Harkin received the award from AJCU President Jesuit Father Michael J. Sheeran at the annual AJCU board dinner in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 3.
In his acceptance speech, Harkin expressed his appreciation for the Jesuits and their contributions to higher education and social justice in the United States. "Catholic social teaching asks us to lift up the poor, and Jesuit colleges and universities are committed to that. But, they can't do it alone, and that's why government [funding] has to be part of it. Government and religion are both about lifting people up and giving them hope," he said.
Harkin also described his admiration of Pope Francis, whose commitment to helping the poor has deeply resonated with him. As the son of a Slovenian immigrant mother and an Irish coal miner father, Harkin saw his parents work tirelessly to provide for their six children in spite of their limited means and education.
Harkin's upbringing influenced the issues that he has championed during his 40 years in the U.S. Congress, including 30 in the Senate. He demonstrated his commitment to education by serving as Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, where he oversaw passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA); increased the Pell Grant maximum award twofold between 1989-1990 and 2009-2010; and secured $17 billion in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Harkin is also noted for crafting the legislation that became the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In his remarks to the AJCU Board, he described his brother's struggles with hearing impairment as his inspiration for helping others with disabilities.
worked closely with Harkin for nearly two decades. He will retire at the end of
his current term. At the end of his remarks at the AJCU dinner, Harkin joked,
"I've always admired Jesuits and I've always said that they're so smart, I
could never aspire to be one!" [Source: Association of
Jesuit Colleges and Universities]