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Jenkins thanks staff during town hall

Liz O'Donnell | Thursday, September 17, 2009

University President Fr. John Jenkins and Executive Vice president John Affleck-Graves thanked members of the Notre Dame staff for their contributions last year and updated them on University projects at the annual town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Jenkins began his address by thanking members of the Notre Dame staff for their hard work last school year.

He said last year was his “most challenging and most rewarding year,” citing the world financial crisis and President Barack Obama’s Commencement speech as two key components.

“Our Commencement was probably the most watched commencement in the history of higher education,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the Commencement speech demonstrated the special role of Notre Dame in higher education.

“What other campus could focus with such discipline, faith and community?” he said.

Jenkins also thanked the members of the financial team for their efforts in helping Notre Dame to deal with the financial crisis.

“We have been blessed with an approach to spending that is conservative,” he said. “We have been able to respond to crisis in an even keeled way.

Jenkins also congratulated the audience of staff members for making Notre Dame one of the top-10 universities to work for in the country.

He highlighted job satisfaction, employee benefits, quality facilities, safety and the employees’ commitment to the University’s mission as key factors in placing Notre Dame high on the list.

Jenkins said Eddy Street Commons is a development that will help to integrate the University into the South Bend community.

“The Eddy Street Commons is a beautiful facility, ” he said. “It is a bridge between campus and the city.”

He also said the University is continuing to work on the opening of Innovation Park, which he hopes will enhance the local economy.

In addition to these two initiatives, Jenkins said the University continues to work on the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization as well as the Robinson Community Learning Center as part of Notre Dame’s financial commitment to the community.

Affleck-Graves addressed the audience about the University’s economic situation.

He said last year was challenging, but also an opportunity for the University to demonstrate the strength of its community in the face of adversity.

“What was most gratifying was everybody pulled together to get us through,” Affleck-Graves said.

He said the University is not alone with its fiscal struggles, citing other top universities that are also feeling the effects of the crisis.

“In the industry of higher education, this is still a very difficult time,” he said.

Notre Dame’s endowment has decreased from $7.18 billion to $5.58 billion, and donor gifts are down 34 percent from the 2008 fiscal year to the 2009 fiscal year.

“People’s individual wealth is down. Therefore giving is down,” Affleck-Graves said.

He said Notre Dame needs to remain vigilant about controlling costs and that job protection remains one of the University’s top priorities.

Affleck Graves said the University is also working on three initiatives to benefit its staff: ND Renew, ND Voice and Improve ND.

ND Renew is a project in its design phase that is headed by human resources. Its goal is to ensure that all employees have a market-competitive salary. Affleck-Graves said they hope to implement it in the spring semester.

The second program, ND Voice, solicits feedback from employees. Affleck-Graves said there was a lot of positive feedback, but it also enabled the University to identify areas of improvement.

These include accountability, teamwork, and respect and fairness for all employees.

Improve ND, the third initiative, was a study conducted to gather feedback about University services, Affleck-Graves said.

He said the results were positive overall, but one key area they needed to make better was value and pricing.

“We (have to) explore how do we balance price, level of service, and the way we look after employees,” he said.