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Presidential transition progresses

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Father John Jenkins isn’t ready to be Notre Dame’s president just yet. In fact, the president-elect said, complete preparation will always be out of reach.

“Is one ever ready?” he asked, while sitting directly below his “Notre Dame” shelf, which includes biographies of predecessors Father Edward Malloy and Father Theodore Hesburgh.

“You bring into any job – and I think this is true of any job in my life – your strengths and your weaknesses,” he said. “You’re never going to be totally adequate for the job … So in a sense, the answer to [when you’re ready] is never. But what you try to do is get in the position to do the best job you can.”

Jenkins is using this year to do exactly that.

Chosen by the Board of Trustees in April to succeed Malloy when the president steps down in June 2005, Jenkins has in the interim started to establish relationships with various circles of the Notre Dame community.

“Universities are interesting institutions for a reason – there are a lot of different constituencies you work with,” he said, listing faculty, students, alumni, trustees, benefactors, the wider public and leaders of the Catholic Church as vital branches of Notre Dame.

Therefore, Jenkins said, listening to and learning from these groups easily tops his preparation priority list.

“I think it’s very important for the president to be able to relate positively to each of these groups, each of which are critical to our success,” Jenkins said, praising the passionate connections each faction feels to the University. “I see that as an excellent way to spend time this year, because [when we] face challenges in the future, we will have had that interchange.”

Achieving such interchanges this year does present one immediate challenge – time.

But while a tight schedule prevents him from satisfying all constituencies at once, Jenkins said he strives for balance.

“You do feel you’re pulled in a lot of directions,” he said. “How do you portion your time so you’re serving all groups? I think that’s the toughest thing – and that’s the most important thing.”

Jenkins, a former associate provost and Holy Cross religious at Notre Dame, said he has also begun the transition to presidential influence. When issues arise that stretch past Malloy’s tenure, the president has consistently sought his counsel, Jenkins said.

“It’s actually gone very smoothly – it’s clear he’s making the decisions now, but on anything that’s going to affect the long term, the University after this year, we talk about that,” Jenkins said. “I know these things are difficult because you have two people who kind of have authority here, but there’s not been a single issue where I feel there’s been some tension or we’re going in different directions.”

That’s not to say the choices haven’t been complex.

“On so many things, they’re just difficult decisions, and it’s a tough call – [Malloy] recognizes it’s a tough call, and I recognize it’s a tough call, and it could go either way on some things,” Jenkins said. “But that’s not really a clash of wills.”

And as Malloy’s 18th and final year draws to a close, Jenkins said, he does not foresee the president pulling back from his duties – nor does he expect him to.

“I think he’s already trying to include me in the decisions that have long-range consequences, and realizes that he has to include me and will include me,” Jenkins said. “Maybe the right word is collaboration.”

Jenkins also continues to collaborate with new Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves. The duo, who worked side by side in the Office of the Provost before their April appointments, has visited various advisory councils and groups together when possible, Jenkins said.

And while the whirlwind that began after the announcement has slowed down somewhat, Jenkins said he faces a new test in gearing up for what’s to come.

“One day at a time, one week at a time,” he said. “And no doubt, after I take the job, I’ll still be correcting myself, because you know I’ll be green. …But you’re never completely ready, and you just try to get as ready as you can be … I hope [to be] by July 1, 2005.”