Reflections of a SLU Alumnus

Things are moving quickly. As a follow-up to a message that I sent to Saving SLU, I wanted to convey my thoughts on and recollections of themes that impressed me about matriculating through SLU’s liberal arts education. I originally prepared a gentle response to vague threats to the core mission of SLU. I was going to wax eloquently on how Athens and Jerusalem touched me, my outlook on life, and how I left the polished campus of SLU a better person. A recent Saving SLU blog post made much clearer the threats that I had only vaguely understood.

My initial message explained my conflict. I sincerely believe in the value of the Humanities, especially as expressed in the Jesuit tradition. But the vocational aspect of my time at SLU cannot be denied. I’m a middle-aged black male who was recruited by a for-real Catholic, whose heart was held captive by Christ and who accepted his command to spread his word throughout the world. This person was a nurse, a driven one, who appreciated the security that it gave her, and, more importantly, the love, compassion, and service that were its true foundation. I became a nurse because of this person. And because of another SLU alumnus, who majored in Philosophy and originally came to SLU to become a Jesuit, I returned to the church.

Nursing was a significant part of the recent post. Nursing has a long and storied history. Nursing’s claim to be a profession was tenuous when I was coming through, primarily due to the lack of a unique and rigorous body of knowledge. Given our “stepchild” position among the health sciences, we tried to harden our body of knowledge with empirical methodologies. We even mirrored the “Nursing Process” from Medicine. Evidence-based nursing was the latest effort. SLU put on an excellent seminar on what that truly means. This movement toward objectivity is reflected in the metrics that purport to provide irrefutable proof of thinking and decision-making. This led to my graduate degree, Healthcare Informatics, although my studies have been put on hold, due, I think, to the lack of a PhD-level director. This degree was intended to ride the wave of the new Affordable Care Act and provide a cohort of professionals that could direct the deployment of the new Electronic Heath Records (which made a fortune for the founder of the ubiquitous EPIC). This trend to capture all the data—diagnoses, interventions, outcomes, costs, et al.—at first seemed a worthy cause. But human beings cannot be captured in data alone. An education cannot be captured in data alone.

I’m working in Hospice now, a severely underused option. It’s my religious and liberal arts training, as well as my ability to write a compelling note, that enable me to make a convincing argument for why a person should merit Hospice. All of that will be lost if the trend to deemphasize the liberal arts continues. Phenomenology vs. Logical Positivism is not just a fancy-sounding academic debate. The qualitative concepts explore the limits to both numbers and words in describing God’s great wonder, the ultimate purpose, in my opinion, of a Jesuit education.

If SLU wants to move in the direction of a vocational school, then perhaps it should go all the way. It could merge with or buy one of the local schools (such as Rankin or Vatterott), adding its brand to theirs to really capture this trade-school market. What a scenario. Yet those of us committed to a liberal arts education are already feeling bereft. Please, SLU, do not go this route. Your alumi treasure what you, at your very best, gave us, and what our deep exposure to the humanities and social sciences enabled us to do.

Kevin M. Ross, Registered Nurse; BS, Computer Science (Univ. of Miami 1981); BS, Nursing (SLU 2004); MS, Healthcare Informatics (SLU 2014)

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