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Board of Trustees visits Washington D.C. for meeting

Mary Kate Malone | Friday, May 19, 2006

In an effort to establish a higher profile for the University in the nation’s capital, the Board of Trustees [BOT] convened in Washington D.C. May 4-5 for their spring meeting where some members shared coffee with President Bush and attended a reception with several Congressmen.

The BOT’s Student Affairs Committee also heard from former student body president Dave Baron and former student body vice president Lizzi Shappell, who presented a report examining student-alumni relations at Notre Dame.

The BOT’s Washington D.C. meeting comes after the their winter gathering in Rome, where University President Father John Jenkins – who sits on the Board – met Pope Benedict XVI and Trustee members met with various Vatican officials.

Typically the BOT meets at Notre Dame, but this year was different as the BOT used its meetings to better establish itself in the universal church and in the national political scene.

In Washington, the BOT passed a “vote of confidence” in Jenkins’ April 5 closing statement on academic freedom and Catholic character at Notre Dame. Jenkins’ decision to not prohibit “The Vagina Monologues” came after 10 weeks of fierce debate on the interplay between Catholic teaching and controversial campus events that appear to conflict with it.

“The Board of Trustees … passed a resolution expressing its confidence in [Jenkins] and its agreement in principle with the policies and the process developed for the evaluation of events at the University which touch upon the Catholic character of Notre Dame,” BOT chairman Patrick McCartan said in a statement.

Representing the interests of the student body, Baron and Shappell traveled to Washington to present the second of two BOT reports their administration delivered to the Board this year. The report examined the sometimes-strained relationship between current and former students, a problem that can be attributed to misperceptions, Baron said.

“We took into account three specific events that have taken place on campus over the past couple of years to analyze the relationships those two groups have had,” Baron said. “We took a look at the structures by which students and alumni relate, and offered suggestions on ways we can approve those.”

The major campus events Baron and Shappell used to demonstrate the student-alumni relationship – the “Candle” advertising spot controversy last fall, the academic freedom and Catholic character debate, and the Golden Dome re-gilding last spring -demonstrated the misperceptions that affect student-alumni relations, Baron said.

Baron said the Dome re-gilding controversy proved that “students and alumni have a perception of each other that’s not necessarily accurate. Sometimes they are more on the same page than they think themselves to be.”

Though Baron said the hour-long presentation and discussion was “received pretty well,” Shappell said some Trustees wanted more evidence to back up the report’s main points.

“Our goal was to start conversation between ourselves and the Board members,” Shappell said. “It wasn’t quantitative, it was more qualitative … [Board members] expressed frustration that there was no quantitative data but it definitely incited a lively conversation.”

Shappell, who was took over as student body president April 1, said Board members were “more than willing” to help her administration address the issue next year. Shappell used the improvement of student-alumni relations as a key platform in her campaign.

“We discussed the possibility of…the student body president and vice president speaking to the Alumni Senate and/or the Alumni Board to give a state of the student union to say what [the] student body has been doing throughout the year,” Shappell said.

In addition, three student-alumni picnics are planned for certain football weekends next fall where students can “network and socialize and share stories with alumni returning back to campus.”

“It’s a concern for everyone,” Shappell said. “There’s an obvious disconnect with generational differences but if we claim to be the Notre Dame family, we should try to foster as amicable a relationship between students and alumni as possible.”