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University promotes active staff role

Amanda Michaels | Thursday, September 28, 2006

In an effort to reach all members of the University community, administrators conducted four Town Hall sessions for Notre Dame staff today and Wednesday, emphasizing each worker’s role in achieving the institution’s academic and spiritual success.

“This is a chance for us just to speak to you generally about the University, thank you for your efforts and talk about where we want to go in the future,” said University President Father John Jenkins, who delivered a similar – but more academically focused – address to faculty members Tuesday.

Jenkins was joined by Provost Tom Burish and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, who each took a portion of the allotted hour to speak to the hundreds of staff members who flocked to the Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

While Affleck-Graves spoke specifically about employment initiatives and campus construction, Burish and Jenkins referred more broadly to how staff members fit in the University’s greater goals.

Burish set the session’s inclusive tone by using his time to thank the staff on behalf of administrators, faculty members and students.

“Unfortunately those who work in the academic side in the University often don’t thank you [the staff] enough … Because you’re as good as you are at what you do, it’s easy to take you for granted,” Burish said. “A university is like a city … a city which works because of you. You run the city that is Notre Dame.”

Burish described staff members as “role models” for students, often stepping in in place of parents to offer guidance and support during the undergraduates’ important years of growth.

“When [students] are praying or studying or in class, you make it possible for them to do what they do, and when they’re not in class, you give meaning to their life at Notre Dame,” Burish said. “You do it all for them while they’re here, and you do the same for the faculty.”

Jenkins reiterated this sentiment.

“I feel a special connection with each one of you,” he said. “…I know that what you do, the support you give us, the support you give students and faculty, makes this place the great place it is. I’m extraordinarily proud to be president of this great institution.”

Jenkins went on to laud Notre Dame’s unique place among academic institutions, speaking of the high standards to which the University is held.

Whether meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, President George W. Bush or leaders in academics, Jenkins took away the same message every time.

“What they all communicated in the different ways is a special expectation, a special hope for Notre Dame,” Jenkins said. “They expect us to be a great university and produce great graduates, but they also expect something more than that.”

That “something more” is what Jenkins called Notre Dame’s “special sense of purpose,” connected to both its Catholic character and constant quest for improvement.

“The great promise of Notre Dame is to bring together the spiritual and moral values of the Catholic university with true excellence of the traditional academic university,” he said.

Jenkins said a colleague from Harvard University told him, “If Notre Dame ever had to shut its doors, there’d be no one to take its place.”

Jenkins outlined strategies for realizing a greater vision for the University – one that puts it as one of the world’s preeminent academic institutions that manages to retain its distinctive Catholic character.

The plan focuses on continuing to nurture unsurpassed undergraduate education, small but excellent graduate and professional programs and vibrant residential life committed to moral and spiritual development, he said.

Specific points of direction for this year include a push for recognition of Notre Dame as a premier research university, more recruiting of Catholic faculty and improvement of internal organization, communication and teamwork.

At the heart of this development is a set of core values Jenkins focused on as the essence of the University and its members – including the staff.

“Core values are very important. They are things that absolutely everyone should have in mind, because this is part of what it means to be part of Notre Dame,” he said, citing integrity, accountability, teamwork, leadership in excellence and leadership in mission.

Jenkins asked each staff member to recognize these values and integrate them into their work, setting the highest standards of behavior every day.

“As I said, at the core of Notre Dame are special spiritual and moral values, and each and every one of us contributes to that spirit,” he said.

Affleck-Graves used the last part of the meeting to elaborate on the University’s efforts to ensure the presence of these values, and to make Notre Dame “a great and rewarding place to work.”