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Jenkins reflects, shares goals in faculty address

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, September 16, 2009

­­University President Fr. John Jenkins said the 2008-2009 school year was his most challenging and rewarding year as president of the University, and he named increasing faculty diversity and continuing to stabilize the school’s finances as goals for this year in his annual address to the faculty Tuesday.

“We faced a world financial crisis that continues to have an enormous impact on higher education in this country,” Jenkins said in his speech to a full auditorium in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. “We also had a Commencement that may have been watched by more people than any Commencement in the history of American higher education.”

Jenkins thanked the students and faculty – both those that agreed and disagreed with his decision to honor President Barack Obama at the 2009 Commencement – for their “commendable behavior” in light of the controversy.

“Both groups acted according to their convictions, engaged in serious discussion and did not let the frenzy outside of campus undermine the respectful interchange,” he said.

Regarding the struggling economy of the past year, Jenkins said the University is in a better financial state than many other comparable schools around the country because of the University’s “conservative financial policy.”

But the University has been affected by the ongoing economic crisis.

Jenkins said rising student financial aid costs and a decrease in giving, among other factors, have put pressure on the University’s finances.

“The endowment … was about $7 billion before it dropped substantially,” he said. “It has now rebounded to about $5.5 billion, which is still the third highest close ever for a financial year.”

Jenkins said he has organized an office to evaluate threats and plan for the future to keep Notre Dame financially stable.

“We must continue to make informed planning part of the culture of the University,” he said. “With this financial environment in the near future, we cannot count on additional resources to begin worthy new initiatives while continuing all previous efforts.”

In some cases, Jenkins said it will be necessary to reallocate funds to “take advantage of opportunities.”

“Those decisions will no doubt be difficult,” he said.

Increasing faculty diversity, another goal for the 2009-2010 school year, will be a priority, Jenkins said.

The percentage of faculty of color at Notre Dame has increased from 12 percent to 14 percent since 1999. The percentage of female faculty has grown about five percent since 1999. Jenkins said the University hopes to increase both numbers.

“Working together, we can build a fully diverse community,” he said. “We recognize that a more diverse faculty and student body is a richer community for learning, discussion and inquiry.”

Jenkins said members of the Office of the Provost have been appointed to work with deans and department chairs to increase hiring and retention of women and faculty of color.

The Office is also launching a postdoctoral fellowship program for scholars from historically underrepresented groups.

Jenkins additionally noted retaining the University’s status as a “premier research university” as a significant goal of the coming year.

Jenkins said the University’s research expenditures are climbing and approaching about $100 million per fiscal year from about 500 grants.

“All this work is part of the University’s essential mission of seeking a deeper understanding of truth, and it is cherished for that reason,” he said of the faculty’s research.

The University is also prioritizing community relations, Jenkins said.

“Notre Dame needs a thriving local community to reach its highest potential,” he said. “Our students, faculty and staff are a part of that community, and we will attract faculty and students to Notre Dame only if our community is thriving.”

Jenkins said Eddy Street Commons is a visible sign of the University’s collaboration with the local community.

Jenkins thanked the faculty for contributing to what he named as the University’s three central goals: “Superb undergraduate education, preeminence in research and ensuring our Catholic mission informs all our endeavors.”

“I am proud of the way you have continued to make the education of undergraduates a cornerstone as we strive to be even stronger in research,” he said. “Our commitment to our Catholic mission creates its own set of challenges and tensions.  Yet it is precisely because we hold these goals simultaneously that we have such a special mission and play such a distinctive role.

“And our achievements are due to the efforts of you and many others.”