Notre Dame, Inc.
Mark Gianfalla | Tuesday, March 25, 2014
A large amount of recent attention has been devoted to the comparison of universities to businesses, and the realigning of many universities’ mission statements towards that of for-profit companies.
Notre Dame is a truly unique place where faith and academia meet to blossom into our home under the dome. Having heard Fr. Jenkins speak on many occasions, I believe he definitely appreciates how special a role Notre Dame plays in defining academic and religious standards on a global scale.
This being true, Notre Dame often shows signs of a Fortune 500 company with corporate speech replacing university jargon and bureaucracy reaching the height of religious hierarchy. At times, the golden dome seems like a Christmas present from some larger-than-life benefactor with the amount of red tape surrounding it, and the SAO-Student Affairs relationship would confuse even veteran politicians.
I read an article this week that compared students to customers, and teaching to customer service, but the problem this article attempted to point out with this philosophy actually missed the point that I think is often too present at universities like Notre Dame. A multi-million dollar operation like Notre Dame is sure to attract some corporate types, but unlike most businesses, our University, like any university, relies on the presence of students.
Unlike replaceable “price-takers” that perfectly competitive markets are known for, students at a university undergo a rigorous selection process, and after being accepted and choosing to attend, I would beg to argue we deserve something in return for our efforts in class and the community. Unfortunately, I and others like me, have noticed many members of the administration and University departments refuse to even meet with students, and are more concerned with their bottom line than the line of diligent students that walk to class every morning and keep the University alive and thriving.
As the president of both a club and a residence hall, I have been denied meetings with senior University employees and have begun to accept that emails just won’t be returned if the recipient is on the payroll and doesn’t have me on their class roster or Rolodex.
As a “student leader” who is invited to fancy dinners every semester and events like TeamND, I and other club officers and campus life leaders contribute hours on end to the Notre Dame community, striving to leave it better than how we found it. I would say it is reasonable to expect the extensions of common courtesies such as meetings or even the return of emails.
Those involved in campus programming can attest to how difficult it is to get approval for events because of the layers of approval and more frequently, disapproval, that lie in the way.
One of the major benefits Notre Dame possesses is its brand of a world-class education, a dedication to the Catholic faith and a desire to be leaders in research. That brand, however, does not have to suffer at the expense of student empowerment.
Some of the world’s premier universities such as Princeton and Oxford have extremely independent student bodies that are given the ability to organize and program with little or no oversight. I’m not suggesting this completely libertarian form for Notre Dame, but I am advocating a more valued approach to the students that make Notre Dame a thriving, branded university, and not a research laboratory.
A university cannot exist without its students; our brand would strengthen with an increased acceptance of that mindset across all offices of the University.
I will, however, commend the efforts of those University administrators who hold office hours and are very accessible to students. That is how higher education thrives.