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A ‘ministry university’

| Monday, March 3, 2014

In the Feb. 26 edition of the observer, Robert Alvarez published a viewpoint addressing the new Campus Crossroads Project and its reflection of Notre Dame’s priorities. He voiced concerns about the changing focus of Notre Dame’s mission and the trend of an increasingly pre-professional undergraduate student body. As a self-identifying pre-professional, I disagree with many of the claims made about Notre Dame, her mission and her students.

One claim asserted in the column labels Notre Dame a “factory university.” This type of university’s goal is to offer its students and the public “a product for consumption; its end is fundamentally utilitarian, not to create true missionary disciples.” This is one way to look at the modern university, but has Notre Dame seriously abandoned its mission to create true missionary disciples? It is a stretch at best to make this claim in light of all the good that Notre Dame and her students do in the world today. As evidenced by the number of applicants for week-long service trips over fall break and Summer Service Leadership Programs, the Notre Dame student body has hardy strayed from the mission of the Gospel. As for the University itself, the amount of money being poured into research around cures for diseases, service to the poor around the globe and countless other initiatives show where its priorities lie. Notre Dame does so much good in the world and I feel like this fact is easily forgotten.

Another claim alleges that “true education” is increasingly neglected and besieged by administrative models that treat education as a business. I do not disagree that Notre Dame operates like a business. However, it is naive to think that a university can operate without considering the business implications of its actions. After all, how would any of the programs at Notre Dame be funded without such consideration? I agree that prioritizing monetary implications at the expense of a university’s mission is deplorable, but has Notre Dame really done this? For instance, the much-maligned Crossroads project is planned to provide new, state-of-the-art space for psychology, anthropology and sacred music, three departments that Robert did not identify as lucrative for the University. If Notre Dame has seriously abandoned its mission rooted in the Gospel to become a “factory university,” wouldn’t a new 400 million-dollar addition to campus better serve one of the pre-professional departments?

I agree with Robert that a true education at Notre Dame is grounded in the Gospel. Robert insightfully points out that Jesus tried to awaken his disciples to the world, to their actions and to the calling to love that is our purpose. However, can this true education only be achieved outside of the pre-professional disciplines? In my five years as a student at this University, I have gleaned some of my most tightly held values while in class in the Mendoza College of Business. Professors like Carl Ackermann relentlessly stressed the importance of using wealth to help those in need. While accumulating a massive bank account for the single purpose of personal use is contrary to the teaching of Jesus, using such wealth and power as a force for good in the world is at the heart of his mission. Here lies the beauty of the Notre Dame education. In the breadth of required courses that we all take in our four years on campus, Gospel values lie at the heart of whatever subject is being taught. From finance to philosophy, chemistry to PLS, each class is informed by Notre Dame’s Catholic mission and identity.

Robert, if you feel that I have misinterpreted your claims or views from your column, I apologize, as I am not meaning to do so. However, I disagree with the idea that Notre Dame has sacrificed is Catholic mission rooted in the Gospel to become a factory university.

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