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President meets with students

Katlyn Smith | Thursday, September 23, 2010

University President Fr. John Jenkins held his first office hours of the year Wednesday, which gave students the opportunity to discuss issues on campus or in their personal lives with the president.

Junior Reid Brewster met with Jenkins to discuss the death of someone in his family.

“I definitely came out of the meeting with Fr. John feeling refined,” Brewster said. “He sort of gave me a new perspective on how to deal with death and how best to move forward not only as a Catholic, but also just as a person.”

Brewster urged students to take advantage of Jenkins’ office hours.

“It gives you an opportunity to connect with him much more personally and get a backstage view of what kind of man he is,” Brewster said.

Jenkins had previously sent a campus-wide e-mail inviting students to his office hours.

“I was so surprised that the president of a university would want to, amidst his busy schedule, meet with the students and hear about their issues,” Brewster said. “It’s something I definitely respected and appreciated.”

Senior Liz Furman, a member of the Campus Labor Action Project, addressed the University’s investments in HEI Hotels & Resorts with Jenkins.

Furman said hotel workers have allegedly poor working conditions, expensive health care premiums and are intimidated when they try to form a union. Other worker complaints involved low wages and heavy workloads.

“It’s just really hard to fight against a corporation, especially a corporation that’s employing you,” Furman said. “We think that the University should be investigating this more thoroughly.”

During her discussion with Jenkins, Furman urged the administration to meet with HEI hotel workers and adopt more transparent investment practices.

Furman said the meeting was worth her time, even though she still disagrees with the University.

“I think it gave me a better idea of where the University stands on these issues, even though I disagree with it,” Furman said.

An average of about 300 students request an appointment to meet with Jenkins during his office hours, but the office can accommodate only a third of those students, said Mirella Riley, executive assistant to the Office of the President.

“There’s a widespread interest in students to participate in office hours and to meet Fr. Jenkins or to bring a special concern to his attention,” Riley said.

The office typically groups students who have a common complaint together.

“Students themselves can dialogue with one another in Fr. John’s presence, and I think he does a good job of facilitating those perspectives and sharing his own perspectives,” Riley said. “Obviously when the conversations are more personal or confidential in nature, we don’t do that.”

A typical complaint involves construction on campus.

“We’ve had students who have said, ‘This is great in terms of facilities and I’m glad that Notre Dame is providing these types of facilities for us as students,'” Riley said. “Then students on the other end have said that in expanding, Notre Dame is losing the intimacy and character of the campus.”

Jenkins will hold office hours again in November. Students must sign up in advance by completing a form available at http://president.nd.edu

Jenkins has been holding office hours since 2006 and Riley said he values interacting with students in a more informal setting.

“We notice at least in the office that he is very energized by meeting with the students,” Riley said.