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Jenkins fields questions from group

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, March 22, 2007

University President Father John Jenkins ended an afternoon that included open office hours by visiting the Student Senate Wednesday, giving members the opportunity to ask questions about topics ranging from tuition increases to research.

Jenkins opened the floor for discussion and told senators he appreciated their work as representatives of the student body.

“Please know that your work is important and we value it, and whatever you say we will listen to it,” Jenkins said. “We many not agree with everything you say but we will listen to you.”

Welsh Family senator Mary Popit asked Jenkins for his thoughts on a resolution the Senate passed two weeks ago, which urged the University to add sexual orientation to its anti-discriminatory clause.

Jenkins said he had not yet seen the recommendation but that he is committed to supporting people of all sexual orientations and encouraging that they be treated with respect and not excluded or ridiculed in any way.

He said concerns could arise with the statement, however.

“The problem with non-discrimination against sexual orientation is it’s sometimes not clear what that means,” he said. “What am I committing to when I am committing to that?”

Fisher senator Drew Clary touched on another controversial topic when he cited the announcement made in February that tuition would climb 5.4 percent – up to $35,187 for the 2007-08 school year. Clary asked Jenkins if there were any plans to “put the brakes on” future tuition increases.

Jenkins agreed with Clary that tuition is expensive, but said even the high price to attend Notre Dame does not fully pay for everything. Instead, he said, the balance is achieved through the University’s endowment and various benefactors.

But, Jenkins said, the high price of attending Notre Dame is a good investment.

“If you are going to spend money on anything, it’s not a bad investment,” he said.

Jenkins pointed out that the earning power of a person with a college degree – and especially a person with a Notre Dame degree – is, on average, thousands of dollars a year more than a person without a degree.

But a Notre Dame degree does not necessarily translate into a large salary, Morrissey senator Greg Dworjan said. He asked Jenkins how students who plan to go into careers in education and government can afford these lower-paying jobs with thousands of dollars of debt from a Notre Dame education.

The University gives out financial aid in an effort to make a four-year education at Notre Dame affordable, which makes the school more accessible for people of varying economic brackets, Jenkins said.

“I know it’s still not cheap, but at least it gives people access,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said the problem of debt for graduates who go into service is a dilemma that warrants more attention.

Giving people access to better living areas is another topic Jenkins addressed. Judicial Council president Liz Kozlow asked Jenkins what the priorities are for new residence halls – whether they are to increase the student body population or to make the current halls less crowded.

Jenkins said the addition of new residence halls is not meant to increase the number of students admitted to the University.

“This may shock you,” Jenkins quipped, “but some of our dorms are crowded.”

Compared to other colleges, Notre Dame’s residence hall system has become overcrowded and students need more space, he said.

“[With the new residence halls], we will be able to create study halls, we will be able to create study space and we will be able to bring in transfer students,” Jenkins said.

Howard senator Analise Lipari, who is also an Observer assistant Scene editor, asked Jenkins about the low grade Notre Dame recently received from the Sustainable Endowment Institute. In its annual College Sustainability Report Card, which covers environmental and endowment practices, the institute gave Notre Dame a D-minus – the lowest grade given in the survey.

Jenkins said environmental concerns are issues Notre Dame needs to tackle.

“It’s something that we need to continue to reflect on and address in an appropriate way,” he said.

Jenkins said the new engineering building should meet certain criteria for an environmentally-friendly building.

Keough senator Brian Corrigan asked Jenkins how, in Notre Dame’s pursuit to improve its reputation as a research institution, it could avoid diminishing its dedication to undergraduate education.

Jenkins said Notre Dame will not lose its dedication to undergraduate education, even as it pushes for more research achievements.

“Insofar as we are better at research, we are better at undergraduate education,” Jenkins said. “If you look at the [teacher course evaluations], it’s often the case that people who are strong at research are good teachers too. I don’t think they are in opposition to each other.”

In other Senate news:

u The Senate unanimously approved Student Union Board manager Patrick Vassel as this year’s recipient of the Michael J. Palumbo award, which annually honors an undergraduate student for his or her dedication and service to the Student Union.