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Jenkins, Senate to be commended

Staff Editorial | Friday, March 23, 2007

Student government meetings are often a lot of words and little action, but at Wednesday’s session of Student Senate, that was the goal – and it was a positive conversation, not a frustrating imbalance.

University President Father John Jenkins stopped by for a question and answer session with the senators, a visit he first made during last spring’s debate about academic freedom and Catholic character and a practice that hopefully will be repeated many times during his presidency.

The two organizations – the University administration and student government – like to talk about dialogue, but on Wednesday there actually was some, and both sides did their part. Jenkins took time out of his day to meet with senators, but the students also asked tough questions – and the president responded sincerely.

Senators peppered Jenkins with queries ranging from why sexual orientation has not been added to the University’s anti-discrimination policy to why tuition continues to rise. To their credit, the senators were persistent, asking follow-up questions after Jenkins had given his original answer.

And on the president’s side, Jenkins did his best to explain certain policies, clarifying, for instance, that the University does not promote discriminating against homosexuals but is worried about what a blanket statement in its non-discrimination policy would commit it to.

Jenkins should not have answered concerns about the cost of tuition by implying that the high salaries many Notre Dame students expect after graduation justify the ever-increasing price tag, but he even managed to recover from that after Morrissey senator Greg Dworjan explained how that attitude discourages graduates from going into community service.

The problem of post-graduation debt needs to be addressed, Jenkins responded – an admission that meant Dworjan effectively made his point without creating antagonism. The administration may or may not take steps to try to reduce debt in the future, but it was important that students brought the issue to Jenkins’ attention in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

That respect is essential, and the openness and candor from the administration and student government is refreshing. If both parties continue to engage in constructive dialogue, the entire campus community will benefit