Contemplative Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana


The Transformative Banquet is a metaphor we use for the work of Contemplative Faculty Development. We integrate contemplation into our faculty development programs for three distinct but mutually supportive reasons:

  1. to enhance the programming itself,
  2. to promote faculty well-being, and
  3. to encourage contemplative pedagogy.

The image of a banquet has been helpful in conceptualizing this work, emphasizing the virtues of hospitality and joyful fellowship. Our hope is that the right nourishment and refreshment will prove transformative for our faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni — indeed the whole Xavier family.

This work has proceeded through several phases, strands, and initiatives.


But wait, there’s more!

A Larger Integrative Program


While contemplation is a worthy end in itself, it’s vitally important to remember that contemplation does not happen in a vacuum. Some might imagine the meditative practitioner floating on a cloud somewhere “up there,” lost in the sky, lost in esoteric and ethereal pursuits, disconnected from the world of people and society. That’s not an accurate image. Therefore it’s equally important to get faculty thinking about how everything connects: how we connect to our mission, how contemplation connects to learning, how our basic life skills connect to our professional work, how our creativity connects to teaching, and so on.


Background


St. Katharine Drexel's desire was for a contemplative way of life, but her discernment led her to believe God's "call" was to provide quality educational opportunities for Native Americans and African Americans, eventually founding Xavier University of Louisiana. Yet she never neglected the contemplative aspect; she consistently described her mission (she used the term "apostolate") and that of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament as being two-fold, i.e. prayer and work. Today at Xavier we recognize the need to extend our foundress' vision into the classroom and emphasize that vita activa and vita contempliva are not mutually exclusive but in fact necessary correlates that support and inform one another. In pursuit of Xavier's mission to "contribute to the promotion of a more just and humane society," the University community would do well to stay grounded in a thoughtful and considered approach to teaching, learning and life.

CAT staff first began thinking about the role of contemplative practices in higher education when we interviewed Arthur Zajonc for our podcast, Teaching, Learning & Everything Else, in 2009. Sessions at the 2009 conference of the Professional and Organizational Developers (POD) Network gave us further encouragement to explore these ideas. Thus, since 2010 we have been actively programming events which invite faculty to consider the value of contemplative practices both in their own lives and in their teaching.

Our first program, "A Moment of Silence," conducted on August 25, 2010, was an invitation for faculty to share a moment of silent contemplation at the beginning of the semester, followed by a discussion of the use of silence in teaching.