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Students offer insight during second Provost Search Committee listening session

| Thursday, October 17, 2019

During a Provost Search Committee listening session Wednesday, students said administrators should seek to hire a provost who is committed to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, promotes inclusive policies, supports a wide range of academic opportunities and communicates well with the student body.

The second student listening session drew 12 participants, an increase from the two students who took part in the first session

Participants offered feedback for hiring Notre Dame’s second highest ranking administrator during the hour-long meeting in DeBartolo Hall 101. The committee asked students to consider what challenges and opportunities the new provost would face, what characteristics this person should embody and what University accomplishments should be highlighted to recruit the new administrator.

Students voiced several ways the provost could promote a wide range of academic options for students. They stressed the need for interdisciplinary studies, discussed how to make the humanities more accessible to low-income students and emphasized the importance of demonstrating a wide variety of career paths for students of different majors.

“I’m excited about the majors and minors that are coming out and that are being created,” junior Connor Whittle said. “But I certainly think that there’re opportunities for growth in the classes that we see offered for students of different disciplines and collaboration between those departments.”

Several students also said it was important for the new provost to support the University’s Catholic mission and promote the Church’s values.

Sophomore William Gentry said Notre Dame has a “comparative advantage” over leading secular schools because of its uniqueness as “the premier Catholic university.”

“I think it’s so important to have a provost who understands that comparative advantage, who understands what this University is about and celebrates that, and themselves are a faithful, practicing, doctrinally sound Catholic,” he said.

Craig Iffland, a Ph.D. student in moral theology, said the provost should consider how the tenure process can be difficult for professors — and in particular, women — with growing families. He also said the provost will face the challenge of creating genuine dialogue amongst faculty of varying religious beliefs who feel they can’t freely express their opinions.

“I think this is a larger issue within the academy writ large, but I think particularly being a Catholic university, it should be the case that we can have discussions on controversial issues and speak our minds without fear of reprisal,” he said.

In looking to hire a new provost, the University should also seek to hire someone who values cultural competence, students said.

“Notre Dame does have a reputation … that it’s not particularly welcoming to minority students,” senior Matt Schoenbauer said.

Senior Eric Kim added that it is important for the University to foster not just diversity, but also inclusion.

“How can we promote both on this campus, in terms of [its] culture [and] academic profile?” he asked.

Kim also said the provost should consider ways to highlight the University’s support for low-income students through its programs such as QuestBridge, the Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars and Posse.

“I think one of the things when I was a high school senior was that I knew Notre Dame as the school of legacy students,” he said. “I did not know that this was a school that cherished low-income, first [generation] students as well.”

It is also important for the provost to connect well with students, participants said at the listening session.

“I think the previous provost has done a lot of good work with faculty but hasn’t engaged with students too much,” said Kristopher Murray, a fifth-year graduate student. “I can say that even though a lot of graduate students are engaged in teaching and many are instructors of record, many of them don’t feel much interaction or relationship with the provost.”

Sophomore Jack Rotolo also noted a disconnect between the provost’s office and undergraduate students.

“I kind of never really thought of the provost office at all, and it just kind of was an organization that existed,” he said.

Thus, Rotolo said, it is important for the provost’s office to have open lines of communication with students.

“Especially with something as important as the provost, I think transparency is something that’s going to be very important going forward,” he said.

Overall, students said, the provost should be a leader with strong core values.

“There are going to be pressures from a lot of people — there’s going to be pressures from [University President] Fr. [John Jenkins], from faculty, from students … but the provost definitely needs to be able to think independently,” Murray said.

The University’s current provost, Thomas Burish, will step down on July 1, 2020, following the end of his five year term. Community members can offer feedback on the provost hiring process or nominate a candidate for the position by emailing [email protected]

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie Weber graduated in 2020 from the University of Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minors in journalism and computing. A native of Grand Junction, Colorado she most recently served as Managing Editor at The Observer. // Email: [email protected] // Twitter: @wordsbyweber

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