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Jenkins marks 10 years as president

| Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When University President Fr. John Jenkins was officially inaugurated on Sept. 23, 2005, Notre Dame — and the world — were much different places.

Hurricane Katrina had just slammed into the Gulf Coast. Pope Benedict XVI was in his sixth month as pope, following John Paul II’s death in April. The Notre Dame class of 2019 was in third grade.

Sept. 23, 2005; Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C. gives remarks after his inauguration as President of the University of Notre Dame. (Photo by Matt Cashore)

At Notre Dame, construction on Duncan and Ryan Halls had not yet begun. Jordan Hall of Science would not open for another year. And Brady Quinn was the starting quarterback for an Irish team that would eventually fall to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Amidst all this, Jenkins stood at a podium in the Joyce Center, at the outset of his presidency, and laid out an ambitious vision for the University in the 21st century.

“With respect and gratitude for all who embraced Notre Dame’s mission in earlier times, let us rise up and embrace the mission for our time: to build a Notre Dame that is bigger and better than ever — a great Catholic university for the 21st century, one of the pre-eminent research institutions in the world, a center for learning whose intellectual and religious traditions converge to make it a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need,” Jenkins said in his inaugural address, 10 years ago Wednesday.

“This is our goal. Let no one ever again say that we dreamed too small.”

Now, 10 years into his presidency, with at least another five to come, Jenkins said he is proud of the progress the University has made during his tenure. In a recent interview with the Observer, he said, from a personal standpoint, he is most proud of working to keep Notre Dame balanced and stable through challenging times.

“I think the challenge with Notre Dame is to try to keep balanced a number of aspects of the University — one is excellent education, comparable to the best universities, another is research, another is Catholic mission, another is residential life. Athletics is important [too],” he said.

“I think what I’m most proud of is that we … have been able to make progress on all those fronts and keep that balance together. I think if we lose aspects of that wonderful mix of things that make Notre Dame, we can lose the spirit of Notre Dame, and I don’t want to do that. So, I’m most proud of making progress by keeping all those aspects of the University moving forward.”

In addition to maintaining balance between Notre Dame’s many facets, Jenkins has also instituted a variety of new programs that constitute a vision for the future of the University.

As part of his inaugural ceremonies, Jenkins established the Notre Dame Forum, the first of which focused on religion and faith in a plural world and featured former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw as the moderator. Since then, the Forum has continued each year and provided a yearlong conversation on a different issue each academic year, ranging from global health and immigration to education and women in leadership.

During his tenure, Jenkins has consistently emphasized Notre Dame’s research efforts for both students and faculty. Jenkins oversaw the creation of the office of vice president for research in 2007 and announced significant increases in research funding the following year.

Jenkins and his administration continue to prioritize research today, with construction under way for McCourtney Hall, an interdisciplinary research facility on the east side of campus set to open in June 2016. In May 2014, alumnus and trustee John W. “Jay” Jordan donated a University-record $75 million for the establishment of a science and technology research program.

In recent years, building projects, most notably the Campus Crossroads project, have become another defining characteristic of Jenkins’ tenure. In addition to Campus Crossroads, the University is currently building two new residence halls and several new class buildings, including Jenkins Hall, which will house the Keough School of Global Affairs, the University’s first new school in nearly a century.

The new buildings, research programs and academic initiatives during Jenkins’ time as president have kept Notre Dame at the forefront of American higher education, but coming into the job, Jenkins said he didn’t have any real expectations of what it might hold.

“I don’t think you can, for a job like this, appreciate the many aspects before you come in,” he said. “You can know about them abstractly, but I don’t think you can really appreciate them. So I don’t know if I had any really good sense of what the demands and pressures of the job are.

“So I think I’ve acquired that, and it’s both more rewarding than I thought it would be and more challenging than I thought it would be. It is an intense job — there are a lot of things on your plate. But it’s just remarkable to be associated with a university like Notre Dame, that people love so passionately and they expect so much of, and they want to succeed.”

That intensity of the job has been brought into focus several times throughout Jenkins’ tenure, and his time in office has not been without controversy. This was perhaps most clear in 2009, when President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address. In the face of the controversy surrounding Obama’s views on abortion, Jenkins responded by reiterating the University’s commitment to the sanctity of all human life and creating a Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life.

Citing Pope John Paul II’s idea that a Catholic university should foster “a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture,” Jenkins welcomed Obama visit to campus as an opportunity to respectfully encounter opposing views.

“More than any problem in the arts or sciences, engineering or medicine, easing the hateful divisions between human beings is the supreme challenge of this age,” Jenkins said at the time of Obama’s visit. “If we can solve this problem, we have a chance to come together and solve all the others. Difference must be acknowledged, and in some cases, even cherished.”

Going forward, Jenkins said he feels he still has work to do. In January, the board of trustees elected Jenkins to a third five-year term as president. While he declined to say whether or not he would continue to serve as president after that term expires, Jenkins said he plans to continue to make Notre Dame an example for the world and a leader in the Church.

“I think we need to continue to make progress,” he said. “I do think … our Catholic mission is something we need to continue to talk about, especially at this time. It’s a challenging time, but I think there’s no institution placed like we are to speak to really serious issues in the world about the environment, about economic inequality, global solidarity.

“So if we can play that role — that role, that I don’t think it’s too strong to say, we are uniquely positioned to play — that will be a great thing, and it will go beyond me and go into the future.”

Editor’s Note: Editor-in-Chief Greg Hadley contributed to this report.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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