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Research emphasis essential

Staff Editorial | Friday, October 27, 2006

For many high school seniors, there isn’t a better choice than Notre Dame. The University boasts solid academic programs and impressive athletic teams – and it has that Catholic identity no other U.S. college is able to truly match.

While the University may attract the nation’s top undergraduates, it lags far – sometimes stunningly far – behind its peers in Ph.D. programs and research, Provost Thomas Burish told faculty members earlier this week.

His frankness was unusual at a school that all too often tends to sugarcoat its problems. But if Notre Dame focuses its resources on research, it won’t be a problem.

To find a solution, graduate programs should look no further than residence halls on campus. Notre Dame undergraduates are some of the most desirable graduate school applicants in the country. Why not keep them here?

University founder Father Edward Sorin said Notre Dame would one day be a “powerful force for good in this country.” Right now, University graduates are all over the country – and the world – running companies, curing diseases and serving others. And one of the main reasons graduates are so successful is their strong undergraduate background.

To a certain extent, undergraduate education trains students for life after college. If Burish is successful in his push for stronger Ph.D. programs, the University will send even more students out ready to be that powerful force for good, armed with an extra few years of Notre Dame education under their belts.

It’s going to take a lot of money. It’s going to take a group effort. And it’s going to take time – but as Burish was correct to emphasize, it’s got to happen now. Notre Dame doesn’t want to become Harvard or Stanford – something University officials are quick to articulate. Right now, however, its best graduates are doing research at Harvard and Stanford.

As the University prepares to tackle what Burish calls its “momentum challenge,” it’s important to not overemphasize research to the point where it undermines undergraduate student life. Burish acknowledged that issue, and it’s a danger that should always be kept in mind.

Change can chip away at an institution’s identity, or it can build upon it. The financial resources needed for this project – which will undoubtedly be hefty – must be raised by Notre Dame, not diverted from its current programs and departments.

If all goes according to Burish’s plan, those Stanford undergraduates will someday pin their hopes on a Notre Dame Ph.D.