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Andrew Thagard | Thursday, February 19, 2004

When Father Edward Malloy reflects on Notre Dame and his time here, he does so through a variety of perspectives – as a former undergraduate student in the 1960’s, as a professor in the Department of Theology since 1974 and as the University president since 1986.Malloy’s years at Notre Dame have allowed him to become intimately familiar with many aspects of the University, including the concept of diversity at Notre Dame – a central tenet of his administration. Since Malloy took the helm of the University 17 years ago, the percentage of underrepresented minorities at Notre Dame has increased from 7.5 to more than 20 percent.”That’s a big change,” he says with an obvious sense of pride. “In that span of time, that’s a big change.”It’s also a change that hasn’t come easily, according to Malloy, who must balance Notre Dame’s unique identity as a Catholic institution with a rapidly evolving concept of diversity. Indeed, when he was an undergraduate student, the number of underrepresented minorities in attendance was “miniscule” and diversity existed mainly in the socioeconomic sense as applicants were lured to the University by lower tuition rates and its Catholic identity.Today, the University continues to attract a unique blend of students from different economic classes, including minority students. These efforts, Malloy said, have been facilitated in part by an increased commitment to financial aid.”We’ve been able to say in recent years, ‘If you get into Notre Dame, we can put together a [financial aid] package that will allow you to attend,'” he said.In addition to an increased presence of minority students, Notre Dame also boasts diversity on the intellectual and political levels and increasingly in representation of students who choose to study here from international locales, he said. In other areas including the religious and philosophical sense, Malloy said, the Notre Dame is less diverse – something that the University president doesn’t necessarily believe is bad. In this regard, Notre Dame must also honor the commitment to its Catholic identity – and in doing so, Malloy said, it contributes to the diversity among institutions of higher learning in the United States.”What I like is that we’re remaining faithful to our mission and sense of purpose,” he said. “I believe that we have put a huge amount of effort into exploring what it means to be a Catholic university and looking at dimensions of that and trying to foster it over time.”While Malloy is pleased with the progress in promoting diversity that has occurred during his tenure, he’s quick to point out that Notre Dame still has a lot of work to do in this regard, especially in hiring minority administrators and faculty members – an effort that must begin at the departmental level, he said.”We still have a long way to go,” he said. “It takes a University-wide effort to diversify the faculty.”Malloy said that he believes that his work in making increased diversity a “team” effort and emphasis on opportunities to learn about different perspectives outside the classroom, has simultaneously eased the adjustment that minority students face and increased the promotion of diversity among the general student body.”I encourage people with common backgrounds to get together socially in an informal way,” he said. “I think the social networks of support are really helpful for diversity here.” In the future, Malloy said that he wants Notre Dame to reflect the different aspects of diversity he highlighted in its undergraduate student population. While his future goals do not include specific quotas, he believes that the University’s direction should be shaped in part by the changing demographics of the nation and the U.S. Catholic Church.”We don’t project precise numbers but we set targets and goals for ourselves, and we try to get as close as we can,” he said. “We will continue to try to closely monitor the demographics of the United States.” Malloy doesn’t know what exactly the country or Catholic Church will look like in the future from a demographic perspective, but he believes that it will be shaped by an increased Latino presence, particularly Mexican-Americans. This and other national trends should be reflected in Notre Dame’s student population, he said. At the same time, however, he believes that certain University traditions – including priority given to children of alumni – should be maintained and will serve as an asset in increasing minority recruitment as alumni choose to send their children here.”That’s a variable that I expect to be kept up and that will have an influence as well,” he said.Diversity, Malloy said, isn’t a definitive goal to be reached but a never-ending process that requires a degree of flexibility and adaptability. He’s confidant, however, that the University is up to the challenge.”We want to consistently re-evaluate ourselves on the basis of factoring information [to achieve] a combination making the most sense as a Catholic institution and as a national institution,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate because the people connected to Notre Dame … pride Notre Dame’s distinctive mission and identity.”