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Jenkins: Undergrad research essential to goals

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Offering unmatched undergraduate education and becoming a premier research university are intertwined objectives, University President Father John Jenkins said Tuesday in his annual address to the faculty.

As Notre Dame strives to improve its research capabilities and accomplishments – with $30 million of a $1 billion campaign – undergraduates can reap the benefits of learning and studying at a university where “high-quality research” is conducted, Jenkins said.

“When distinguished members of the faculty are available to teach and advise students, the thrill of research becomes part of the undergraduate experience in a way impossible at a four-year college,” he said. “We can, if we do it right, offer a better undergraduate education by not focusing solely on undergraduate education.”

Before faculty members gathered in the Leighton Concert Hall of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Jenkins reiterated and refined the three-part strategic vision for the University he has developed since becoming president of Notre Dame in 2005 – to remain dedicated to undergraduate education, to become a highly ranked and highly regarded research university and to uphold the University’s Catholic character.

Notre Dame, Jenkins said, wants to graduate intellectual leaders. Jenkins cited Ph.Ds – among other graduate degrees or even no advanced degree – as an avenue toward intellectual leadership. According to numbers Jenkins presented in a Powerpoint presentation, the number of Notre Dame graduates who earn Ph.Ds is low compared to peer institutions such as Princeton, Yale and Rice and very low compared to some liberal arts colleges like Harvey Mudd, Swarthmore and Reed.

Between 1995 and 2004, Jenkins said, five percent of Notre Dame graduates earned a Ph.D.

Other paths toward intellectual leadership do exist, Jenkins made clear.

“But earning a Ph.D is a road to such leadership, and we must do a better job of sending our students to Ph.D programs,” he said. “That five percent number must rise.”

Jenkins said he, along with University Provost Tom Burish, has asked Vice President and Associate Provost Dennis Jacobs to lead a group charged with the goal of deciphering ways to increase the percentage of graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D.

One way to get students interested in research, Jenkins told the professors, is to teach courses in ways that will inspire students to ask questions and find answers.

“As we seek to enhance research at Notre Dame,” he said, “let us individually and collectively strive to encourage our students to become fellow inquirers and colleagues in the pursuit of discovery, understanding and expression.”

Jenkins named a number of initiatives already underway to expand research efforts to the undergraduate population. The creation of the position of assistant director for undergraduate research, filled by Cecilia Lucero, the expansion of the honors programs in the Colleges of Arts and Letters and Science, the creation of an honors program in the College of Engineering and the addition of honors tracks for the majority of majors, are all ways to attract students to research opportunities as undergraduates, Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ objective to graduate more intellectual leaders is part of his overall strategic vision of Notre Dame as a premier research university. A benchmark goal for the University in terms of its reputation and capabilities as a research university, Jenkins said, is to be a member of the Association of American Universities, a group composed of the most distinguished research universities in the country.

Notre Dame will not seek to join the club for prestige or pride, Jenkins said, but rather to enjoy the benefits of sharing information and advice with other members and the reputation membership will bring.

Being a strong candidate for the association, Jenkins said, is an “achievable goal in coming years” for Notre Dame.

Of course, research requires money, Jenkins said. But that money is increasingly available for Notre Dame.

During the third year of a university president’s tenure, Burish said in his introduction of Jenkins, it typically becomes apparent whether the school’s financial supporters support the new president’s vision. In Jenkins’ case, they support his vision, Burish said.

“They’ve come to support the president like never before in this University’s history,” Burish said.

Jenkins announced in his speech that the University exceeded the $1 billion mark in its Spirit of Notre Dame campaign two weeks ago. The campaign was launched in May. Records were broken in each of the key fundraising areas, Jenkins said.

With the approval of the Board of Trustees, Jenkins said, the University plans to invest $25 million in new one-time funding and $5 million in new annual recurring funding in research initiatives.

As the University invests more money in research and becomes comparable with top-tier research universities, Jenkins said he was confident the University would increase faculty salaries to make them more comparable to those at the private universities in the Association of American Universities.

A Catholic university

Jenkins’ address to the faculty last year listed recruiting Catholic faculty members as a major goal of the University, and this year, he again mentioned his belief that Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, must have “a preponderance of Catholic faculty, those who have been spiritually formed in that tradition and who embrace it.”

Recruiting Catholic faculty is still a goal, Jenkins said, but he stressed the importance and the contribution of faculty members of other faiths and of no faith.

“Notre Dame must be a place for respectful, informed dialogue about matters of faith and spirituality, and we cannot be such a place without those who embrace other great religious traditions,” he said.

Jenkins said he and Burish, along with a committee, will draft a statement to give the reasons for hiring faculty to enrich the Catholic mission of the University.

“It will state why we seek faculty who are Catholic and faculty of other faith traditions and of none, and how each can contribute to a Catholic university,” Jenkins said. “This document will, I hope, be a guide for seeking great scholars who will contribute to the distinctive mission of Notre Dame.”