Mar 24, 2023

The Inaugural Address of President Greg Weiner, Ph.D.

Chairman Bedard; Fr. Gallagher; Your Excellency Bishop McManus; Rabbi Fellman; Mayor Petty; Faculty, Staff and Administrative Colleagues; Fellow Presidents; Trustees; Benefactors; Alumni; Honored Guests; Students; Family; and Friends: 

I stand here with humility but confidence, in a spirit of leadership and collaboration, holding this University’s mission as a shared trust and ready to work with the Assumption community to bring it to life through the future we build together.      

In this work as in all possibilities, I have the partnership of someone known to our students as the lady who brings Oscar and Wally to campus and known to me as my wife and friend of more than 28 years: Rebecca Stewart Weiner. And I have the inspiration of my children, Hannah, who has taught us a spirit of leadership and adventure; Jacob, who has taught us determination and courage; and Theodore, who has taught us the importance of daring and independent thought. All of them together have reminded me to laugh, and they give me no other choice when I forget.      

I am grateful for the endless support of my family. My father, Martin Weiner, pioneered the Weiner tradition of fearless career change and taught me the value of learning. My mother Phyllis is an unrivaled exemplar of unconditional love. My in-laws, Ken and Connie Stewart, gave me the greatest gift of my life—their daughter—and all they got in return was me. I hope our trustees note this evidence of my negotiating skills. And I appreciate so many of my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and other family who have joined us here and from afar today.      

I am honored to have been presented this afternoon by two Assumption students profoundly shaped by their educations on this campus. Professor Marc Guerra, my teacher and friend, came here to play basketball and study psychology. Two broken ankles later, he switched to lacrosse. Why lacrosse is more hospitable to broken ankles than basketball is a question Professor Guerra has yet to answer. Along the way, he discovered the science of theology, a discipline in which he is renowned today. Professor Guerra is both a theorist and a practitioner of prudence, a teacher-scholar of immense scope and profound depth, and an exemplar of the pursuit of truth and beauty for their own sake.

Larry Mounds is a senior majoring in media and communication. The first time we met, I was assuring a group of students of Assumption’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Larry responded that he was tired of hearing words unaccompanied by actions. He was right. And in that moment, Larry exemplified the kind of person and leader Assumption seeks to form: one devoted to the fearless pursuit of truth in the company of friends.        

The Catholic liberal education to which Assumption University recommits itself steadfastly today is intrinsically valuable. Precisely because we pursue it for its intrinsic value, it is also immensely useful. At Assumption, when presented with a mathematical proof or a theoretical argument—with a work of literature or a work of art—we ask not how we can use it but rather how we can appreciate it and understand it. We allow it to spark our sense of wonder and joy. And that is why we are able to use it with more creativity and agility than someone who has been trained for usefulness alone. 

In the words of Ex corde ecclesiae, Assumption is both Catholic and a University. Our Catholic identity expresses itself in the nature of the education we offer, one rooted in the pursuit of truth and a particular view of the human person. At Assumption, this is not the work of certain disciplines or divisions alone. Our mission is the work of everyone on this campus who seeks truth, goodness and beauty. 

When we read Aristotle’s Politics, we engage our Catholic educational mission. When we teach the laws of physics or the processes inside a cell, we live our Catholic educational mission. From the social sciences to business to nursing, from our graduate programs in the helping professions to our developing programs in the health professions, we contribute to the Catholic educational mission of this institution whenever we seek the truth in the company of friends.

We know the pressures higher education faces. Some institutions have gone the direction of professional preparation alone and others have retreated from the world. We reject that choice. We believe there is no conflict between the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty on the one hand and preparation for meaningful lives and rewarding careers on the other. On the contrary, they are one and the same work.

We believe an economy cannot be sustained with workers who are well trained but without human beings who are well educated. It demands both. We believe a republic cannot be sustained with individuals who seek their own good but without citizens who contemplate the common good. Ours demands both.

