Last week, USF President Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. met with me in the University’s Statler Kitchen (located in Lone Mountain) to discuss his past experiences as a chef, his vision for the future of the University and his position on certain developments on campus.
Donning freshly ironed, crisp, white chef coats, President Fitzgerald and I were on a mission to make a simple, yet delicious dinner item: a vegetarian omelette. As I started to slice into a large, white onion, the first instruction from President Fitzgerald was “breathe through your mouth, not through your nose.”
Fitzgerald has a history of learning the art of cooking and then extending those skills to others. After graduating from Santa Clara University, he made his way to France to apprentice at a train station restaurant in Paris, eventually becoming a sous chef at the Hilton in Sunnyvale. There, Fitzgerald would learn how to manage and organize meals, a skill he would like to see USF students accomplish as well.
As the omelette was cooking, the heat turned on medium-high, Fitzgerald elaborated on the importance of cooking, and how the University is looking to create a foundation where students would have easier access to creating meals for themselves, as well as healthier options.
“Next summer we should break ground on two residence halls up here on Lone Mountain. They are all going to be apartments, and we are thinking they are for sophomores,” Fitzgerald described. “[N]ot a kitchenette, each apartment will have a full kitchen. Stove, refrigerators, sink, dishwasher.”
The University is also planning on providing students with different ways to consume their meals. “We are probably going to enhance dining options on the upper campus. We are also thinking of a ‘Whole Foods’ setup where you could buy foods that are almost done, and you just take it home and finish it,” said Fitzgerald. “Or you could buy stuff that all the portions are set up, and you can cook the whole thing. I think it could be a pretty interesting option for students.”
The dinner was now ready. As we both sat down and shared the onion and celery-laden omelette, I intended to dive in and get a sense of how the year was going.
Q: [The Foghorn] hasn’t had an interview with you in a while. How do you think this year is going so far? What is on your mind?
A: Last year was a good year. I wanted faculty and staff to reflect on this document called “USF 2028,” and it’s a strategic plan for the University that was finalized in 2008. And this year I wanted us to talk about diversity. How are we educating our diverse student population in leadership in a complex world? I met with the University Counsel on Diversity and Inclusion, who are a group of faculty who have an expertise and also a lot of interest [in diversity].
Q: Who were some of the professors included in this group?
A: Oh my gosh, I will send you the list. It is still changing a little bit, they’ve had a few people rotate on, a few people rotate off.
Q: But they are current professors?
A: Yes, and also people in university life, and others areas of campus. So the year started, and then we had this bias incident. This photo was taken by some students in a residence hall room, and then circulated on social media. And what the intentions of the students was one thing, but the impact of the photo was different. And a lot of people were really hurt,. We put out a first note to the campus saying this is an unacceptable and hurtful image, but at the time of the first note, we didn’t know who the students were in the image, and what they were doing, and what it was about. We first had to say something quickly because it was in social media and people were rightfully upset about it. And then we started to investigate and we put out a second message, and then when we had enough information, the Bias Education Resource Team (BERT) put out a very thorough message about what was going on, and its effect, and the aftermath.
Q: On the topic of the photo, I was in attendance of the large community meeting where you and the Provost spoke, and Professor Clarence Jones came up and said, “I thought we were here to address the problems behind the photo, and after I heard the comments, I have to respond. Reading those demands [made by the School of Education Cohorts Five and Six], increasing the diversity, what everybody is talking about… Is not going to make one material difference on the issue you are confronting.” Do you agree with this statement by Jones, that increasing diversity is not going to help the situation? And what exactly needs to be done to make sure something like this doesn’t happen?
A: Well, I will let you interview Professor Jones, because he was speaking very passionately, very quickly. But how I interpreted it, we welcomed the most diverse class in the history of the University this past fall. So we do have a plan and project to increase our diversity, and to continue to in particular, increase our African-American student population. But it’s not enough, and numbers are not enough. We have to continue to address racism at a really profound level. We have to address white privilege at a really profound level. We have to address these social ills. Our undergraduate students are still in a real learning mode, so we have to be very intentional so that our students understand what are the deep causes, and deep effects of not just racism, but misogyny and all forms of discrimination against groups of people.
Q: Do you think that type of education could be at USF?
A: I think we have been at it for a very long time intentionally. I think we are good at it. We just have to understand that 3,000 new people join our community every year, and 3,000 people leave our community with bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees. During their course of four years with us, we hope that there is deep learning and transformation. But because of the nature of our educational project, we are always bringing new people in, and always starting with new students, and from day one, leading them through a process. Will we get to the point where we are a racist-free university? Well, when society as a whole is.
Q: I believe it was last week where certain faculty members opted out of the major/minor fair. Just yesterday, there was a protest that came through campus regarding the same topic. How do you see this process going forward?
A: We are in negotiations with the leadership of the full-time faculty union. They’re respectful. We’re bargaining in good faith. They put proposals on the table, we put proposals on the table, and we have moved towards each other. We haven’t reached a final agreement yet. I am confident that we will, and in the meantime, our faculty are teaching their courses, they are fulfilling their contractual obligations, which is seven and a half hours a week. We will just continue to negotiate in good faith until we arrive at a good solution.
Photo Credit: Sofia Deeb