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Jenkins aims to symbolize ND values in new presidency

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Since taking office on July 1, University President Father John Jenkins has assumed more than a new title – he has become the human embodiment of Notre Dame.”The president has a symbolic role for the whole University,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “You do things that are functional, you have meetings, you make decisions, and that’s all important, but the whole dimension of playing that symbolic role … even to the nation at large, the world at large, I think that is the thing that may be the most surprising and has been the biggest adjustment.”He says becoming “that presence” is a process. And just as he once applauded University President Emeritus Father Edward “Monk” Malloy for skillfully setting the tone for the University, Jenkins too has been setting his own tone.”I’ve spoken with the deans and chairs, I’ve spoken with various divisions in the University and really I’ve tried to articulate what I think is important at Notre Dame,” Jenkins said.For the new president, that means focusing on several ideas.”We act with integrity. There’s a sense of teamwork here,” he said. “Notre Dame has a special mission, and everybody has a leadership role and has to understand that, and in a way that reflects that leadership and excellence. A commitment to excellence should pervade everything we do.”Along with establishing a particular mindset, Jenkins has been developing specific goals for his term. Although he said his Sept. 23 inaugural address and Oct. 11 faculty address would further articulate his plans, he said his general thoughts on the future of the University under his leadership should not be terribly surprising.”I don’t think Notre Dame needs a radically new direction,” Jenkins said. “I think it needs an understanding it has a distinctive role to play in American education, and it’s got to realize that and play it in the best possible way.”In order to progress and play its role, Notre Dame must focus on undergraduate research, elevated standards for faculty and a greater promotion and understanding of diversity, Jenkins said.”[Diversity] is an issue I think we made progress on and need to continue to make progress on,” Jenkins said. “I think that involves the faculty increasing the number of women, and across the University to increase diversity and reflect on diversity so that we can understand that and get the greatest value from the diversity that is present at Notre Dame.”Jenkins also said he would like Notre Dame to become “the world center for reflection” on issues such as religious conflict, expressing enthusiasm for an upcoming forum on the subject moderated by former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw.”We’re the major university in this country that has a religious character that is among the top 20 universities or so,” Jenkins said. “And we can take that on.”For now, however, the new president often finds himself tied up in meetings, citing time management as his biggest challenge.”It’s been very busy,” Jenkins said. “With the start of the school year there’s an enormous number of meetings to go to, groups to meet.”Luckily for Jenkins, Hilary Crnkovich, vice president for public affairs and communication, and Father James McDonald, senior executive assistant and counselor to the president, are busily planning his inauguration. He expressed excitement for the two-day event, which will begin Sept. 22 and be attended by Jenkins’ extended family coming from Omaha, Neb.”I hope it’s a time not to celebrate John Jenkins, but to celebrate Notre Dame – to celebrate this wonderful faculty, students, alumni and its great potential for the future,” Jenkins said. “And I hope our visitors come and walk away just thinking, ‘What a great place.'”And how does he feel about his term as it approaches the two-month mark?”So far, so good,” Jenkins said with a smile.