Compassion U - Spalding in Louisville - Educating Head, Hands and Heart
by The Charter
1 year ago
Tori Murden McClure has never been one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, she’s invented a few for herself that have left the rest of us looking downright complacent and idle. She was the first woman to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean — by rowboat. She was also the first woman and the first American to ski to the South Pole.
Now president of Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky., McClure talked with me about her most recent daunting challenge — turning Spalding into the first official compassionate university in the world.
Is putting compassion into work in everyday life the kind of a challenge that rowing across the ocean is?
McClure: “Yes, in the sense that if it’s done with seriousness, it’s hard and a personal challenge every day. It’s not getting together to sing ‘Kumbaya’ but a profound, deep and difficult task. There is a lot of real estate in between talking about it as an individual and the final result. It begins with a personal challenge, then an institutional challenge and a community challenge. And it’s extremely powerful when done right.”
Spalding University’s nomination as the first official compassionate university in the world was in part serendipitous — McClure attended Harvard Divinity School with Anil Singh-Morales, the guiding force behind the International Institute of Compassionate Cities, which was developed in part to help fulfill Karen Armstrong’s TED Prize wish for a Charter for Compassion.
McClure: “I was familiar with Karen Armstrong’s work on the history of religion from divinity school, starting with the sense that we as human beings like to fight about dogma and ideas even though it’s we who make it up. If we set that aside and see ourselves as human beings rather than any of the labels we put on each other, it is far more difficult to make each ‘the other.’ And [the other] is where we create our harsh view of the outside as lesser — even over the border in Indiana.”
Spalding University’s compassionate history
McClure had little trouble convincing her leadership team and board of trustees to sign on, in part because of Spalding’s long history of training those in the business of compassion — teachers, nurses, social workers and psychologists.
Beginning as a log-cabin schoolhouse run by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth that instructed young girls on how to teach, by 1826 the school was teaching chemistry to women — decades before the founding of the famed women’s colleges Vassar, Wellesley and Smith.
Soon after, Spalding students and faculty helped nurse the Louisville area through a great cholera outbreak and the Civil War. Immediately following the repeal of racial segregation in Kentucky, Spalding began to admit African-American students. And at a time when many institutions of higher education lived in the rarified atmosphere of Plato’s Academy, says McClure, Spalding was training people for real jobs — jobs that included hands-on service and compassion.
Why Spalding now?
Spalding is the perfect laboratory for the creation of a compassionate university because of its place in the world. Of the 120 counties in Kentucky, 100 have less educational attainment than Mexico. Many residents graduate high school with only elementary school–level skills in math and reading.
Spalding, McClure says, has a “scrappy” undergraduate program that works to get those same students into respected graduate programs. Today, this urban, co-educational institution offers more than two-dozen degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels to more than 2,400 students.
McClure: “Spalding has always talked about serving head, hands and heart. Educate the head and also the hands so you can actually get a good job. But heart is all about compassion, about the ability to suffer with others. As Kentuckians say, ‘stuff has happened’ — all Spalding students have been through ‘stuff.’ We’re at the heart of the need.”
What exactly does a compassionate university do?
The Spalding faculty is in the process of drawing up their proposals for a full curriculum for fall 2012, and Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is already on many required reading lists. And Spalding’s academic departments will strongly emphasize practical compassion in their programs, from medical rehabilitation to pre-law.
McClure: “When it was first announced, I got some smart-aleck responses: ‘Tuition isn’t compassionate,’ ‘tests aren’t compassionate.’ But they embraced it quickly.”
McClure says she is most looking forward to Spalding working with Louisville’s new court-based restorative justice program for youth. Unlike strictly punitive justice, which determines who is right and wrong, innocent or guilty, restorative justice focuses on how damage resulting from criminal acts can be repaired.
“We would be on of the only places teaching it in the U.S.,” McClure says.
New and old mission
McClure plans to add compassion to a new vision statement for the university. It’s already there in the existing mission statement: “to meet the needs of the time.”
McClure: “It is a finish line that can never be crossed...Compassion doesn’t not happen because we lack empathy or don’t care but because we don’t know what to do. Compassion is the courage to show up. It is showing the students how to deal when ‘stuff happens’ again.”
(Photo courtesy of Spalding University Archives)