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Members discuss Jenkins’ initiatives

Joseph McMahon | Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Student Senate discussed the University’s policies on diversity, female faculty and new ideas for multicultural programming during its meeting Wednesday.

The discussion centered on the suggestions made by University President Fr. John Jenkins’ Cultural Diversity committee. Jenkins had asked the Senate for student input on the issue.

“We’re going to be writing a nice summary of the discussion and be giving it to Fr. Jenkins at the end of the week,” student body vice president Grant Schmidt said.

Schmidt said currently only 13 percent of Notre Dame’s faculty are considered diversity faculty, and that number has not increased since 2000. Schmidt asked the senators what they thought the University could do to recruit and retain more diversity faculty and if they thought having a diverse faculty was important.

O’Neill Hall senator Kevin Kimberly said recruiting was important to creating a diverse faculty.

“Recruiting people to come here and to apply here is a great idea to increase diversity and I don’t think it’s unfair either,” he said.

Senate Community Relations committee chair Gus Gari said the life experiences of diversity faculty were invaluable in the classroom, particularly in the foreign language departments.

“I’m a Spanish major and if you have a professor that is from a Spanish-speaking country, that’s something from their background that adds a bit to the class,” he said.

Walsh Hall senator Julie Zorb said it is important to focus on retention rate as well because that statistic is “indicative of the happiness of diversity faculty members.”

Schmidt said the University’s percentage of female faculty was only 24 percent – a figure much lower than many of Notre Dame’s peer institutions, Schmidt said.

“The problem is we haven’t been keeping up with our peers,” he said.

Faculty Senate liaison and biology professor Kristin Lewis, who attended Notre Dame both as an undergraduate and graduate student, said she has seen conditions for women improve since she first arrived at the University.

“I think things have gotten better for women,” she said.

But Lewis said Notre Dame’s retention rate for female professors was low because they had trouble finding other female professors at the University to work with.

“I think it takes a critical mass for women to find their own colleagues, peers and support groups,” she said.

Schmidt said one aspect of the committee’s recommendations was to consider the call for more cultural diversity events.

Duncan Hall senator Ben Linskey said the inclusion of multiple events under one umbrella was a good idea.

“I think that the way it’s set up right now, it’s kind of Balkanized,” Linskey said. “I think you need a more holistic approach.”

Committee on Academic Affairs chair Ryan Brellenthin said it is important not to dilute the quality of the events for the sake of quantity.

“I think it’s important to not just have events for the sake of having events,” Brellenthin said. “You need to think big.”

Senate Technology committee chair Devin Fee said some multicultural events are not welcoming to the entire campus.

“I’m not really sure the target audience for these events is everyone,” Fee said.

One suggestion put forward by the Cultural Diversity committee was the inclusion of a weeklong celebration entitled “We are ND.”

“This event would enable Notre Dame to celebrate the strength of our diverse community while welcoming individuals to experience cultural entertainment they may have missed during the academic year,” the committee’s report said.

Senate Oversight committee chair Ian Secviar said he liked the idea of one large celebration, adding that the advertising would help give exposure to lesser-known groups such as the German Club.

“I really like this idea of having one universal event in addition to everything else,” Secviar said. “I feel it’s great if everything is highlighted and it brings us together as a University community.”

Another recommendation by the committee was the inclusion of diversity programming grants, which would be accessible to groups who need funding to hold diversity events.

“For those groups and faculty members who have a desire to provide diversity programming for our campus, this fund will allow them to increase the quality of their programs without decimating their club allocations,” the committee’s report said.

Senate Multicultural Issues committee chair Alyssa Zamora said the fund would be useful to many clubs.

“If you want to promote diversity, these funds would be available to you,” she said.

The final recommendation of the Cultural Diversity committee is the creation of “Hero Days,” which would honor “members from various ethnic/cultural groups by sponsoring opportunities to celebrate their contributions in the form of community service, faculty lectures, prayers services and classroom/residence hall discussions,” the committee’s report said.

Secviar said the “Hero Days,” which would honor one person each month beginning in the spring semester of 2009, were a good idea because they would provide exposure for a number of clubs in addition to celebrating the values of the University.

“I think it’s great that it focuses on American Catholic values,” he said. “This would be a great venue for some of the lesser-known clubs.”

In other Senate news:

u The Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for intramural sports registration forms to be put online. Alumni Hall Senator Zach Reuvers, who sponsored the resolution, said RecSports had wanted to move all the forms online, but needed help from the Office of Information Technology (OIT). This resolution, he said, would help show OIT that students supported the move.