More discussion about Catholic faculty
Letter to the Editor | Monday, November 12, 2007
A recent Observer article (“Professors discuss hiring,” Nov. 8) reported a “broad sense of disquiet [among the faculty] surrounding the idea of hiring with religious affiliation in mind” and quoted the chair of the Faculty Senate as saying that “faculty members … are worried that [by trying to respond to the decline in Catholic faculty] the University will move away from hiring solely on academic merit.” It seems to me that the provost and the president – like the diverse faculty committee that recently produced a helpful report on strategies for Catholic hiring – have always been clear on this crucial point: The University’s goal is and should be to cultivate, identify, hire and recruit Catholic faculty – and non-Catholic faculty who embrace Notre Dame’s mission – who are, by every sound measure of “merit,” outstanding. The goal is not, should not be and never has been to settle for second-rate scholars who happen to be Catholic or to denigrate the achievements and contributions of non-Catholic faculty. Notre Dame aspires not only to hire outstanding Catholic scholars, but also to increase the ethnic, gender and socioeconomic diversity of its faculty.This aspiration, however, is not seen as cause for worry that “the University will move away from hiring solely on academic merit.” Similarly, a concentrated effort to deepen Notre Dame’s Catholic identity through faculty hiring need not trigger “disquiet” about the University’s commitment to excellence. Indeed, there are good reasons to expect, and recent high-profile hires confirm, that it is precisely by emphasizing that which makes Notre Dame distinctive that the University will be able to attract and retain increasingly accomplished scholars, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Certainly, the mere fact that a certain percentage of a university’s faculty (or student body) self-identified as Catholic would hardly guarantee that it retained a meaningful and rich Catholic identity. No one should imagine that maintaining a preponderance of Catholic faculty would complete the hard, rewarding and important work of really being a Catholic university, in a broad, inclusive and critically engaged way.At the same time, none of us should forget that Notre Dame is interesting, and matters because and only to the extent that it is – in reality and not just in its history – a Catholic university. It is not enough that there is at Notre Dame a thriving Campus Ministry, an inspiring Center for Social Concerns and world-renowned individual scholars who focus on specifically “Catholic” topics. Nor is it enough that Notre Dame works visibly – as all universities should – to alleviate poverty and promote social justice. Certainly, more than Catholic faculty are required, but Catholic faculty are required. Certainly, efforts to identify and hire Catholic faculty should be responsible and careful, not clumsy or naive. Given all the givens, the task is not an easy one.Still, the fact remains: Without a community of Catholic scholars, working in a wide range of disciplines, Notre Dame would not be meaningfully Catholic, and therefore would not matter.
Richard W. Garnettassociate professor of lawNov. 11