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Jenkins delivers annual faculty address

| Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In his annual faculty address Tuesday in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University President Fr. John Jenkins said over the course of his 10-year presidency, Notre Dame has witnessed an overall improvement in academics, research and financial standing and identified internationality and diversity as two of its primary tenets.

20150915, 20150915, Father Jenkins faculty address, Rosie LoVoiRosie LoVoi | The Observer

“Our central goals, as I indicated in 2005, were to offer an unsurpassed undergraduate education, be an institution preeminent in research with excellent graduate programs, and ensure that all our endeavors are informed by a distinctive Catholic mission,” he said. “Since that time we have highlighted two themes that touch on each of these goals — internationality and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

The continually increasing quality of successive incoming classes is indicative of the University’s success in the area of undergraduate education, Jenkins said.

“Such talented students have many other attractive alternatives, and it says much for our University when so many highly qualified students apply and choose to come to Notre Dame,” he said.

Jenkins said along with being stronger academically, Notre Dame undergraduates are more likely to engage in research now than they were 10 years ago. According to Jenkins, one of the University’s major focuses in recent years has been to encourage undergraduate research endeavors.

“ … We want our students to see themselves not simply as passive learners, taking in information from books and lectures, but also as inquirers themselves, raising their own questions, conducting their research and knowing the exhilaration of a discovery or hard-won insight,” he said.

Jenkins said the University’s emphasis on research extends not just to undergraduates but to graduate students and faculty as well. He said that in 2007, provost Tom Burish appointed Bob Bernhard to be the first vice president for research, and in 2013 the University reorganized the graduate school and redistributed its funding better to support its Ph.D. students.

The result, Jenkins said, is that the University has witnessed “a significant increase in the investment in, and success of, our faculty’s efforts in research, scholarship and artistic expression.”

Partly responsible for this increase in research, he said, is the funding provided by the “Advancing our Vision” (AOV) program, which will also allow for 80 new faculty hires in the near future.

Overall, he said externally funded grants and contracts have increased from $73 million to $134 million between 2004 and the most recent fiscal year.

Complementing efforts to improve the experience and engagement of students and faculty, Notre Dame has made conscious efforts to increase its presence on the global stage, Jenkins said. He said that among other things, the University has created the office of Notre Dame International to help better respond to the trend towards globalization.

“Globalization in its many facets — in markets and businesses, international politics, culture and migration — have shaped our lives and our work, and it will certainly shape the lives of our students,” he said.

One important project Notre Dame is currently considering in its attempt to become more international is a partnership with Zhejiang University in Haining, China, Jenkins said. He said he understands the concerns raised by many faculty members about the project, and that Notre Dame is currently trying to devise a strategy on how best to engage with China in spite of accusations of human rights violations.

“A number of you on the faculty have expressed strong reservations about such a partnership in a nation in which the official atheist Communist Party exerts so much control, human rights are often violated, freedom of expression is limited, religious worship is restricted and churches are harassed,” he said. “At the same time, China is likely to be one of the most influential nations of the 21st century.

“Many of our students want to learn the Chinese language and understand its culture. Its institutions of higher education are likely to become stronger and provide opportunities for research collaboration, and many on the faculty expressed strong support for such a partnership.

“In addition to these factors, I traveled to the Vatican to discuss with key leaders the situation of the Church in China. It is fair to say that, though all parties recognize the complexity and challenges of a potential partnership between a Catholic university and a Chinese university, we were encouraged to explore this venture as a means of building bridges between the Catholic Church and China.”

Regarding the University’s finances, Jenkins said he thinks one of Notre Dame’s strong points is “a history of sound, far-sighted fiscal stewardship.”

“ … In my opinion, our Investment Office is the best in American higher education,” he said. “With the help of generous benefactors and the hard work of our Development Office and under the skilled management of our Investment Office, the endowment doubled in the last ten years, enjoying a compounded annual growth rate of 9.8 percent – this during a period of historic economic and financial uncertainty.”

Similarly, he said, need-based financial assistance has increased 83 percent since 2006 and the average University scholarship has increased by $13,400 over the same period.

However, he said one of the major challenges Notre Dame faces in the coming years is the rising cost of higher education and the demand to streamline the efficiency of University operations.

“As you are no doubt aware, with the high cost of higher education, universities are regularly portrayed in the media as inefficient, bloated and complacent organizations,” he said. “ … We must be able to give an account of our operations to reasonable people with sincere and probing questions.

“Part of that answer must be to point to substantial efforts to seek efficiencies and improve processes. If we are unable to do this, then benefactors will be less likely to be generous, the public will be less likely to support institutions like ours, and we will have fallen short of our responsibility as stewards of the resources entrusted to us.”

Another challenge the University faces is the pressure of an increasingly digital world. Jenkins said he believes Notre Dame should continue to expand its endeavors in digital innovation, but Notre Dame will remain an institution centered around residential life.

“We have all heard the predictions that disruptive innovation around digital technology will eventually make residential campuses obsolete,” he said. “On this account, we are the sailing ship that will soon be replaced by the steam engine, the compact disc that will be shoved aside by iTunes.

“As it is clear from the construction on campus, we do not agree.”

The final challenge with which the University must come to terms, he said, is how to maintain a Catholic identity while also remaining a highly-rated research institution in a secular society. He said the University will continue its current initiatives, which include the Institute for Church Life, the Alliance for Catholic Education, the Sacred Music Program and various partnerships with Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

“I am well aware of the growing secularism of our world and the growing skepticism of younger people about institutional religious affiliation,” he said. “I am also aware of the challenges of striving to be a preeminent research university with a Catholic mission.

“Whatever the challenges are, however, they are our challenges, and we cannot turn from them without losing our identity and our purpose.”

Jenkins said he is confident Notre Dame will be able to respond to the challenges ahead and to continue to improve in areas of undergraduate and graduate education and research.

“I am exceptionally proud of the work that we have accomplished in the past 10 years,” Jenkins said. “Through the hard work, talent and dedication of exceptional coworkers — Tom Burish, our provost; John Affleck-Graves, our executive vice president; the vice-presidents, the deans, other academic leaders and most of all, you, my faculty colleagues, we have accomplished more than I had dared to hope 10 years ago.

“We all have much to be grateful for, and I above all.”

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