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Fr. Jenkins has one hell of a job

| Monday, February 11, 2019

These days, as I open The Observer to the Viewpoint section, I often jest, “Ah, I wonder what University President Fr. John Jenkins has done to upset someone today.” Very rarely do I find myself caught off guard by what I find.

I get it. This section is literally called “Viewpoint.” It exists for individuals and groups within our community to convey their opinions and scruples (compliments from the same being few-and-far between). Of course, I am, at this very moment, writing to convey my own sentiments for publication in the same forum (so no, the irony of this editorial is not lost on me). But really, this section could just as well be dubbed “Complaints and Criticisms.”

As I alluded to earlier, many of these complaints and criticisms are directed at either Jenkins, or the more generic “administration.” For example, over the past few months, you might have seen headlines in the Viewpoint section such as: “Father Jenkins is a disgrace to Notre Dame and the Catholic Faith;” “An open letter to Fr. Jenkins;” and “Fr. Jenkins: It is time to lead”.

Well, here are just five of the many reasons why Jenkins has one hell of a job:

  1. God and His Church: Collegiate boards of trustees can be intimidating, but God? He’s quite the boss. Even with His infinite love and mercy, nobody of faith wants to let Him down, but especially not someone who recognizes the great responsibility that accompanies wearing the Roman collar. I believe Jenkins is such a man. Moreover, when he was ordained in 1983, Jenkins took a series of vows, to include the vow of obedience — a sacred obligation to abide by the will of the Father, particularly as determined by the leaders of Jenkins’ order and the Church. This means striving to uphold the doctrines of the Faith, something that all Catholics struggle to do, but especially those subjected to the greatest of public scrutiny.
  2. Secular society: As if living up to the lofty expectations of God weren’t enough, Jenkins, in exercising his presidential duties, must also navigate the complex — and often unforgiving — waters that is leading a distinctively Roman Catholic international research university in an increasingly secularized world. About 175 years ago, when the University’s founder, Fr. Edward Sorin, predicted that Notre Dame would be “a powerful force for good” in the world, he never could have envisioned a world like ours.
  3. Alumni: The sons and daughters of Notre Dame are, understandably — and not necessarily in a bad way — a bit eccentric. Unfortunately, many of them have also interpreted the Congregation of Holy Cross’ motto, Ave Crux, Spes Unica, to be “Hail the Money, Our Only Hope”. Yet, in our society (and our world, for that matter), it is capital — cold hard cash — that makes research, infrastructure, scholarships, high-quality faculty and a plethora of other university-related needs possible.
  4. Pay: In 2016, Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, received over $1.6 million in compensation from his institution. That same year, Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, received about the same amount. And Baylor University’s president, Kenneth Starr, topped the list at almost $5 million. Remember that vow of obedience I mentioned? (If not, see item 1 above). For the priests of Holy Cross, it’s accompanied by a vow of poverty, meaning Fr. Jenkins doesn’t see a cent of his approximately $900,000-per-year salary; rather, it all goes directly to the Congregation. What are the odds of you working for free?
  5. You: That’s right, you. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a current or past Notre Dame student, faculty member or staff member — and even if you’re not, honestly, this probably still applies to you. You are needy. You are opinionated. You have a perspective that is uniquely your own. But you know what? There so many yous out there, and there is only one Jenkins. It is, quite frankly, impossible for him to acknowledge everyone’s opinion on every subject; still, it’s not unlikely that you will feel personally victimized the next time your view goes unrepresented in a University policy or statement.

Now, having read all that, you might be inclined to say: David, criticism is part of the job. Yes, you’re right, but if you are confident that you would do the job better — or rather, that you could somehow make doing so look easy — you, dearest reader, are a fool. Meanwhile, I do not mean to imply that all criticism of Jenkins and Notre Dame’s administration is invalid, unjustified, or even unreasonable. However, as the late St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Humility is the mother of all virtues,” and I have “observed” an unfortunate lack of humility in the Viewpoint section of The Observer.  

So, amid a sea of complaints and criticisms, the receipt of which seems to be inevitable in your position: thank you, Fr. Jenkins — and all those entrusted with guiding Our Lady’s University, past, present and future. I appreciate you and your dedication. I acknowledge your inherent, human imperfection. I pray for you to be guided by the Holy Spirit. And most of all, I do not envy you.

David Spicer

J.D. ‘20

Feb. 10

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email [email protected]

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