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Jenkins announces forum topic

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

This fall’s Notre Dame Forum – the third installment of the now-annual event – will address the “pressing issue” of immigration, University President Father John Jenkins said Tuesday.

Notre Dame has yet to confirm speakers for the Sept. 26 event, Jenkins said in a phone conversation. He would not name any potential participants – last year’s forum on global health brought in well-known figures like humanitarian Paul Farmer and economist Jeffrey Sachs – but said the topic had a “salient, immediate quality” in the U.S. and stressed its importance.

“[Immigration] is an issue that this nation must make decisions about in the coming months and coming year,” he said.

Jenkins said he picked the topic after receiving “several” recommendations from a nine-person committee chaired by Executive Assistant to the President Frances Shavers. The Observer could not reach Shavers Tuesday.

The first factor in choosing a forum topic, Jenkins said, is finding material “accessible to undergraduates.”

Secondly, the topic “should draw on the moral and religious framework of the Catholic university,” he said.

The other goals were to find a subject that would be interdisciplinary and to “make perhaps some contribution to national and Church debate,” Jenkins said.

The first Notre Dame Forum took place in September 2005, an initiative directed by Jenkins that coincided with his inauguration. The focus was the role of faith in the modern world, and while last fall’s forum examined the global health care crisis, centering this September’s conversation on immigration doesn’t represent a deliberate bent toward international issues, Jenkins said.

“I don’t think that was a conscious decision,” he said, explaining that in addition to the worldwide immigration debate, the issue “has a particular character in this country.”

Jenkins said he was not prepared to address any potential changes to the structure of the forum, which, for the past two years, has featured several national or international experts alongside selected members of the Notre Dame community. Both forums employed a star moderator as well – 2005’s event drew former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, while the 2006 edition featured Gwen Ifill from “Washington Week” and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”

“I think [the level of interest] has been good,” Jenkins said. “Obviously, we always want to improve it.”

While last September’s forum on global health led to the University’s partnership with the UN Millennium Project – an initiative led by Sachs that pairs donors and organizations with African villages to work collaboratively on development goals – Jenkins said he did not choose the topic of immigration with any extra University commitment in mind.

“We don’t have specific plans for any follow-up action, but last year we had no specific plans either,” said Jenkins, who called Notre Dame’s current involvement with a village in Uganda a “fortunate coincidence.”