Meet Seattle University's moral compass

President Fr. Steve Sundborg celebrated his 15th year in the position in December. How his leadership has driven the school's mission.

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“These are young people who are falling between the cracks,” Sundborg said. “We want to create a pipeline so that they can go to college, hopefully Seattle University, and get good jobs. The crisis is acute in our own backyard, and with community-building collaboration, we can make a difference. Our dedication to helping and working side by side with underserved populations and those in need is proven and unwavering.” This year, the Youth Initiative received the 2012 Presidential Award for community service — the highest recognition by the federal government to a college or university for civic engagement, service learning and volunteerism.

The university has also tackled family homelessness under Sundborg, with a coalition of 14 faith communities across the region that have committed to changing attitudes, behaviors and policies around family homelessness. Selected communities receive financial resources and support designed to increase their response to family homelessness, while learning to effectively advocate for the public policy changes needed to reduce family homelessness in the region.

One of Sundborg’s newer initiatives is engaging Seattle University students to work in poor, developing countries with nongovernmental organizations like Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Service, Peace Trees Vietnam and the Jesuit Chikuni Mission in Zambia. “I believe Father Sundborg sees this global outreach as an updating of the Jesuits’ historical outreach to the world,” said associate provost for global engagement Victoria Jones. “This is an opportunity for our students not only to broaden their awareness of the world, but to partner with local communities to address the needs of under-resourced areas.”

These partnerships are also reciprocated, Jones said. For example, the University of Central America in Managua, Nicaragua asked Seattle University to provide their students an opportunity to do an immersion practicum with local businesses to learn about sustainable growth. “Our students work in a geographical area, or convergence site, where we have a set of local partners,” Jones said. “Students are not only learning international competencies, but also capacity building for partnering [with] businesses on the ground. We are working strategically with the Jesuit network worldwide.”

Notwithstanding its academic strengths, however, Seattle University’s institutional visibility remains low in the Puget Sound region — frequently overshadowed by the University of Washington. “We’re under-recognized for the impact we have in this state,” Sundborg said. “There are 40,000 alumni in Washington state, 35,000 of whom live here in the Puget Sound. Seattle University is making a great difference in the Pacific Northwest region.”

Like other religious leaders, Sundborg’s presidency has not been immune to controversy. From 2006 to 2009, the Seattle University president was embroiled in a much-publicized and stormy legal battle involving Jesuit priests accused of having sexually abused minors, including Native Alaskan children while Sundborg was acting provincial of the Oregon Province. He was named a defendant in the civil suit in the latter case, which was settled two years ago.

He has also had to grapple with the increasingly strident public opposition to the Catholic Church's stance on same-sex marriage, contraception and clergy abuse, drawing fire from R-74 supporters last spring when he defended the amendment to R-74 that exempts religiously affiliated schools from having to accommodate same-sex weddings. “[It] protects us from having to make our chapels available for same-sex marriages. To require us to utilize them for this purpose would violate our identity and commitment as a Catholic University,” he said.

In spite of the harsh criticism he endured, Sundborg emerged from those crises with his reputation untarnished, a testament to his resilience and fortitude.

Sundborg is upbeat too about SU’s ability to leverage jobs for its graduates and contribute to the region’s economy during a time of recession. Increasing SU's emphasis on STEM disciplines, he says, will help graduates compete in an increasingly competitive workforce. “We’ve weathered the economic downturn well," Sundborg said. "A lot of people want to come to Seattle, and we’re situated right in the middle of the city."


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 18, 5:51 p.m. Inappropriate

A glowing article but well-deserved. Seattle U is really hitting on all cylinders. As relaxed and unassuming as Fr. Sundborg appears to be, he has surrounded himself with motivated and talented faculty and staff. He has built a culture of curiosity, fun, respect, and inclusiveness that welcomes anyone, including non-Catholics who make up the bulk of the student body.

We're constantly amazed at our good fortune to have a daughter at Seattle U right now, where she is very happy and successful. The focus on public service and social justice was obvious to her from day 1, and is exactly right for this generation. I was a UW grad myself, and have nothing but good things to say about the UW. But my daughter is getting a remarkably superior education at SU.

Posted Sat, Jan 19, 11:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Calling Sundborg a "moral compass" is not appropriate, since he supervised priests who abused children, and has stated that he thought it a good thing that Catholic chapels wouldn't have to be forced to marry same-sex couples (not that that was actually going to happen under R-74, which he no doubt knew). No one who toes the line of the Vatican no matter who is hurt by that adherence can be termed a moral compass.

This is as much a depressing puff piece as was Anthony Robinson's recent article on Mars Hill. What is it with Crosscut lately, that it feels that it must hype religious figures whose beliefs about how to treat and protect various sectors of society are not morally respectable, to say the least?

sarah90

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