And we believe access to an Assumption education is a profound issue of equity—that the pursuit of truth and goodness and beauty is within the reach of every human person.

Not everyone seeks this kind of education. But it should be accessible to all who do. In the coming years, a moral imperative for our University, our benefactors and our extended alumni family will be to create and expand the scholarships that will make an Assumption education accessible to anyone who seeks it. Because it will transform the life of anyone who does.

That is because we build every program of study on the foundation of the Catholic tradition of inquiry, a tradition that, at its best, speaks universally, to people of all backgrounds and faiths. And because we situate technical information within the context of enduring ideas, an Assumption education remains relevant through a lifetime of change.

It is not enough to say this tradition teaches ethics, though it does. Nor is it sufficient to say a Catholic liberal education includes the study of theology, though it must. We do not grade students in an ethics course on the character of their actions, nor do we ask students of theology what they believe or students of politics how they vote.    

In this tradition of education—a tradition uniquely imbued with the charism of the Augustinians of the Assumption—we learn the virtues of the head and the heart, of the neighborhood and the workplace, not by being told what they are but rather through encounters with truth and beauty and subtlety as they express themselves in the tapestry of disciplines we study and the experiences we share. 

The Anglo-Irish statesman and political thinker Edmund Burke, who was known as a reformer in his time and has been cited across the political spectrum since, called this “the moral imagination,” our uniquely and deeply human capacity to infer moral lessons without them being drilled into us by rote.

As Augustine recounts in the Confessions, this was also how he learned. His conversion was inspired in part by his education. We emulate his example at Assumption. We learn prudence by studying statesmanship. We learn beauty by contemplating art. We learn moral decency and moral complexity through great literature and great philosophy, through great teams and great friendships. We prepare students to heed the scriptural admonition “justice, justice shall you pursue”—in Hebrew, Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof—not by dictating what is just but rather by conversing about justice in the company of friends.     

The fact that we disagree about these things—about what is virtuous or beautiful or just—is a limitation of our humanity, one we should seek not to overcome but rather to embrace. I hesitate to state it in front of my children after years asserting the opposite: We are fallible. For if we all possessed certain truth, there would be no occasion for dispute, discovery, and correction.

Consequently, the virtue most associated with education is humility. That is what is expressed in our mission statement’s reference to the pursuit of truth in the company of friends. None of us possesses the whole of truth. Therefore, we need friends to pursue truth, and we form our deepest and most enduring friendships in that quest.

On this campus, then, we welcome a rich and broad diversity of people and points of view. We seek to include every voice, to listen with special intention to those we are confident are wrong, and to treat one another not only with decency but also with dignity and respect—including the respect we show when we give reasons for disagreeing with others and welcome with open hearts and open minds their reasons for disagreeing with us.

In that sense, the unique tradition of education we offer at Assumption demands another virtue: courage. On this campus, we pursue truth without fear—open to the possibility that we are wrong and confident in the ability of our ideas to withstand the test of civil debate. And we know that if a single member of this community feels unwelcome or alone—whether it is because of who they are, what they think, or what they believe—then we have not simply failed that person. We have failed ourselves.        

We believe, in short, that ideas matter—that ideas are what endure in a world of transient trends and transient things. So did the founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption, Fr. Emmanuel d’Alzon. “It is crucial that you be convinced,” he wrote, “of the truth that the world, even in a decadent state, is governed by ideas.”

We pursue ideas with full confidence in the power of logos. The Greek root of “logic,” logos is deeply entwined with our capacity for reason. Yet it is more than that. It is reason embodied in speech. For Aristotle, logos was the human difference. In the Torah, logos is the instrument of creation. John’s Gospel boldly declares: “In the beginning was the logos. And the logos was with God. And the logos was God.” 

These foundational words of Christianity fuse three central ideas of Catholic liberal education: First, we are all made in the image of God. Second, precisely because we are made in the image of God, we are oriented toward using reason and speech to pursue truth. And third, because we seek truth in all its dimensions, we believe it constitutes an intelligible whole and that faith and reason are in principle reconcilable with one another.

