To Others as to Ourselves: Dr. Isabel Nuñez Shares a Vision of Higher Education Amidst Crisis

April 24, 2024
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Dr. Isabel Nuñez speaks during a university talk at SUA

How do we address the current crisis facing higher education? This was the focal point of Dr. Isabel Nuñez’s university talk on April 3, “To Others as to Ourselves: Courage, Wisdom, and Compassion.”

SUA President Edward Feasel welcomed Nuñez and her family, expressing his hope that this talk would be the start of a fruitful dialogue and relationship between the university and Nuñez, professor of educational studies and dean of the School of Education at Purdue University Fort Wayne and vice president of the American Educational Studies Association. Nuñez has co-authored four books published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, including Hope and Joy in Education: Engaging Daisaku Ikeda Across Curriculum and Context.

What can we do to protect and uphold the sanctity of education in an age when universities are under intense scrutiny from nearly all corners of society and an increasing number of prospective students are wondering if attending college is worth it? Why are universities important in the first place? Nuñez posited that the answers lie in the model of global citizenship SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda outlined during his 1996 Columbia University speech: leading with the wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living; the courage not to fear or deny difference; and the compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distance places.

Nuñez spoke about the foundational tenets of Soka education, starting with Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s statement about the fundamental goal of education:

What then is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to ensure that this child will be able to live a life of happiness?”

Makiguchi’s philosophy and implementation inspired his disciple and fellow educator Josei Toda, who believed that humanity could only be freed from the endless cycles of war by fostering new generations of students imbued with deep respect for the sanctity of life.

In Makiguchi, Toda, and Ikeda’s view, life encompasses the interrelationship between self, others, and the natural world. “When we know who we are, then we are ready to engage diverse others with care,” said Nuñez. It is not enough to lay the theoretical foundation of why higher education is important or simply proclaim that it is. What is required, Nuñez said, is the inner work needed for each one of us working in the field to become a living ambassador of higher education. What is necessary is confidence in the inexplicable power of inner change.

“We need wisdom, courage, and compassion to engage even with parts of ourselves,” said Nuñez. “All of us were born to imperfect humans and were raised by and among imperfect humans. When we confront those destructive voices within our own inner worlds, we can avoid projecting them onto our students, colleagues, and in and out of the classroom. We need to do this work within so we are prepared to approach the outer world.”

Nuñez reminded the community of the high regard and great expectations Ikeda had for SUA, often referring to the university as the hope of the 21st century, and concluded her talk with an excerpt of his essay “The Mission of Soka University of America”: “My thoughts are always with you, who have already written such a wonderful history in your youth. Indeed, I find it impossible for my thoughts to leave you.”

Additional Resources
If you enjoyed Nuñez’s talk and are interested in learning more, please utilize this list of resources related to the themes she explored.

Dear Global Citizens, Daisaku Ikeda
Soka Education, Daisaku Ikeda (Middleway Press)
The Light of Learning: Selected Writings on Education, Daisaku Ikeda (Middleway Press)
Living As Learning: John Dewey in the 21st Century, Daisaku Ikeda, Jim Garrison, Larry Hickman (Dialogue Path Press)