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Rectors praise job despite continued turnover

Joe Piarulli | Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Despite the recent appointments of two rectors to higher University posts, Notre Dame rectors insist that sitting at the helm of a residence hall is not just a stepping stone to a higher position.

This year, Father Peter Jarret and Sister Susan Dunn will leave their positions as rectors of Keough Hall and Lyons Hall, respectively, to take administrative posts at the University. In 2005, seven rectors left their positions.

But neither Dunn nor Jarret believes the noticeable turnover rate indicates a lack of job satisfaction.

“I love being a rector and would have stayed being a rector for as long as I could have, so I never saw it as a stepping stone to anything else,” Jarret said.

Jarret and Dunn will take up their new posts July 1. Jarret will take over as the superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, and Dunn will become Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs.

“Although I’m very excited about working in the Office of Student Affairs, I’m very sad to be leaving Lyons after five years,” Dunn said.

Sister Carrine Etheridge, who has been Farley Hall’s rector since 1993, finds no problem with rectors pursuing other opportunities.

“Everyone becomes a rector for a different reason, and life moves on. It’s very normal nowadays for people to have several careers in their lifetime,” Etheridge said.

But Etheridge noted that Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman was once a rector and said that background in the residence hall community was important to bring to the Main Building.

“Frankly, I’m delighted to see rectors being appointed to administration [posts] here at the University,” Etheridge said. “I think that’s a real positive thing because they bring an intimate knowledge of the place.”

The position of rector at Notre Dame is distinctive both in what it offers and how it is structured, and thus invites a unique perspective, Jarret said.

“The way that the rector position is set up at Notre Dame, it’s much more than just watching over people to make sure people follow rules,” Jarret said. “It’s a privilege of entering into people’s lives in every kind of manner. Our ability to walk with the people we live with academically, spiritually, socially … that’s what makes it special.”

Those privileges, Etheridge said, are the reasons she has stayed a rector for more than 12 years.

“Working with the students is the best part of the whole deal,” she said. “Paperwork is the worst part for me. I just feel like it’s an avalanche all the time.”

The burnout rate for rectors is high, she said, because the job can be very demanding.

“It’s 24-7, and there’s some people who thrive on that, but there are other people who [let the] lack of privacy get to them,” Etheridge said. “It fits well for some folks, but other folks I think find a couple years of it to be all they can manage.”

And the job isn’t getting any easier, Etheridge said.

“I think through the years rectoring has become more challenging, because the students we get now have more problems that are kind of serious in nature, because I think the society we’re living in is so much more complex,” she said.

Despite the challenges of being a rector, Etheridge has no plans to leave.

“Rectoring has been very compatible with what I’ve elected to do here at the University,” she said. “Currently I’m just happy being a rector.”

Though this spring will be the last semester for Dunn and Jarret’s responsibilities as rectors, they both said they found the religious aspect of the position to be one of a kind.

“The rector position at Notre Dame is unique in that it’s advertised as a pastoral ministry position and that is, in fact, what it is,” Dunn said.

Jarret said the religious structure of the University led him to his new position.

“In a religious community, you do what your religious superiors tell you to,” he said.

Overall, he said, rectors just want what’s best for their dorms and for Notre Dame.

“I think sometimes it can be good for the hall if, in some circumstances, there’s turnover every five, ten years,” Jarret said.