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The graduate community – a different perspective

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, November 16, 2006

A number of recent Letters to the Editor in The Observer have centered around the issue of whether or not graduate students should be included in the football ticket lottery and the Notre Dame experience. These commentaries have raised the deeper question of how graduate students fit into the Notre Dame community. In my opinion this is ultimately a question about the University’s identity and mission. While it is true that Notre Dame has a unique undergraduate identity, this is only one facet of its richly textured identity as a university. Even this “unique” identity is dynamic, striving as we do for greater diversity with regard to race and ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, religion, physical ability and scholarship. Diversity is enriched by our graduate students, who are, indeed, vital members of our community. In many instances, they are the first teachers and mentors that students encounter when they begin their undergraduate career at Notre Dame.

Graduate students have contributed much to making the First Year of Studies the pre-eminent program that it is in the nation. Along with faculty members, graduate students inspire their younger, undergraduate colleagues to pursue their dreams. They model what it means to be a scholar. Having jobs, spouses, children and homes with mortgages, they also model how they, as students, balance real lives. In his presidential inaugural address last year, University President Father John Jenkins spoke of the inclusive spirit that we must embody if we are to become a truly great university, saying that “We cannot be truly Catholic if we are exclusively Catholic.” Provost Tom Burish echoed this belief in his address to the faculty last month, in which he emphasized the importance of fulfilling Notre Dame’s potential for excellence as a graduate research institution. This implies, of course, that we cannot be a pre-eminent university if we do not include our graduate students as a valuable part of the Notre Dame community. Jenkins has also said, “Scholars in diverse disciplines pursue the same truth. Truths found in physics and biology do relate to those found in art, literature and philosophy, and our common pursuit of truth must include conversations across disciplines.” Our common pursuit of truth must also include conversations across cultures and across generations of students and faculty. We are all in this academic enterprise together.

Our distinctive Catholic mission is the University’s strength. It is part of what accounts for the sense of community on campus. And it is this sense of community, its generosity of spirit, its hospitality, that draw both undergraduate and graduate students here in the first place. Granted, there are finite resources like football tickets, or on-campus housing or a number of other things. But if we are to embody the ideals of community, we cannot be possessive of the “Notre Dame experience” and all that it has to offer.

Donald B. Pope-Davis, Ph.D.

Dean of the Graduate School

Nov. 15