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Malloy reflects after year-long sabbatical

Amanda Michaels | Friday, September 8, 2006

Life is good for the Big Man Upstairs.

The upstairs of DeBartolo, that is.

From his corner office on the third floor of the academic hub, University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy can finally look out on the school he helped shape for almost two decades, but never truly had the chance to stop and admire.

“It’s amazing how much the campus has changed from the time I stepped into the presidency,” he said, gesturing to the quad below. “Everything grew, from the size of the faculty, the diversity of the student body, the quality of the student body – not that I take the credit for all that. All these kind of things, you talk about them and have a rough sense of what’s going on, but it’s only when you look at them that you really understand.”

Malloy has had plenty of time to look during his year-long sabbatical, taken in part to help him transition out of the role of University president and into a less-structured life. Leaning back in his chair, feet propped on a table, he is the picture of relaxation.

“As I look back [on the sabbatical], it was time very well spent,” Malloy said. “My goal was to try to live a balanced life. I didn’t really go to any Notre Dame meetings […], didn’t teach, and therefore didn’t have to grade papers or turn in grades, and I always had a sense that I could develop my day as I wanted to.”

Malloy’s days were filled with everything from lecturing and writing, to jet setting across the globe – not exactly a placid retirement.

As a gift to Malloy at the end of his presidency, several members of the South Bend community gave him $10,000 to travel wherever he pleased during his year off. And travel he did.

In the summer of 2005, Malloy traveled with his two sisters and brother-in-law to Italy – a trip funded with another travel gift. Though Malloy had been there before, his family had not, and he said he enjoyed seeing all the sights with them.

This past January, Malloy took a month-long trip to South Africa, Madagascar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Maui, traveling primarily by himself.

“They told me to spend the money to travel wherever I wanted,” he said. “So I thought about it, and picked places I had never been before.”

In connection with the Notre Dame Australia program, Malloy went to Sydney in March. Joined by Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman, he met with members of the students and faculty there “as a way of fostering a relationship between the two schools,” Malloy said.

For his last and busiest trip of the summer, as part of the University of Portland’s Board of Regents and benefactors, Malloy went on an 11-day tour from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Tallinn, Estonia, to St. Petersburg, Russia, to Helsinki, Finland, to Visby and Stockholm, Sweden, to Rostock, Germany and finally back to Denmark.

So, after trotting the globe, how does one come back to Indiana?

“I spent most of my adult life traveling. I’ve been to seventy countries, so I enjoy traveling and enjoy seeing new places, but I always come back,” Malloy said. “This is home for me, and no matter where you travel, no matter how exciting it is, it’s always good to get home.”

Malloy, a self-proclaimed book and movie buff, also used the sabbatical to catch up on his neglected pastimes. As part of his travel diaries – which he distributes to “many interested people” – Malloy writes reviews of his latest indulgences in literature and cinema, which not only suggest an incredible speed-reading ability and extensive personal library, but a wide-ranging variety of tastes as well.

His reads include everything from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” to Mia Bloom’s “Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror” – after extensive reading on the subject, Malloy said he considers himself a “mini-expert in terrorism.” And, as a fan of the online DVD rental service Netflix, Malloy was able to sample many contemporary, classic and obscure movies, like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Repo Man” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

Malloy has also kept himself busy penning his own books, finishing one on the relationship between Notre Dame and Notre Dame Australia (which is not intended for publishing), and working on both a piece on higher education and his own memoir. He has also done compiling and writing for the University Archives of key moments in Notre Dame’s history that he was involved in, as well as his own personal activities over the years.

In short, Malloy has done a lot of delving into the past.

“When you have these jobs, like [University] president, primarily you’re focused on the present and future. Days are full, you can know parts of schedule a year or two in advance and you have to give a lot of talks and do a lot of traveling,” he said. “In a sense, there’s not as much time to think back on how things have evolved. What last year was about for me was a chance to do that.”

One thing Malloy said he realized about his experience as president was how much he was able to be involved in at once – even comparing himself to “someone with all the balls in the air at the same time.”

So, does he miss this constant juggling?

“No. It’s funny, I enjoyed what I did [as president] and I enjoyed my year last year and I enjoy what I do now,” Malloy said. “[…] But, when my calendar doesn’t have a lot of meetings, like it did when I was an administrator, I don’t go, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have one meeting, or ten meetings today.'”

Post-sabbatical, Malloy is back to teaching – which he did even during his time as president – now working with first-year students in a literature seminar about biography and autobiography. He said he missed the classroom during his sabbatical, though not necessarily the paperwork, and especially enjoys working with freshman.

“One reason I’ve always enjoyed [working] with first-year students is that I’ve tried to keep up with them as time goes on, and it’s amazing to me what they’ve ended up doing,” he said. “In that sense it keeps you hopefully ‘forever young,’ to quote a song title.”

He also works with the freshmen in Sorin Hall, where he lives, taking them out to dinner in groups of five to get to know them.

“It’s a big group this year, though, so it’s going to take a long time to get through them all,” he laughed.

As University president emeritus, Malloy has a far more subdued role in the workings of the administration, but still does what he can as a sort of figurehead at a school where tradition is everything.

“Ask [University President Emeritus] Father Theodore Hesburgh, he’ll say the same thing. You just want to be a good soldier, and helpful, and available to do things important for the life of the University,” Malloy said.

This weekend, he will return to Notre Dame Stadium to watch the football games, after watching them at home last year to give University President Father John Jenkins “the opportunity to host everybody and make his mark and do what he needed to do with me staying out of the way,” Malloy said.

“I’m just going to go to the box I share with Father Hesburgh and enjoy the game without the many social obligations I had as president, which will be nice,” he said.

Though his office walls, adorned with pictures of him with popes and presidents, stand as a reminder of his time at the helm of Notre Dame, Malloy seems content with a more low-profile life.

“I don’t feel like there’s this big void in my life, or that I need to be in the public eye all the time, or that I want every student on campus to instantaneously know who I am,” he said reflectively. “That’s just not important to me.”