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University officials evaluate Jenkins’ plans

Kate Antonacci | Monday, September 26, 2005

In his first official address as University President, Father John Jenkins laid out his plans for Notre Dame to be both a competitive academic University and a moral compass in the world – a point University scholars praised.

“I think we, of all the universities in the country, have the great privilege of never really having changed our fundamental mission because [Notre Dame founder] Father [Edward] Sorin was so clear,” said Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves. “He wanted us to be a great university, a great Catholic university. I think every president holds that up.”

Jenkins delivered his inaugural address, which was filled with humor, personal stories and enthusiasm for his new position, at Friday’s Academic Convocation, where he was formally installed as University President by Board of Trustees chairman Patrick McCartan.

Jenkins used his address to give faculty, students, trustees and the greater Notre Dame community a better idea of his plans for the University.

“I thought [Fr. Jenkins’ inaugural address] was fabulous,” said Affleck-Graves, the third-ranking official at the University, behind Jenkins and Provost Thomas Burish. “I thought it gave us great direction for the future. He has very clear in his goals for what he wanted Notre Dame to be – to be similar to other universities in some way, but also be distinctly different, distinctly Catholic.”

Jenkins addressed a crowded Joyce Center, which included hundreds of professors from both Notre Dame and around the country.

“Sitting up there on the stage, I had goosebumps at times,” Affleck-Graves said.

Jenkins’ speech was eloquent and appealed to the value of learning for its own sake, said Mark Roche, dean of the College Arts and Letters.

“I liked the prominent and nuance rhetoric on Catholic identity, including the ideas that reason can challenge a false and complacent notion of faith and that if we hired only Catholic we’d be less Catholic,” Roche said.

While Jenkins’ address laid down his vision in broad strokes, many are excited to see his plans play out in coming years.

“One will look forward to ways in which some of these ideals will translate into concrete initiatives and strategies to support essentially our triadic identity – learning, research and our Catholic identity,” Roche said.

Jenkins’ excitement about taking the helm as University president shone through in his speech, said Paul Weithman, chair of the philosophy department and a former student of Jenkins.

“One of the things that impressed me most was the seriousness and earnestness with which it was delivered,” Weithman said. “I was impressed with just how thoughtful it was and just how big he’s dreamt for Notre Dame.”

Affleck-Graves said Jenkins has proved himself to be a strong leader, “much stronger than most people think.”

“He’s very ambitious for the University,” Affleck-Graves said. “I think the thing that excites all of us the most is the sense that he has this great pride in what we are. We should proclaim that pride.”

In correlation with Jenkins’ inauguration, an academic convocation was held Thursday discussing the book “When Faiths Collide.” Smaller academic convocations were also held in dormitories with faculty moderators. The issue of welcoming many faiths, not just Catholicism, was a central theme of Jenkins’ address, Affleck-Graves said.

“He’s committed to making Notre Dame a place where questions of the 21st century can be addressed,” Weithman said. “This is a natural place for us to do those things and a place we can do those in a way no body else can.”

Jenkins’ presidency will likely focus on the role Notre Dame can have among institutions of higher education and on the global community.

“I think one of the themes that he emphasized in many ways … was that we need to spend time reflecting ethical implications of our work, and bring the traditions and wisdom of the Church into greater conversation with the advances in knowledge and understanding,” said vice president and associate provost Dennis Jacobs. “He was saying that Notre Dame has a very distinct role and its voice needs to be heard.”

Much of the community expressed excitement over Jenkins’ enthusiasm about bringing the University into conversation with the global community.

“He wants Notre Dame to be at the table in conversations of world significance, global significance,” Jacobs said. “Certainly we find it in today’s socio-political spectrum that more and more religious motivations and directions are guiding the actions of countries. He wants us to have a conversation on this campus on how faith effects the way pluralistic societies relate to one another.”

Jenkins’ commitment to faith at Notre Dame is an important one, Jacobs said.

“We are the only faith-based institution ranked in the top 20 in the country, at least by the U.S. News and World Report list,” Jacobs said. “That is significant. There are certain responsibilities that we bear.”

Many top administrators are optimistic about Jenkins’ future as University President and said that he has made a distinct effort to get to know the faculty.

“He’s young, he’s energetic, he’s clearly got the vision, he wants to think about Notre Dame’s place in the world’s stage can be. I thought the address … was one that would especially appeal to faculty and that’s a good thing,” Weithman said. “I think everybody was genuinely happy about, feels good about the future in light of what they thought and I think that’s a very good way for John to begin.”

Jenkins, who assumed the role of University president July 1, has already assembled a team of administrators, including Burish, to help him work toward his goals.

“I think he’s assembled a great team that is eager now to get on with moving the University ahead. I think we’ll see an … era of greater engagement with institutions of higher education around the country,” said vice president and associate provost Christine Maziar. “I think we’ll see a period in which Notre Dame has a greater confidence in her identity and in what she has to offer.”

Jenkins, though he acknowledged University Presidents Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh and Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, has his own plans for the University.

“I think Monk was a leader who gave people a lot of freedom. He trusted people that he appointed to positions and he gave them a lot of freedom to do what they wanted,” Affleck-Graves said. “I think Father John’s style will be a little more hands-on.”