The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Jenkins sets five goals in faculty address

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A few weeks after delivering an inaugural address with sweeping, ambitious goals for the future of Notre Dame, University President Father John Jenkins fine-tuned his plans in a speech to the faculty Tuesday in Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Jenkins outlined five points – undergraduate education, graduate studies and research, diversity, Notre Dame’s “distinct Catholic mission” and fiscal constraints and opportunities – that he said his administration would focus on during his presidency.

As he explained these areas of attention, Jenkins placed them into the greater context of balancing faith and reason and molding Notre Dame into “a great Catholic university for the 21st century,” themes that surfaced during the inauguration.

First and foremost on Jenkins’ agenda was undergraduate education, which he called “a traditional strength and defining characteristic of Notre Dame.”

“As we advance the scholarly mission of the University, we must together ask how we can strengthen our teaching mission,” Jenkins said. “The question will be central to the coming year.”

To answer this question, Jenkins said a more comprehensive evaluation of Notre Dame’s teaching methods was necessary. He said that while valuable, teacher course evaluations (TCEs) filled out by students were not adequate. He mentioned using faculty peer reviews as an additional tool in the analysis.

Not only will the administration evaluate the quality of the core curriculum required of all Notre Dame students, but it will also “review and improve the design of curricula for undergraduate majors,” Jenkins said.

The importance of increasing undergraduate research, a goal that Jenkins has emphasized since assuming the presidency July 1, was presented alongside his statements on improving undergraduate education.

“We will seek increased funding to support undergraduate research and opportunities,” Jenkins said. “However, even prior to the realization of such funding, we must together seek ways to instill in our students an excitement about the challenges of inquiry and of rewards of insight and discovery, creativity and problem-solving.”

Jenkins said the University would survey students this year about undergraduate research and then formulate recommendations on how to enhance the level of participation.

He also noted the existence of academic honesty problems nationwide.

“Notre Dame is not immune to this epidemic,” Jenkins said. “We will explore ways to address the issue at a University-wide level … We must not look the other way.”

To build the graduate program, Jenkins said his administration would emphasize hiring “truly distinguished faculty” and building infrastructure for the science, engineering and quantitative social science departments to achieve “a goal of $100 million in externally sponsored research funding.”

Under the leadership of vice president of the graduate school Jeff Kantor – who will step down at the end of the academic year – research awards to the University have increased 15 percent annually, reaching levels higher than $81 million, Jenkins said.

As with the issue of undergraduate education, Jenkins said his administration would research ways to better assess the progress of Notre Dame’s graduate program. Provost Thomas Burish recently formed a committee to study administrative structures of the oversight of graduate research at the University.

Jenkins’ third point, the importance of promoting diversity, has been a frequently-discussed topic at Notre Dame in recent years.

“Every strong university in this country is committed to enhancing the diversity of its student body, staff and faculty,” Jenkins said. “But we at Notre Dame have a deeper rationale for embracing diversity and multiculturalism. We believe every human being has been made in God’s image, and every culture reflects God’s grandeur.”

While he said efforts to promote diversity needed to increase, Jenkins stressed the importance of recognizing the progress made under University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy’s administration.

He cited statistics about faculty diversity, highlighting Notre Dame’s better-than-average growth in Hispanic faculty members while also noting the lower-than-average increases in African-American and Asian- American faculty members when compared to other universities ranked in the top 20.

These specific trends carry over to the student body, Jenkins said. But he said the overall situation is improving.

“The current first year class includes the largest percentage of total ethnic minority representation in Notre Dame’s history, and we are hopeful that these increases in the diversity of the student body will continue for future classes,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said his administration would seek ways to increase the diversity of students and faculty, to improve on the retention of minority and women faculty and to help the new Africana Studies department flourish.

The University Committee on Cultural Diversity has been “reconstituted and reconvened,” said Jenkins, who will also meet with a student advisory group throughout the year “to seek ways in which the diversity of our student life can be enhanced.”

Jenkins shifted gears to the topic of Notre Dame’s Catholic character, something he believes is “a genuine academic strength.”

“It identifies the tradition that gives direction and depth to our work at the University,” Jenkins said. “It enables us to attract strong students and faculty.”

Notre Dame’s Catholic mission sets it apart from other schools, Jenkins said, and is an opportunity “to move forward.”

“Notre Dame was founded with a religious character,” Jenkins said. “Its statutes state it should retain this character in perpetuity. It is a priority of mine to keep this distinctive character strong.”

The percentage of Catholic faculty at Notre Dame has been steadily declining, Jenkins said. In the 1970s, the percentage was near 85 percent. In 1984, it was 62 percent. The percentage is currently 53 percent, Jenkins said.

While Jenkins said he wanted to “confirm, emphatically, the contribution of non-Catholic faculty” to Notre Dame, he said Catholic faculty offered certain unique characteristics.

“A Catholic faculty member brings valuable attributes to this core enterprise,” Jenkins said. “She ideally brings a faith commitment with some intellectual formation which allows her to relate issues in her discipline to beliefs, practices and unresolved questions in the Catholic tradition.”

Jenkins also noted the necessity of Catholic faculty members given the global nature of the Church and their role as participants in the campus liturgical and spiritual life.

He said he would work with academic leaders to attract “highly qualified” Catholic candidates for teaching positions.

Jenkins’ final point of discussion dealt with fiscal issues at the University.

“We realize our high aspirations will require shrewd management of our fiscal resources and sound allocation of those resources in accordance with our priorities,” he said.

Jenkins showed a series of slides with graphs of the University’s financial data from the past decade, noting especially the increased importance of the endowment – which has shifted from 10 to 18 percent of the total revenue in the past 10 years – and the importance of the athletic department to the University’s financial situation.

“Notre Dame is unique in that its athletic department revenues cover all athletic expenses,” Jenkins said. “In addition, the athletic department contributes a significant amount to the academy.”

In the past decade, the athletic department has contributed $107 million to the academy, Jenkins said. It was also responsible for a $219 million growth in non-athletic financial aid endowments.