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Jenkins addresses faculty on Burish, Columbus murals, Church crisis, sustainability

| Wednesday, September 18, 2019

University President Fr. John Jenkins spoke to the success of the University under provost Tom Burish, and the search for a new provost, as Burish will step down at the conclusion of this school year. Jenkins also discussed the Columbus murals, affordability and financial aid, the ND voice survey and fostering a ‘speak up’ culture, the 2019-2020 forum “Rebuild My Church” and the Vatican dialogues on climate change and campus sustainability initiatives in his annual faculty address Tuesday evening in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. 

Cate Von Dohlen | The Observer
University President Fr. John Jenkins delivered his annual address to faculty Tuesday evening in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Burish introduced Jenkins and briefly spoke to his time at Notre Dame, thanking the faculty for welcoming him and for their support during his time as provost. 

“As a result, serving as provost has been the greatest professional privilege of my life,” Burish said.

Jenkins praised Burish for his commitment to high-quality teaching and growth in research and graduate studies in the last fifteen years. He noted several specific institutes developed during his time here, including the Harper Cancer Research Institute, Innovation Park at Notre Dame and the IDEA Center, along with other factors such as Notre Dame’s growing internationalization and strength of applicants to the University. 

Before speaking to the provost search, Jenkins expressed his gratitude for Burish. 

“He has devoted himself to enabling the rest of us to flourish, and for this I am — and I believe we all are — deeply grateful,” Jenkins said. “It has been a true blessing for me to work for the past fifteen years alongside someone who I believe has been, quite simply, the most effective provost in American higher education. If I were asked what days were most pivotal in my tenure as President of Notre Dame, I would have to include the day Tom Burish agreed to come and be our provost.”

Jenkins said Lisa Prigohzy-Milius of Presidio Executive Search will assist the search committee in their confidential search for the provost who will follow Burish. 

Jenkins spoke to the criticism concerning the decision to cover the Columbus murals on the walls of the entrance to the Main Building. Jenkins said he formed a committee of faculty, staff and students to create a set of recommendations for the murals. 

“Critics of our decision have suggested that it arose from a desire to protect overly sensitive, coddled students and faculty from images that might disturb them; or from a desire to suppress historical facts; or from some embarrassment about the Catholic faith. In fact, the opposite is true on all counts,” Jenkins said. “… Our goal has been to convey the broader story in both its positive and negative aspects, and to do so from the perspective of our mission as a Catholic university.” 

Jenkins also discussed the University’s implementation of the Staff Retirement Incentive Program and the issues of cost and accessibility of higher American education. 

“We used the opportunity of these retirements to review staffing levels and seek efficiencies,” Jenkins said. 

The high costs are largely an effect of Notre Dame’s commitment to educational excellence but the University cannot ignore families bearing the burden nor the concerns of University benefactors, Jenkins said. 

“We plan to direct all savings from reductions in staffing levels to helping students from lower-income and first-generation families make a Notre Dame education accessible,” Jenkins said. 

Continuing his address, Jenkins spoke to Notre Dame in concern of the admissions bribery scandal involving respected institutions. 

“We have conducted a thorough review, and we have no evidence of such behavior at Notre Dame. Nevertheless, the worst response to such cases would be to assure ourselves that it could never happen here,” he said.

Jenkins said Sept. 25 panel for the 2019 Notre Dame Forum “Rebuild My Church” — which focuses on addressing the Catholic Church clergy sexual abuse scandal — will be moderated by Crux Editor and Vatican beat reporter John Allen. 

“Our forum this year will focus on where we are now in the process of healing and reform and what further steps are needed,” he said.

Jenkins finally addressed the topic of sustainability and environmental efforts on campus, identifying the ways Notre Dame is moving away from coal toward other sources of energy. 

The University has burned coal since its founding to warm buildings and light the campus,” Jenkins said. ”Next month, a year ahead of schedule, the last piece of coal will be burned as we transition to other sources of energy.”

University initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions include geothermal projects, a hydroelectric project on the St. Joseph River, natural gas combustion turbines, solar energy arrays, green roofs and LEED gold and silver certifications of buildings around campus, Jenkins said. 

“Through these and other initiatives, we have achieved a 50% reduction in carbon emissions per square foot from 2005 levels — 10 years ahead of our original goal,” Jenkins said. ”We will continue these efforts as we seek to make the campus entirely carbon neutral.” 

In closing, Jenkins praised the faculty for their dedication. 

I am conscious every day that the good that happens here daily is due to the many remarkably talented, dedicated people who make up this University community,” Jenkins said. “So let me end by thanking you again for all you do to make this University the force for good it aspires to be.”

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