A criticism of the lone university presidential candidate, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, has been a lack of direct experience leading higher education institutions.
At his address to the Seton Hall community this morning in Jubilee Hall’s auditorium, he spared little time in commenting on this perception.
“I have huge shoes to fill,” Swetland said after referencing current University President Msgr. Robert Sheeran, “and I’m not adequate to that task in many ways. But God makes up for these weaknesses.”
Swetland’s presentation was largely audience-driven, as the professor of Christian ethics from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. spent under ten minutes speaking before fielding questions.
He opened with a reading from the Gospel of Mark and explaining his belief that “my life is a gift from God.” Swetland added that “each of us has been created by God (for a calling) and I think God may be calling me to serve you.”
The auditorium was standing-room only for those who entered after Swetland’s presentation began; even the upstairs balcony of the hall was utilized.
Many members of the Immaculate Conception seminary sat together on one end of the auditorium, some of which took pictures to capture the candidate’s visit. Swetland spoke of the turnout and called having a seminary a “huge asset” to the university.
Swetland also spoke from the floor of the auditorium and not the stage, making jokes throughout his presentation that kept the majority of the audience laughing.
Questions, meanwhile, came from students, faculty and staff of the university on topics from outside the classroom education to sustainability to what the president needs to do for Seton Hall.
“The presidency should set a certain tone,” Swetland said. “Raising the resources to make everything possible…will require a major campaign.”
Swetland also addressed the debate between Catholic ideas and what can be taught in university classrooms, an issue that has been prevalent with the offering of a gay marriage special topics course this fall.
“Catholic universities are really free,” Swetland said. “We can talk about anything…we can integrate faith and reason.”
When a faculty member posed a similar question later in the presentation, Swetland added that “there is no conflict ultimately between faith and reason” but that “boundary issues” can exist.
One staff member asked Swetland to place Seton Hall in comparison with similar schools for reference and to cite a school that the university can aspire to be on par with.
Swetland offered conference-mate Villanova as a similar university while adding that many smaller Catholic universities “have great ideas we can learn from.”
Another attendant touched on the low giving rate from alumni, a story which The Setonian covered in its April 29 edition. The rate, as shown by an advertisement published in the latest Seton Hall magazine, is eight percent.
“We should be teaching ourselves the responsibility to give back,” Swetland said. He also used the term “reconnect” and referenced that many Seton hall alumni live in northern New Jersey.
The relationship with the university and South Orange was another question posed to Swetland, to which he said that members of the Seton Hall community have “got to be really good neighbors.”
“Looking at the history, we’ve got a good record,” Swetland said.
The recently proposed Strategic Plan came into the discussion as well. Swetland spoke of it as a guide for the next five years of the university.
“We should be ambitious,” Swetland said. “In five years, we should be achieving the goals in the Strategic Plan.”
He did also say that “prioritizing” the goals of the plan is integral, too.
Swetland will visit different campus constituencies throughout the day before concluding his visit to the university this evening. A survey has been sent to the Seton Hall community via broadcast e-mail to obtain feedback from his presentation.
Brian Wisowaty can be reached at email@example.com.