The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Jenkins stresses research, character

Kaitlynn Riely and Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Notre Dame must strive to become a premier research institution while continuing to develop its unique mission, University President Father John Jenkins said in his second annual address to the faculty Tuesday.

The theme echoed what Jenkins has attempted to tackle in virtually all of his addresses this past year – the challenge in balancing Notre Dame’s “distinct Catholic character” with the push for ever-greater academic excellence.

But the focus on research, while mentioned as a goal last year, was at the forefront of Jenkins’ agenda Tuesday. While the Catholic character of the University and its sense of community are well known, Notre Dame falls short in its reputation as a research institution, Jenkins said.

“I am not saying we allow perceptions of others to dictate our actions … [but] it can be useful to hear the views outside the community,” Jenkins, who began his second academic year as University president this fall, told the more than 200 faculty members in Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

During in-depth interviews conducted this summer with more than 50 administrators, professors and journalists highly informed and involved in higher education, most participants described Notre Dame positively in areas of academics, tradition and finances – but not as a strong research institution, he said.

“Most did think that Notre Dame had the potential to be a strong research university, but it had not yet achieved that objective,” he said.

Jenkins traced the push for Notre Dame to become well known for its research contributions back to the early 20th century, under the presidencies of Father John Zahm and Father James Burns. The two men wanted to expand Notre Dame into not just a great University, but one that would contribute to the world through research, he said.

“They dreamed big dreams and refused to be intimidated by challenges,” Jenkins said. “We must do the same.”

While Jenkins did not describe a specific plan for promoting research, he said funds will be allocated from research programs that do not show potential for national recognition to programs that do show this promise. The goal to make Notre Dame a nationally recognized research institution, Jenkins said, is a challenging one – but one that the University must undertake.

“If we choose the more difficult path, we will answer the call to play a more critical role in the world,” Jenkins said. “…We will either move ahead or we will fall behind.”

The need to advance the University’s research standing is especially pressing, Jenkins said, because no other Catholic university in the world has the potential to achieve the level Notre Dame can.

“I believe that either we will be the University that combines the highest levels of academic discipline with a rich Catholic tradition or no one will, and the world will do without,” Jenkins said.

Notre Dame’s relationship to the outside world was a key point in the address. Jenkins said his extensive conversations this last year with people outside Notre Dame – from the pope to President Bush – have reinforced the importance of Notre Dame’s mission.

“All these people expected Notre Dame to be one of the great universities in the nation,” Jenkins said, “but they hope it will stand for something more and contribute something more.”

Notre Dame’s Catholic character drives those lofty expectations, Jenkins said, and to enhance this character, the University must actively recruit Catholic faculty members.

“High numbers of Catholic faculty members who are active in their faith are indispensable to our mission,” he said.

To achieve this goal, Jenkins announced the creation of a new office funded by the Keough family to identify Catholic scholars well suited to teach at Notre Dame. The University can only advance its Catholic mission, Jenkins said, if it has faculty members who are active in the Church and in their Catholic faith.

But Jenkins emphasized – not once, but twice – that this proposal to actively seek Catholic faculty did not mean the University was uninterested in keeping and hiring non-Catholic faculty. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist colleagues are essential to the debate and foster dialogue, making Notre Dame a better Catholic university, Jenkins said.

“As globalization shrinks the world and as religious tensions mount, Notre Dame must be a university that can help people of different faiths embrace one another,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins labeled Catholic character a “great strength of this University” and outlined three dimensions of that character at Notre Dame. The first, Jenkins said, is “the very nature and purpose to the education we offer.”

Drawing from the Greek word paideia, Jenkins described what end an education at Notre Dame should achieve – the acquisition of knowledge and the formation of moral character. One way that emphasis on forming a solid moral character is reflected, Jenkins said, is in the fact that the majority of Notre Dame students volunteer during their college career.

The second dimension is the emphasis Notre Dame gives to certain types of research that reflects its Catholic character, Jenkins said. He encouraged further research in areas of philosophy, peace studies and business ethics.

Finally, Notre Dame’s Catholic mission is demonstrated by its commitment to serve the Catholic Church, Jenkins said.

“I believe there is no other University in this world that is better able to serve the Church,” he said.

The University does this in many ways, including educating future Catholic leaders and sending recent graduates to underprivileged schools through the Alliance for Catholic Education program, Jenkins said.

An additional – but different – dimension of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is that it strives for academic excellence, Jenkins said. Notre Dame should be proud of its high retention rate, the competitiveness of its applicant pool and its highly sought after graduates, he said.

Jenkins cited a recent online survey of employers conducted by the University to describe the importance of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and the impact it had on students. In the survey, employers ranked the quality of Notre Dame graduates compared to their other employees. Though grads ranked high in areas of critical thinking and ability to work with others, they stood far above their peers in the employers’ perceptions of their ethical behavior and integrity, Jenkins said.

Referring to “events that may be at odds with our Catholic mission” – but not mentioning “The Vagina Monologues” by name – Jenkins only alluded briefly to the academic freedom debate that defined his first year. He thanked those who took part in the debate, and promised to conduct respectful discussions of any future issues.