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McGreevy begins new role as dean

John Tierney | Friday, August 22, 2008

John McGreevy, a history professor who took over as I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters July 1, views his new job as one of servant-leadership.

“I’m not the boss of the faculty. I’m the leader,” he said. He said his primary responsibility is to “put [the faculty] in the position to do great teaching and great scholarship.”

McGreevy decided to accept the position as dean because of his loyalty to Notre Dame, the “great situation” left by his predecessor, Mark Roche, and the importance he places on the University’s status as a “great Catholic research university,” he said.

“I want to see Notre Dame succeed,” said McGreevy, a Notre Dame alum whose father and two siblings also attended the University.

“We need a place in this country – and in this world – where thinking at the highest level goes on that includes theology and religion,” he said. “Religion is a topic of universal concern, and it is important to bring it together with academics.”

While McGreevy says being a Notre Dame alum gives him “no special qualities” for the dean position, his loyalty to the University was a significant factor in his decision to accept his new job.

“I am happy to try to make a difference here. I really want Notre Dame to be a great place,” he said.

McGreevy plans to continue his teaching and research during his tenure as dean. He will teach one course at the graduate level this semester.

“I really like the idea of everyone in administration doing some teaching,” he said.

Although McGreevy does not want to make dramatic changes in his first year on the job – planning instead to focus on learning about the many programs in the college – he does have long-term goals in mind. Some of these goals for the college include increasing ties with the College of Science, increasing student language acquisition, promoting the fine and performing arts on campus and encouraging more students to do senior theses.

McGreevy said senior theses can be an invaluable part of the undergraduate experience. He would like to see more students pursue them, but does not plan on making a thesis a graduation requirement.

“Being able to work one-on-one with a faculty member on a year-long project is a really good experience,” he said. “We need a stronger thesis culture at Notre Dame.”

McGreevy acknowledged that grade inflation in the College of Arts and Letters is real and that it is a problem. However, he said there is “not an instant solution to the problem,” but that his administration will continue to work on it.

“It’s not fair to students to have grades so compressed, especially to the very best students,” he said.

The new dean says the college has a lot of challenges, because “it is hard to be one of the very best.” These challenges include faculty hiring and recruitment, which he described as one of the most important parts of his job, and the need to better financially support graduate students – including the need for a graduate student health insurance program.

“The good news is that I’m not a Notre Dame nostalgist,” McGreevy said. He said he got a better education from Notre Dame than his father, who attended the University in the 1950s, did, but that students today are receiving a better education than he did twenty years ago.

“I’m encouraged by the progress,” he said.

McGreevy would like to increase the promotion of academic life on campus. He wants to “get students to view their intellectual life with the same passion with which they view so many other things,” he said. Increasing the number of Notre Dame graduates who go on to pursue a Ph.D. or other graduate study can follow as a result of a stronger intellectual campus, he said.