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Officials review staff survey results

Marcela Berrios | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The three highest-ranking Notre Dame officials addressed faculty and staff members Tuesday in an effort to inform them and gather feedback about the University’s direction, developments in research initiatives and employee satisfaction – a tradition that began last year to build up a synergistic relationship between the top administration and the rest of the staff.

University President Father John Jenkins, Provost Thomas Burish and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves spoke at the town hall-style meeting, which will be held again today from 2 p.m. to 3:30.

Burish introduced the three-man panel and thanked the University’s employees for their hard work, saying their efforts are not overlooked or taken for granted, before giving Jenkins the floor.

Later in the meeting, Affleck-Graves furthered Burish’s initial thought, speaking about the importance of getting feedback from the staff and faculty to improve Notre Dame in multiple facets. He talked about ND Voice, a series of surveys and focus groups conducted in 2006 to understand the opinions of different University employees about their experience at Notre Dame.

The results, he said, revealed 96 percent of the polled staff and faculty members said they were proud of working at Notre Dame, 92 percent would recommend the University as an enjoyable workplace and 91 percent said they clearly understood the school’s goals, values and direction.

Affleck-Graves also said the surveys told him employees thought Notre Dame needed to improve its accountability – or the University’s ability to deal with poor performances in its different offices – as well as its recognition of exceptional employees.

Notre Dame has tried to alleviate these concerns, he said.

Since ND Voice was conducted, he said, about seven percent of Notre Dame employees have received a salary raise more than five percent. Another six percent received a raise equal to or less than two percent, depending on their respective supervisor’s performance reviews.

The salary raises fulfilled Affleck-Graves’ promise from last year’s town hall meeting, where he said annual salary increases would be tied to performance.

Furthermore, the University also created the Presidential Team Irish Awards to recognize its outstanding faculty or staff members publicly during home football games.

The 2006 poll indicated that some employees were unhappy with their level of respect and overall fairness – specifically Notre Dame’s efforts to include its faculty and staff in administrative decisions.

“We need to create more opportunities where you can offer feedback and speak up in either small group or large group settings, like this one,” Affleck-Graves said.

He read excerpts of some of the action plans different offices prepared as part of ND Voice last year, including a suggestion from the Central Receiving office proposing top administrators shadow staff members sporadically to understand their daily challenges.

“It is critical and essential every member of the Notre Dame family feels respected, valued and understood,” he said.

Future ND Voice polls will be issued every two years, he said, to avoid overwhelming the staff and faculty with too many survey requests.

While Affleck-Graves remarks were concrete and focused on tangible initiatives, Jenkins chose to talk about more abstract concepts, such as the University’s core values and its mission to strike a balance between its Catholic character and its academic ambitions.

He spoke of Notre Dame’s goal of becoming “a distinctively Catholic university that is counted among the preeminent universities in the world.”

To accomplish this mission, he said, the University must provide an unsurpassed undergraduate education and become a premier research institution while ensuring the University’s Catholic character permeates these endeavors.

These goals, Jenkins said, should always be approached through the University’s defining core values – integrity, excellence, accountability, teamwork and leadership.

“To be a part of Notre Dame is to accept these goals and these values and let them inform your everyday lives and your work here,” he said.

Jenkins said his trip last week to Congregation of Holy Cross founder Father Basil Moreau’s beatification in Le Mans, France, helped him rediscover Notre Dame’s origins.

“There was everywhere a sense of discovering this University’s roots and where we came from,” Jenkins said. “I met people from Africa, Bangladesh, Peru, Chile and other countries where Father Moreau’s work lives on. And with Notre Dame, they all shared this man’s commitment to service, his faith and his sense of community.”

During his trip to France, Jenkins said, he also met a descendant of the family of Father Edward Sorin, who founded Notre Dame.

Following Jenkins’ remarks, Burish updated the audience on current academic initiatives as well as the University’s achievements last year.

He said the freshman class had a record average SAT score of 1390. His address, however, focused less on statistics and more on the human-interest aspects that make the class of 2011 special.

Among the first-year students, Burish said, there are cancer survivors, a student who served in the Navy, a student that speaks four languages fluently and the great granddaughter of one of the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.

He also praised certain faculty members for their outstanding research, including a science professor he said is working to design cancer-fighting drugs without side effects and another professor who is studying the psychology of middle-aged people.

To keep the faculty motivated and interested in conducting similar projects, Burish said, the University is developing a research park where it would present its findings to corporations and potential backers that might provide further exposure.

Researchers who develop new products, like drugs or software programs, might then find a company that commits to manufacturing the invention, Burish said.

“This park will help take your research findings and give them an avenue so they can actually impact society and people’s daily lives,” Burish said.

Similar innovation parks already exist at major research universities like Purdue.

Burish stressed the importance of investing in infrastructure to draw new faculty members and graduate students to Notre Dame. This manpower, in conjunction with state-of-the-art facilities, would help bring more undergraduates into the research beat, Burish said.

Synergies like this one between the different constituents of the Notre Dame community, he said, are further proof that “a university is like a city.”

“Education is our main focus, but there are so many other components that make that goal possible,” he said. “You, [the faculty and staff] run this city, you manage it. You make it work for those who come here to engage in its primary focus.”

Affleck-Graves ended the town-hall meeting with a video presentation of the Eddy Street Commons project. He showed the audience an animation of the finalized project Рwhich is scheduled for completion in 2009. In the virtual tour, people are seen strolling down Eddy Street with shops, caf̩s and restaurants in the background.

He also showed new artist renditions of other buildings under construction on campus in the near future, including the engineering buildings, the law school, Geddes Hall (which will replace the current building occupied by the Center for Social Concerns) and the Purcell Pavilion inside the Joyce Center.

A short question-and-answer session followed the three officials’ speeches, and they later joined the meeting’s attendees in the LaFortune ballroom for an informal reception.