Don’t focus on numbers
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, October 18, 2007
This article is in response to graduate student Philip Reed’s Letter to the Editor (“Ph.D.s promoted for wrong reasons,” Oct. 17). In his letter, Reed quotes Father John Jenkins’s address to the faculty, where Father Jenkins stated that the five percent of Notre Dame students who go on to enter Ph.D. programs “must rise.” Reed closes by stating, “Notre Dame should not pursue policies merely in order to make itself look better. And we should expect a university dedicated to liberal education to understand that.”
I could not agree more. Sadly, this administration has too often worried about rankings and comparisons to “peer institutions.” Policies have been altered and changes have been made in the name of improving Notre Dame when, in fact, the true motive was to improve the ranking of Notre Dame in one publication or another. Dare I say, Notre Dame has no “peer institutions.” No other school in the country has such a delicate and wonderful balance of spiritual, academic, athletic, and service opportunities available to its students. We are ND, and we are unique; I’m sure that’s why many of us chose to attend this great university. Yet these “peer institutions” continue to drive decision-making by our administration.
The two most recent addresses to the faculty by Father Jenkins have been disconcerting, if not infuriating to some students and faculty alike. As a senior chemistry major, I have been pushed, prodded, poked, and pulled toward pursuing a Ph.D. since my arrival on campus. I know many of my fellow science majors feel the same way, and it’s been truly unnerving. While I appreciate the input from faculty members and certainly value their distinguished opinions, I think it is ultimately up to me, not my professor or Father Jenkins, to decide if five or six years of graduate school is right for me or not. The thought that graduate school recruiting efforts could possibly increase among faculty ranks is unbelievable, and Father Jenkins’ recent encouragement of these efforts is disheartening.
Notre Dame is so special because of the type of student we admit – the well-rounded, socially-conscious, over-achieving difference-maker. Perhaps these students are less likely to desire six years of intensive, focused study on a single subject so specific only a handful of people worldwide could teach it to them. Maybe the very things we so value in our students cause them, in general, to be turned off by the thought of graduate school. I certainly don’t want Notre Dame to change its admissions policies and admit different students because they might be more likely to consider graduate school.
Still, this is not the first time Father Jenkins has put Notre Dame’s numbers above the desires of its students. In last year’s address to the faculty, he stated, “We can succeed in advancing … the University’s mission only if we have, among our faculty, a critical number of devoted followers of the Catholic faith.” It seems he believes our faculty to be somehow deficient in Catholic nature or disposition. Many people took this statement to be an endorsement of real and significant efforts to recruit more Catholic faculty members. Is this not, yet again, a symptom of Notre Dame’s numbers obsession? Does it truly matter if 60 percent, or 55 percent, or even 40 percent of our faculty claim to be devoted Catholics? Surely a person’s ability to teach, passion for the subject matter, research background, and morality are more important to the majority of our students than a Catholic label. Great dialogue leads to better understanding, and the best dialogue is most often between people with different backgrounds and views. The word “catholic” itself means “universal.” By enhancing Catholic recruiting efforts, Notre Dame is, in fact, becoming less Catholic.
Notre Dame, it is time to stop playing the numbers game. Increasing the percentage of Catholic faculty or students who pursue Ph.D.s by five percent will not necessarily make Notre Dame a better place. Focus not on the numbers, but on the needs of people who call this place home. Keep tuition down. Increase staff wages. Do not be less Catholic, but be more Catholic. Otherwise, Father Jenkins, despite your wishes during your inaugural address, I would have to say that Notre Dame is dreaming too small.