serious war in U.S. history which had the fervent support of almost all US citizens. In its wake, the mission of our two schools seemed, and was, clear.

The UDM Mission in a Time of Turmoil

From what kind of society do UDM's students and faculty and staff and administrators come to UDM today? The exciting optimism after World War II —about our military, economic, technological, and moral world class excellence - no longer seems inevitable and obvious. Our technological supremacy was overtaken by Asian and European industries as early as the 1970s. Our military now struggles to defend the nation in an era when enemies don't function as governments with clear borders. American moral self confidence after fighting the "good" war has been eroded by, in order:

  • in the 1960s conflicts about race and Vietnam:
  • in the 1970s by Watergate, and the now three decades-old debate about the legality of abortion;
  • in the 1980's by national conflict over the morality of the wars in Central America and the tension between ecological activism and the health of the economy.

After 9-11, the country is roiled by disputes about:

  • the moral legitimacy of invading Iraq,
  • the tension between national security and the constitutional rights of citizens,
  • how much the nation can use torture,
  • about imprisonment without legal due process .

The Cold War ended in 1990 and replaced a pretty stable two-power world with today's confusion of very many centers of power that do not easily map onto a single global frame of reference. The people of UDM, our students, faculty, staff and administrators, come to work at the university in a difficult and confusing time.

God's love for the human condition

God, so UDM's Catholic faith tradition teaches, is not frightened by our violence, not disgusted with our confusions and disagreements. God loves us as we are first and works with us to heal the wounds of our time and culture out of that love. The calling to be a university, to do research, teaching and service, remains a sacred calling in the centuries' long traditions of our faith and of the Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits. That calling is as sacred in 2011 Detroit as it has been at any time or place in the centuries long history of universities.

Thus to understand how UDM must carry out its mission we must ask ourselves what kind of ministry, what kinds of research and teaching and service does God desire for the men and women of this time? What are the strengths and what are the temptations of the women and men who come to UDM to create a living community of learning? 2011 is a fine time to do what universities are called to do. And Detroit is a great place to do it.