Our privilege to utilize logos also entails participation in a reality that transcends our full understanding. Thus the importance of mystery. “Mystery” is one of the most profound words in Catholic liturgy, especially insofar as the liturgy expresses no frustration at the limits of our understanding. Rather, the reaction to them—as ours should be—is joy: The joy of discovery. The joy of our dependence. And the joy sparked precisely by those limits and, consequently, by the awe of all that transcends us.

Exactly because we deploy logos to seek truth for its own sake, we are also able to utilize logos as employees and entrepreneurs, as leaders and learners, as spouses and parents, as citizens and friends. Our students are equally comfortable with the known and the unknown—with subtlety and complexity—with certainty and mystery. And that is why an Assumption graduate is not only prepared but uniquely prepared for professional success and personal fulfillment. A student educated at Assumption is a different kind of professional because he or she is a different kind of person.     

The University’s task in these next years—years of competitive pressure but also of immense possibility—is to reaffirm our unwavering confidence in this tradition of inquiry while simultaneously summoning the courage to think anew about how we learn and work together. We must be daring in changing our institutional habits and resolute in conserving our institutional mission.

Our work must begin with this understanding: No student on this campus has to be here. All have chosen Assumption. That does not make students customers and the University a service provider. We have a duty to challenge students. We have an equal duty to place the student at the center of every decision we make.  

To our students: I know I’ve spoken too long, and that you’re eager for this ceremony to end so you can all get back to the books you left open in the library. The most important thing for you to hear from me is gratitude: Assumption University’s gratitude to you for giving us the privilege of undertaking our educational work. For seeking truth with courage and civility. For challenging me and us to do better. For teaching us and learning from us. 

I am often asked what makes Assumption students different. The answer is “everything that matters.” You have grit and guts without entitlement or arrogance. 

To those who worry that this generation is too focused on career and too little on curiosity, I reply: No, that’s us. That’s people our age. The hearts and minds of Assumption students are open to wonder and formation. 

And let me say to employers everywhere: Here at Assumption, ivy may not climb up our walls, and other than the chapel bells, there are no towers, much less ivory ones, on our campus. But we offer an excellent education. It is rare. It is relevant. And these students—Assumption students—are the ones who will show up on the first day of work, do their jobs with integrity and without complaint, treat colleagues with decency, learn eagerly, innovate boldly, and adapt nimbly. And that is the most elite and valuable credential any college graduate can have.

To our faculty: I am grateful for your devotion to the educational mission of this institution. I will never have a greater professional privilege than the one I received when I joined this faculty almost a dozen years ago.

To our administration and staff: Thank you for undertaking work that is so often unseen and under-appreciated. It is a privilege, too, to serve with you. All of us are educators.

To the Augustinians of the Assumption: Thank you for the gift of your charism, one inspired by logos and expressed in education and service. 

To our trustees: Thank you for placing your trust in me, and for making Assumption’s larger trust—our educational mission—your work as well.   

To our benefactors: Thank you for enabling our work and giving our mission new and abiding life. Thank you for educating us and for helping us to educate our students.

To our alumni: Thank you for making Assumption a family that transcends generations and for showing that a Catholic liberal education can contribute to success in any endeavor.            

Finally, by way of closing, to this community: There are two reasons for confidence in Assumption. One is what is changing. The second is what never will.

We embrace this moment and the possibilities ahead with confidence in the unique value of the education we provide. This is a work of urgency and joy. We must challenge ourselves and one another. Just as d’Alzon called his congregation to change the world with ideas, your ideas will change this institution—both renewing our educational mission and positioning us for success ahead. 

For that—ahead of us, on the horizon, ready to be discovered—is where Assumption’s brightest and boldest days await us. In the company of friends, we will learn and teach. In the company of friends, we will confront challenges and seize opportunities. And make no mistake. In the company of friends, in the face of any test, committed to our enduring mission and to its constant renewal, Assumption University will thrive. Together, today, we begin.