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Faculty recruiting needs shift

Staff Editorial | Thursday, October 12, 2006

Notre Dame is right in seeking to increase the number of Catholic faculty at the University. Whether it is immediately noticeable or not, more professors bringing more religious context into the classroom will help further the University’s stated mission. That mission, however, must also include a broad spectrum of opinions that fosters intellectual religious debate. Religion without question is no faith; it is an assumption that bears no imminent influence on your life. Notre Dame’s mission wants anything but that.

In that light, the questions that some faculty members have raised about the University’s initiative to increase the number of Catholic professors are legitimate. Though University President Father John Jenkins called the contributions of non-Catholic faculty “indispensable,” Notre Dame departments creating a database of only top Catholic academics diminishes the importance of Jenkins’ message.

Thus, the University’s departments should seek to attract both Catholic and non-Catholic intellectuals that do not fear invoking religion in discussions and debates with students about all fields of study – from bioethics and business to politics and philosophy.

This religious focus would help in three concrete ways:

1) Minimize the chance current non-Catholic faculty feel unwanted and “less equal.” By explaining and putting actions behind words expressing Notre Dame’s need for non-Catholic faculty, our top Muslim, Buddhist, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, agnostic and atheist professors will be more likely to stay at Notre Dame rather than searching for jobs at schools where they would feel more appreciated.

2) Keep Notre Dame’s advantage in the recruiting of non-Catholic faculty. As a top-20 American university, Notre Dame is in a position to attract top-line professors of all religions. By actively searching for religious professors – no matter what religion they are – and professors who have genuine opinions on religion they are not afraid to express, the school can bring an added element that other top universities do not have. By embracing serious, continuous religious discussion – something many people shy away from – Notre Dame can set itself apart from other top schools.

3) Ensure that Notre Dame does not overreact to the relatively low level of Catholic faculty currently. By keeping prominent non-Catholic scholars on their radars, department heads will see the top overall candidates, as well as the top Catholic candidates. A specific quota isn’t what Notre Dame needs, as Arts and Letters Dean Mark Roche pointed out. To include the bigger picture is essential to keeping Notre Dame as an institution of higher learning with the best possible professors.

Notre Dame strives to be a top-5 university, period. But it won’t – and shouldn’t – give up its Catholic character to achieve that status. Through openness about its goals and a commitment to realize them, Notre Dame can and will find a place in the upper echelon of higher learning while reemphasizing its Catholic faith.