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The State of Higher Education in Tragedy and Calm

September 15, 2017 - 6:15pm

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have laid waste to large sections of two of our largest states. Our news is full of tragic stories, but also replete with heroic efforts by many, as well as an intense spirit of giving and caring. By nature, we are a good people and in our hearts we care about the welfare of our neighbors, even if as neighbors they live hundreds or thousands of miles away. 

There will be many stories to come from these storms, but I wanted to share only one because this one to me reflects what really goes on in our institutions of higher education. 

This one tells the tale of the giving spirit of our students, our faculty and staff and our institutions as a whole. All too often it is the outliers that grab the headlines; the radical speakers from one side or another, a professor who blogs incendiary words, or a demonstration that captures the headlines more for the noise than the content. But this month, here in my home state of Florida, one story stands out to me as an example of the loving and giving spirit that lives within higher education. 

I'm sure many of you are like me, far away from areas torn apart by Hurricane Irma, but wanting to help. Likely you are also concerned about giving to charities you aren't sure about and how monies get spent. Read this story and then go look for efforts such as this one and give what you can. 

Right after the storm cleared my friend Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, located in hard-hit Collier County in Southwest Florida, sent me a note to let me know all was well. I was moved by Jim's faith-filled and upbeat attitude and really moved by the serve-others actions of his students. 

The Florida residents being assisted by these students are those who would love to reach the poverty line. They live in Immokalee and many have little but the clothes they wear, living day to day, working in the agricultural fields doing back-breaking work most people would never consider doing. Per capita income there is just over $10,000. When warnings went out to evacuate most had no means of leaving, nor a place to go to if they tried to leave. 

In the best of times their lives are hard-scrabble and with a potential category 4 drawing a direct bead, the days were going to get worse. People survived the storm, but the jobs that were there may not be. Agriculture in Florida was hammered by this storm. Tough times may have gotten much tougher.

So they could not leave, but students at the nearby Ave Maria University did have choices and many of them chose to stay. The day Irma hit, they did hunker down, secure on campus, but sharing their campus security were many residents of Immokalee as described by Jim Towey:

“We sheltered, during Irma, 450 Immokalee residents in our gym, Haitian elderly in our dorms, also all from Immokalee, the poorest area and one of the hardest hit. No power or water there. The students are amazing and have been thinking of others instead of themselves. The only 'safe space' they needed was on Sunday as they rode out the storm! They have been working for others ever since. God loves His people through these students. They bring what government can’t bring: love.”
What isn’t widely known, however, is the students of Ave Maria do this level of giving every day. “A big group of students from our Mother Teresa Project passed out 8,000 bottles of water and two vansful of food -- some of the families have had no food since Monday. (message sent on Thursday) ..."      

So much is made of the controversial things that occur in our institutions of higher learning. Our students come to us to learn but often it is they who do the teaching and the lessons that can be learned are invaluable. The Mother Theresa Project in Immokalee is one small, but immeasurable example of the good that happens every day in our American institutions. These good things happen every day at each of our colleges and universities. They best reflect the real state of higher education on both tragic days and calm ones.  

I know many would like to help but are feeling frustrated about what to do. I’d suggest reaching out to any college and ask them how best you can assist them in helping others. They all do it! My example is what one of our ICUF Florida member schools is doing and if you feel the giving spirit, you can send help. Your donations will feed people in need!  Here is how to help. Please add to your note the words "because Ed said." Thanks to all who can help. We can make a difference! 
    Check made out to Ave Maria University (note:  Mother Teresa Project in Immokalee)
    Office of the President
    5050 Ave Maria Blvd.
    Ave Maria, Florida 34142

We are truly blessed! Remember Proverbs 22:9. “The generous will they themselves be blessed for they share their food with the poor.”

Ed H. Moore, Ph.D., is president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

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