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Fr. Jenkins announces five-year sustainability plan

| Wednesday, September 21, 2016

University president Fr. John Jenkins announced the implementation of a five-year sustainability plan during a wide-ranging address to faculty members Tuesday.

The Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy was released on green.nd.edu at the same time as the address. It was was written by a committee of students, faculty and administrators convened in spring 2015 in response to Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si,” Jenkins said.

The plan includes eliminating coal use by 2020; increasing the use of renewable energy, including building geothermal fields; decreasing carbon emissions; improving the measurement of water usage; taking efficiency into account when constructing buildings; decreasing waste and improving recycling; considering sustainability in food sourcing; and tracking and promoting sustainability-related courses and research.

“The strategy does all this while recognizing economic constraints and the centrality of our work as educators and researchers, and it is grounded in the key principles of Catholic teaching,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the University will not, however, withdraw the four percent of endowment funds currently invested in fossil fuel companies, which student groups like We Are 9 and Fossil Free ND have pushed since 2014.

“Nearly all acknowledge that there is no practical plan by which we could cease using fossil fuels in the immediate future and continue the work of the University,” he said. “It seems to me at least a practical inconsistency to attempt to stigmatize an industry, as proponents of divestment hope, from which, we admit, we must purchase.”

Fossil Free ND, a student group that has campaigned for divestment, released a statement criticizing the strategy Tuesday night, saying the plan itself does not address divestment, and the campus power plant would still use non-renewable energy — natural gas — under the plan.

“Instead of moving away from fossil fuels, the plan explicitly calls for further investment in natural gas over the next five years,” the statement said. “Potential renewable resources are relegated to future ‘feasibility studies’ despite calls for renewable energy at Notre Dame across the past decade, including a preliminary feasibility study by faculty over five years ago.”

In the address to the faculty, Jenkins also outlined the University’s efforts to increase the diversity of students and faculty. He said efforts at increasing diversity were especially important considering world events, including terrorist attacks, Islamophobia, police and mass shootings and “nativist remarks about immigrants and members of some national groups.”

“We may be tempted to discouragement, or at least to a complacent acceptance of dark tendencies, perennial in human history, toward fear, hatred and violence and of the tendency of leaders to exploit such forces,” Jenkins said. “Yet we must not succumb to such temptations. We must strive to make this community something better.”

Diversity initiatives for students include the Office of Student Affairs’ 21 action steps, created in 2014, and the Fighting Irish Initiative, which supports students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Jenkins said in addition to surveys and diversity training for faculty, a new director of academic diversity, Pamela Nolan Young, will implement initiatives, including “how we can create structures that will support faculty during key pivot points in their lives.” He said each dean has also created a strategic plan to hire more women and members of underrepresented groups.

“We recognize, however, that in some fields minority groups are not well represented and in all fields, with similar commitments from many other institutions, competition will be intense for qualified candidates,” Jenkins said.  “Yet [University provost] Tom Burish, along with the deans, have made such hiring a priority and I am confident we will be successful, even if progress may be gradual.”

Jenkins said a commitment to diversity must include affirming “the transcendent dignity and worth of every human person,” as well as working towards the common good and living in solidarity with everyone.

“The call is not simply to tolerate diversity but to embrace sisters and brothers and to strive to build, however imperfectly, a community of love,” he said. “Such a vision is, in the end, the most powerful justification of and motivation for diversity and inclusion that I can imagine. It animates our efforts at Notre Dame.”

Jenkins also welcomed Michael Pippenger, the new vice president for internationalization, and outlined the increase of Notre Dame’s presence abroad, including building centers in Mexico City; Sao Paolo, Brazil and Connemara, Ireland. He said while a planned joined campus with Zhejiang University in Haining, China did not materialize, the University hopes to work more in the area.

“It is clear that our serious engagement with this unique proposal enhanced the visibility and reputation of Notre Dame throughout the Greater China region,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also addressed the increase in campus construction and faculty and graduate student grants, the academic strength of the incoming freshman class, the final report of the Core Curriculum Committee and the election of business executive Jack Brennan as the chair of the Board of Trustees. He said a faculty search committee is looking for a new associate provost and vice president for innovation, and a new building in Innovation Park will host the IDEA Center, to help commercialize student and faculty inventions.

Jenkins said a faculty committee that is reviewing teacher evaluation methods will release recommendations this year. He also recognized the growing number of juniors and seniors living off-campus and said the University is conducting focus groups with students both on and off campus.

Jenkins concluded the address by encouraging a civil exchange of ideas during the presidential election season.

“The health of our democracy requires that opponents engage one another’s ideas and policies in serious exchange,” he said. “Any university, and Notre Dame in particular, must foster such exchanges and develop in our students a readiness to have these kinds of conversations. I hope this year’s [Notre Dame] Forum will encourage us all to think about how we can foster this sort of exchange.”

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

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