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Provost Search Committee holds listening session

| Thursday, October 3, 2019

Following the announcement that Thomas Burish was stepping down as provost at the end of the academic year, University President Fr. John Jenkins and the search committee elected by the Academic Council held a listening session for undergraduates Wednesday afternoon.

Emma Farnan
Finance professor Carl Ackermann, a member of the Provost Search Committee, moderates a listening session for undergraduate students on Wednesday. The committee gathered student input about the qualifications provost candidates should possess.

The goal of the session was to “inform our thinking about the qualities we should seek in the next provost of Notre Dame,” Jenkins said in an email sent last week to the University’s students. After receiving input from students, faculty and staff, the search committee will develop a position prospectus describing the qualities candidates for the position should possess, the President explained.

“Few decisions are as consequential for a university as the selection of a new provost,” Jenkins said in an email to the community sent last month.

The provost is in charge of a wide range of duties, Carl Ackermann, search committee member and professor of finance at the University, said.

“The provost is charged with administering and coordinating the academic activities and functions. But an excellent provost does so much more. She or he must be an exceptional listener, decision-maker, and communicator and fund-raiser. In fact, it is someone who lights up the spirit of the entire University,” he said.

Though the listening session was an attempt to include student voices in the decision-making process of selecting a new provost — essentially the senior administrator under the president — two students attended the event held at DeBartolo Hall’s Room 101 at 4 p.m.

“This session is the one I am most excited about because the undergraduates are our largest and most important constituency, and, let’s face it: the undergraduates are the ones who know what is really going on,” Ackermann said.

Despite the lack of participation Ackermann acknowledged that there was a benefit from having a small crowd.

“We usually have 40 or so attendants, so people are only able to give one comment. However, with few students we were able to get deeper responses,” he said.

The students in attendance were senior Jack Ferguson and freshman Crystal Lin. They were joined by the search committee comprised by Kasey Buckles, associate professor of economics; Patrick J. Flynn, professor and chair at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Michael Hildreth, professor of physics and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science; Margaret Meserve, associate dean for the humanities and faculty affairs and associate professor of history; Ramachandran Ramanan, professor in Department of Accountancy; Laura A. Carlson, vice president, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School and professor in the Psychology Department; Veronica Root Martinez, professor of law; Ackermann, teaching professor of finance; junior Maria Salerno and graduate student Karen Angeles.

In order to get a sense of the attributes Notre Dame’s new provost should have, the committee framed the session around three questions, which included the University’s most important recent accomplishments, future central opportunities and challenges the provost will face and the essential qualities and skills that the next provost will need in order to be succeed.

Ackermann initiated the session by explaining that in order to excite prospective candidates about the position, the committee wanted to highlight Notre Dame’s accomplishments. As a result, he started the event by asking participants what they considered to be the University’s most important achievements.

Ferguson mentioned the renowned faculty and departments within the College of Arts and Letters, in particular the Program of Liberal Studies.

“Peer universities do not have [this] and are envious of what we have,” he said. “I’m not too sure what’s going on in the Colleges of Science and Engineering, but, within Arts and Letters, I know that some of the departments and faculty have been highlighted and nationally recognized. In recent years, Meghan Sullivan, the philosophy professor [won a] … national research grant for expanding her model of the God and Good Life philosophy class that is causing national attention.”

Lin considered that Mendoza College of Business’s academic excellence to be an important accomplishment.

“In some schools only the business school is very good, but at Notre Dame almost everything is great,” Lin said.

The committee then asked what student accomplishments should be taken into account, as the student body is part of Notre Dame’s attraction. The attendants mentioned inspiring student leaders such as Samuel Jackson, who is serving as one of the leprechaun this year.

“Sam Jackson is the face of the school to millions of Americans turning on their televisions and seeing a close-up shot of his face. I think it’s a great thing for us this year,” Ferguson said.

After this question, the committee wondered about the qualities embodied by the Notre Dame student body, which the attendees said were kindness, compassion and intelligence, as well as a motivation driven by faith.

Moreover, the committee recognized that the next provost would face several obstacles in the coming years as well as opportunities to position Notre Dame as a leader, including several sustainability initiatives that are currently being enacted. As such, they asked students to name the challenges and opportunities they believed the provost would have on his plate in the next five years.

Lin pointed out that, even though Notre Dame had reduced its coal emissions, more work can be done regarding the University’s sustainability efforts. Meanwhile, Ferguson elaborated on the challenges the new provost could face in the midst of current polarized political climate.

“The provost will have to steer us in a safe, stable, temperate path through waters, considering the political climate,” Ferguson said.

Considering that the new provost would be tasked with facing these issues, the committee then asked the students to pin-point which qualities he or she should have in order to be successful at Notre Dame. The attendees answered that the candidate must present both empathy and good listening skills. Lin also mentioned that she would like the person to “lie in the center of the political spectrum” and to be kind and considerate. Ferguson added that the ideal candidate would be someone who is inspiring to the community and who personifies the Catholic identity that distinguishes Notre Dame.

“The Catholic identity has the potential to be sort of a bridge,” he said. “It is sort of the underlying foundation of a lot of the political debates that take place here, and it’s a wound-healer, something that is more important to some people than their politics. So, someone who is able to strengthen that on that steady course will be able to make our school better.”

In their closing remarks, both Lin and Ferguson expressed their gratitude for the education they have received at Notre Dame, and said they had decided to attend out of civic duty to the school. They also lamented that a greater number of students had not attended the event, especially since it was a platform to voice their ideas and concerns.

“I think people unfairly bash the administration for not listening to students all the time, but there are opportunities; people just don’t show up. I would almost like to apologize on behalf of the student body for you doing your job, and us sort of not giving our end of the bargain,” Ferguson said.

The committee, however, said that more opportunities would be available for students to participate in the process. For instance, they encouraged undergraduates to attend the listening session on October 16 at 4 p.m. in DeBartolo Hall 101. Moreover, any concerns, questions, ideas, and candidate nominations could be sent to [email protected]

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