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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Volume 33 Number 1
Winter 2006

Evoke: Remembering an Institution’s Mission Through Soulful Renewal

Jennifer Grant Haworth and Mary de Villiers 

Not too long ago, things were looking pretty bleak for Loyola University Chicago. The Jesuit research-extensive university was in a financial turmoil that had been going on since the mid-1990s. In fact, from 1998 to 2002, the university posted a string of annual deficits of $20-30 million on an approximately $250-320 million operating budget. Overall, the operating expense budget grew approximately 5% in 5 years. There would not be a projected surplus until 2004.

To add to the school’s troubles, Loyola’s enrollment seemed to be on a roller coaster. The university had a total enrollment of 13,500 for the 1997-98 school year; however, in 2000-01, Loyola’s enrollment dipped to 12,600. The enrollment only climbed up to 13,000 for the 2002-03 school year.

Faculty and staff were deeply affected by the economic troubles when the university applied a 25% reduction in its workforce across 1998 to 2003. There was even a turnover in senior leadership, with the university gaining a new president in 2001. The university also brought on board new vice presidents of academic affairs, advancement, student affairs, and finance. Across the university, morale ran low, and the university community felt uncertain of what the future would bring.

A Welcome Gift

In the midst of all of its troubles, Loyola University Chicago received a unique opportunity in January of 2001. Through its "Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation" grants initiative, the Lilly Endowment granted the university $2 million to fund Evoke (Eliciting Vocation through Knowledge and Engagement). The overall purpose of the program was "to encourage, support and challenge the people of Loyola University Chicago to be true to their personal callings and to the original calling of the university." The program’s working definition of vocation was provided by Frederick Buechner, who called vocation "that place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet."1

The program, which came to be known as Evoke, had a three-part vision for Loyola’s taking vocation more seriously. The leadership of Evoke hoped to see the school’s dedication to vocation expressed in: 

  •  A strengthened climate on campus that was supportive and welcoming of dialogue about and deeds that arise from personal call or vocation;

  •  A growing number of Loyolans who were more aware and receptive to the idea of call and its relevance to their lives; and

  •  A growing number of programs, initiatives, and policies that provided Evoke’s constituents with opportunities to explore and, if they so chose, to act more fully on the theme of call in their personal and professional commitments.

In its original implementation grant to the Lilly Endowment, Evoke’s leaders proposed five primary strategies to accomplish the program’s goals: building capacity through faculty/staff development and programmatic initiatives, collaboration, incentives, communication and ongoing assessment.

To begin with, Evoke planned to support its vision beyond the grant period by building capacity through faculty and staff development and various curricular and co-curricular programs. Introducing faculty and staff to the key concepts of vocation would increase their familiarity with the notion of vocation, and, in time, lead to the institutionalization of "train the trainers" workshops for sharing those learnings with others. Additionally, the development of targeted student programming efforts and the institutionalization of various workshops, student courses, and retreats would build the project’s capacity, putting it on solid ground once grant-funding expired.

Evoke’s leaders also planned to collaborate with others across the university. The program would seek to bring people and units together in its planning, implementation, and evaluation. By reaching out and partnering with a wide range of Loyolans on programmatic initiatives, including the revision or creation of new vocation-infused courses, Evoke would seek to create a critical mass of people and programs across the university who could carry on and institutionalize its vision.

Evoke would also support the university community’s involvement in its activities by offering financial incentives (among other perks) to faculty and staff for developing new courses and workshops centered on vocation.

In terms of communication, the Evoke program planned to establish and maintain a website, and it planned to work with others in the university – Public Affairs, Admissions, Residence Life, University Ministry – to develop and distribute various publications that were inclusive of the language and idea of vocation. Evoke would also actively participate in new faculty, staff, and student orientations, seek incorporation in the undergraduate view book and recruitment efforts, and look for publicity opportunities.

Finally, Evoke would engage in continuous assessment in an attempt to learn what it was doing well, what it could tweak, and what it should discard altogether.

Making an Assessment

The formation of Evoke included the stipulation that a summative evaluation would be conducted in the final year of grant funding (2004). The overall purpose of the evaluation was (1) to identify Evoke’s programmatic strengths and weaknesses and (2) to assess its impact on Loyolans personally and on the university community as a whole. Based on these understandings, Evoke would work with a designated Task Force to develop a strategic agenda to move Evoke confidently into its future.

While several questions guided this evaluation effort, three were especially relevant:

  •  In what ways, if any, has Evoke strengthened Loyola’s institutional focus on vocation/call?

  •  How has Evoke – with its explicit focus on vocation – enriched or diminished the mission and identity of Loyola University Chicago generally, and, more specifically, its promise of "preparing people to lead extraordinary lives?"

  •  What impact, if any, has Evoke had on students, faculty, and staff? Specifically, how has the initiative affected: their awareness and understanding of vocation, the emphasis they place on vocation in their life and career choices, and their perspective on the mission and identity of the university?

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