AXIS: Journal of Lasallian Higher EducationAbout
History and Transition of AXIS, by Brother William Mann, FSC
Brother William Mann, FSC, has been a steadfast advocate for AXIS since his time as president of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. As part of the journal’s transition to a new partnership, Brother William was invited to share his account of the publication’s history. This article also appeared in the autumn 2023 issue of De La Salle Today, a publication of Christian Brothers Conference.
AXIS: Journal of Lasallian Higher Education will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2024 and its transition to a new partnership. AXIS is a peer-reviewed, open access academic journal that shares original scholarly and creative works that contribute to collective knowledge of the Lasallian mission in higher education contexts.
The first issue of the online journal was published in 2009 as a grassroots initiative led by three Lasallian Partners at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Beginning with the 33rd issue, released in the fall of 2023, AXIS has transitioned from being a project of Saint Mary’s to being a partnership between the six Lasallian higher education institutions in the United States under the leadership of Christian Brothers Conference (CBC), the office for the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN).
The Idea of a Journal
The path to publishing the first issue of the journal began with a commitment to the mission. Brother Louis DeThomasis, FSC, who led Saint Mary’s almost continuously from 1984 to 2008, promoted a growing spirit of association among Lasallian Partners and Brothers and fostered a deepening of the understanding of the university’s rich Lasallian Catholic heritage. His efforts coincided with a growing appreciation of the role and importance of tertiary education within the larger Lasallian world.
When the Lasallian Association of Colleges and Universities (LACU), in collaboration with the International Association of Lasallian Universities (IALU), launched the International Lasallian Leadership Program at the Generalate in Rome in June 2007, it was therefore no surprise that professors and administrators of Saint Mary’s eagerly enrolled in the two-week program.
Every year since its inception, about 50 administrators and professors from IALU member institutions have continued to enroll in what is now known as the Rome IALU Program, where participants are expected to design a project that could potentially foster cooperation among the network’s institutions. The 2007 participants from Saint Mary’s chose as their project the auspicious goal of initiating an online international journal in service to Lasallian higher education. It would become AXIS.
The Early Days of the Journal
The three professors who attended that 2007 program were a quite exceptional group of Lasallian Partners: Valerie Edwards-Robeson, Roxanne Eubank and Richard Tristano. Their inspiration for the journal’s name came from the keynote address that the then Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools had given at the program. In that address, Brother Álvaro Rodríguez Echeverría, FSC, pointed out “some axes through which the influence and impact of IALU could be felt with more strength and effectiveness,” citing offering quality education, prioritizing research focused on reality and quality education for the poor, disenfranchised and displaced, and highlighting the importance that researchers, faculty and students feel the call to respond actively through their faith in their professional work.
Valerie, Roxanne and Richard proved to be quite successful in finding Lasallians at Saint Mary’s to work with them, and Brother Louis gave the project his tacit approval. The main challenge they encountered, however, was getting colleagues at other Lasallian institutions involved.
In the first issue of AXIS, an article entitled “Lasallian Assessment: Charism and the University,” co-authored by Richard with three colleagues at Saint Mary’s (Mary Catherine Fox, Melissa Luedtke, and Sister Judith Schaefer, OP), proposed both a model of an integrated view of the Lasallian Catholic university and a seven-part Lasallian assessment instrument. In a final two-page “afterword” to the article, the authors incorporated feedback, which is referenced as “valuable suggestions” solicited from participants of the Rome IALU Program in 2007, to an initial draft of the article. This article provides a good glimpse into how the original founders of the journal envisaged its functioning.
The Re-Fashioning of the Journal
The actualization and implementation of the original project and the solicitation of manuscripts from Lasallian colleagues around the world proved to be challenging. After about two years of work, the group was ready to drop the project. But first, Valerie and Sister Judith decided to discuss the matter with me, as I had succeeded Brother Louis as president of the university in June 2008.
We met over the course of a few weeks and worked closely to re-focus and re-fashion the vision of AXIS. A part-time copy editor (Annmarie De Marais) was hired to work with Valerie and Sister Judith, who assumed the function of managing editors. A new four-part structure (original scholarship and creative works, shared knowledge archive, annotations of dissertations and distinctive works of Lasallian higher education, and occasional selective bibliographies on Lasallian topics) was introduced. A decision was made that AXIS would only be published in one language, English. It would be offered for free online, with the option of purchasing print copies.
We gathered an internationally recognized group of Lasallians to serve on the initial editorial board: Brothers Frederick Mueller, Donald Mouton, Robert Schieler, Leonardo Teijaro and George Van Grieken. As some editors moved off the board, others joined, including Timothy Gossen, Brother Lawrence Humphrey, FSC, Greg Kopra, Alisa Macksey, Matthew Nowakowski and Brother Robert Smith, FSC.
The fact (a) that Roxanne Eubank, one of the initial founders of the journal, became the director of the Rome IALU Program from 2009 to 2018, (b) that Saint Mary’s University began to host an annual International Lasallian Research Symposium on its Minneapolis campus and (c) that I led IALU from 2015 to 2018 greatly helped to raise the profile of AXIS in the IALU network of colleges and universities.
As my term as president of Saint Mary’s was coming to a close in academic year 2017-2018, I was serving as president of IALU and editor-in-chief of AXIS. I had some exploratory conversations with IALU about moving AXIS under the auspices of IALU. Although those ideas were not brought to fruition, it was becoming clear that AXIS had grown into something more than a project solely sponsored by Saint Mary’s.
The Transition of the Journal’s Leadership
In 2019, discussions began with Christian Brothers Conference about transitioning the journal to the Region. In these conversations, it was agreed that the journal should remain connected to one or all of the Lasallian institutions of higher education in RELAN.
The time to pursue joint sponsorship seemed right. Manuscripts were regularly being submitted by professors at all Lasallian colleges and universities in the Region. Some of the journal’s principal protagonists had retired or transitioned away from Saint Mary’s, and other LACU institutions were increasingly open to supporting and jointly “owning” AXIS.
Transition efforts gained momentum in 2022, leading to more discussions with Saint Mary’s and leaders in the other Lasallian colleges and universities. All parties were supportive of CBC taking leadership of the journal, in partnership with the six institutions of higher education.
This transition took effect through the summer and fall of 2023, with the development of this new website and plans to hire a part-time managing editor to collaborate with the editorial board and representatives from each LACU institution to produce the journal.
AXIS, at the time of its inception, clearly met a need for Lasallian higher education; but what assured its longevity was really the dedication and service of a few generous Lasallians, and a synergy that was the consequence of a number of interlocking relationships and events.
It was never the work of one person. Rather, it was the work of a team of colleagues passionate about the Lasallian mission and higher education who worked tirelessly, together and by association, in the spirit of faith and zeal on behalf of Lasallian scholarship in service of the mission.
A strong commitment to quality Lasallian formation, like “yeast mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Lk 13:20), awakened and nurtured the imaginations of Lasallian colleagues at Saint Mary’s University to do something in service of all Lasallians in higher education. This, along with Brother Álvaro’s “axes” remarks were, in many ways, like “a mustard seed planted in a garden which became a large bush” (Lk 13:19). AXIS is, and it is hoped will continue to be, a strong and clear example of what shared mission, Lasallian association, and working together and by association can accomplish.