Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., at the ninth annual Science, Math and Technology Undergraduate Research Showcase

November 4, 2011

Good afternoon,

Earlier this morning, I was speaking with a participant of “Occupy Chicago.” I understand their frustration, and I even share at least one of their convictions – namely, that the measure of any society is the degree to which it assists the neediest among us.

That said, I also find the group a bit frustrating. I am of an age where I remember the social disobedience of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and what I’m observing in “Occupy Chicago” is a poor reflection of those days. Here, the goal is unclear and muddied among many groups who appear to be united only in that they are marching and camping out together. They do not have the brilliance of a Martin Luther King or a Freidan, or the power of a compelling argument mustered by incontrovertible data.

Political organizing can be a powerful force in society, but it requires a social consensus and social consensus takes more than political theater, it requires compelling argument and compelling data.

I talk about this today, because I am surrounded here by young members of the DePaul community who are “changing the world” in a very different manner. You are mustering data.

I spoke to your faculty recently, and told them the story of Mary Alice McWhinnie, one of two female scientists who were the first to winter over in Antarctica. Mary Alice was a professor here at DePaul and Sr. Mary Odile Cahoon was her graduate assistant, a DePaul student. They studied krill, what we now know to be a key food source for oceanic life. Later in life, Professor McWhinnie became an “ecological spokesperson,” but her voice would never have been heard above the din unless her scientific work had made her points first. It was her scholarship that was her strongest activism. Her voice came later and because she had earned her respect.

Earlier this afternoon, I attended another gathering of faculty and students at DePaul. Our philosophy and French language students are gathered with some of the most prominent Derrida scholars in the world over in Cortelyou Commons. Derrida was a philosopher, not a psychologist, but he was broadly read and had a first rate mind. His writings challenged the thought of major minds in his own day, including Freud. Many people, of course, had opinions on Freud. But if they had not read him deeply, come to know his thought, and then read broadly so as to understand him within a larger context, their “opinions of Freud” would be uninformed and meaningless to humanity. Not a few people disagreed with Derrida, but his thoughts were heard and taken seriously precisely because they were informed, and therefore people listened when he spoke.

We are about to hear from two recent DePaul alumni who are leveraging important change in forestry policy in Ohio and water-use in Honduras. In both cases, it is their Vincentian heart combined with their excellent knowledge of the subject that has made them effective. I’m incredibly proud to welcome Susi Rankis (Geography 2009) and Rachel Rimmerman (International Studies 2010) home to DePaul.

I’m told that there are 27 gatherings of faculty and students on campus today: speakers, research presentations, conferences, academic clubs and meetings. Nearly every one of these gatherings of faculty and/or students are important for the sheer reason that they humbly seek to deepen their knowledge of the topics at hand and root their deliberations and critiques in data that informs the insights and action that follow. And thus my respect for you and for these other gatherings of faculty and students this afternoon.

My message to you this afternoon is a simple one. If you want to truly change the world, prepare yourself at the highest levels. Become the expert that the world seeks out. Master your field and you won’t have to yell from the sidelines. Let your work be unimpeachable and people will invite you into the conversations that matter. Then, once you are in, you can speak the truth as you know it and add to that field further with the highest levels of scientific research.

Excellent scholarship leads the world to a new consensus. It’s not the voices at the margins that create change. It’s the voices that are respected and sought out. There will always be political theater in this world, but experts and scholars have far more power to drive change. Excellent scholarship is activism. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. God bless basic research.

I’m very proud today to see your work. I look forward to all the many ways that our world will be improved because you mastered your field, constructed powerful research, and then shared those findings with a waiting world.

Congratulations to you and to your rightfully proud faculty. I couldn’t be prouder to be anywhere else this afternoon.
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