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ND renews effort to attract faculty

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a three-part series examining the role of Catholic faculty at Notre Dame.

While University President Father John Jenkins announced two weeks ago the creation of a new office to recruit Catholic faculty members, that drive is nothing new to a school so deeply rooted in its religious identity.

After all, when Father Edward Sorin founded Notre Dame more than 150 years ago, he dreamed it would become a great American Catholic university.

So this year’s more aggressive approach to bumping up the continually slipping percentage of faculty members who are Catholic – now just under 54 percent – is not a redefinition, but a “re-articulation” of the goals of the University, said Vice President and Associate Provost Jean Ann Linney.

“Across the University there is attention now – but it’s not that it wasn’t there in the past – but more heightened [attention] perhaps, as to who we’re hiring and whether they are Catholic or not,” Linney said.

That attention was certainly present during the tenure of University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy, who was involved in crafting a part of Notre Dame’s mission statement directly tied to faculty recruitment: “The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals.”

“[A predominant number] refers to both more than 50 percent and not simply being satisfied with 50 percent,” Malloy said. “It’s an effort, without specifying a specific number, to take seriously that numbers and percentages make a difference.”

Malloy said he and University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh believed, as Jenkins does now, that the presence of Catholic faculty makes an important contribution to the University.

Internal, external aspirations

In 2003, Malloy and other leaders of the University drafted a strategic plan called “Notre Dame 2010: Fulfilling the Promise,” which described Notre Dame’s commitment to become a premier university while simultaneously maintaining its Catholic identity.

The agenda – which was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2004 – outlined ways for Notre Dame to remain “the premier center of Catholic intellectual life” and promoted the recruitment of both Catholic intellectuals and non-Catholics who can contribute to broad conversation. The University must “recruit aggressively” to bring Catholic scholars to Notre Dame, the document said.

His administration recognized the importance of actively seeking out Catholic faculty members, Malloy said, as their numbers gradually declined over the years – a decline he saw as a threat to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.

“We felt that that was putting our academic mission and its connection to the Catholic identity of the institution at risk,” Malloy said.

Malloy took several steps during his presidency to maintain a predominantly Catholic faculty.

A simple first step was to find out whether faculty position applicants were Catholic. Notre Dame started to ask interested scholars to self-identify their religion as part of the application and interview process, Malloy said – something he said “most Catholic universities” don’t do at the time of hire.

The University then designated some faculty positions as “targets of opportunities” so deans could hire Catholic scholars they otherwise may not have been able to hire, he said. To find applicable Catholic scholars, Malloy advanced efforts to identify Catholic students in graduate school who might teach at the University – and encouraged Notre Dame undergraduates to go to graduate school to prepare for future teaching careers.

The Vatican document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, approved by U.S. Catholic bishops in 1999, described the identity and mission of Catholic universities in a way that closely parallels Notre Dame’s mission: “The university should recruit and appoint faithful Catholics as professors so that, as much as possible, those committed to the witness of faith will constitute a majority of the faculty.”

“The spirit of Ex Corde Ecclesiae is that we need to take seriously our mission and identity as a Catholic university,” Malloy said.

What that means, he said, is that the University should announce its Catholicity to “try to attract to our midst faculty and administrators and staff and students who think this provides a special dimension to the education available here.”

Mark Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the University’s commitment to a mostly Catholic faculty predates the Vatican document, calling it rather an “internal aspiration.”

A new strategy

In his first address to the faculty last fall, Jenkins stated his commitment to maintaining a predominance of Catholic faculty members at Notre Dame, describing the University’s Catholic character as an academic strength. Maintaining this character is a goal Jenkins has established for his presidency.

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

His second address to the faculty renewed this commitment to strengthen the presence of Catholic faculty at Notre Dame and established a concrete plan to reverse the declining numbers of Catholic faculty – an office led by Father Robert Sullivan and funded by a donation from the Keough family designed to identify Catholic scholars.

Sullivan, who as director of the Erasmus Institute has prior experience in bringing Catholic scholars to the University, called the office an “information retrieval operation.”

The mission of this office, he said, is not to hire faculty members – since this is the job of each individual college – but “simply to provide information.”

A newly developed database will fulfill that function. Roche approached Sullivan in June of 2005 to ask him to create a directory of scholars, mainly Catholics, who would be qualified to teach in the College of Arts and Letters.

Sullivan and those working with him collected hundreds of potential candidates for Roche. Last spring, University Provost Thomas Burish asked Sullivan to explore the possibility of expanding this database to find scholars to fill faculty positions in departments throughout the University.

Those within the Notre Dame community who feel strongly about the importance of increasing the number of Catholics on the faculty say they are encouraged by the latest push toward that goal.

Malloy said Jenkins’ speech was consistent with the University’s aims throughout the years and that he is excited about the possibility of boosting Catholic faculty numbers.

“I have great confidence that both Father Jenkins and Provost Burish will pursue this goal with great enthusiasm and a recognition that it’s not an easy goal to achieve, but one that requires constant and dedicated effort,” Malloy said.

Roche called the Keough office a “very promising project.”

W. David Solomon, director of the Center for Ethics and Culture, agreed with Jenkins’ statement that Notre Dame needs a strong preponderance of Catholics to retain its identity. Faculty members set the tone of the University, Solomon said – but not everyone will embrace Jenkins’ mission.

“I think there are a fair number of faculty members that would like Notre Dame to be more like secular institutions,” Solomon said. “I think they are going to feel threatened by Notre Dame’s enthusiasm toward this goal.”

The third part of this series will explore the response of faculty members to Jenkins’ initiative to recruit Catholic professors.