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Faculty Senate, don’t be foolish

| Thursday, November 5, 2020

At the Oct. 1 meeting of the Notre Dame Student Senate, the body was constitutionally obligated to “consider” (Constitution, XIV.1.a) a petitioned resolution, with just a mere 213 undergraduate signatures, formally asking Fr. Jenkins to resign. At the time, in my capacity as Student Union Parliamentarian, I advised the voting members of the Student Senate that “passing this resolution will only hurt you in the eyes of the administration … the precedent you’re setting by passing this may shut you off from any further dialogue going forward.”

What that really meant was: Don’t pass a resolution that will only frame yourselves as fools. Fools, once exposed, create little positive impact or change. They quickly lose their legitimacy on other important topics and only damage their ability to properly represent their constituency.

Thankfully, that resolution was rejected by the Senate after only receiving two votes of approval from a body of 38 voting members. But today, I am disappointed that I have to offer the same message to the Notre Dame Faculty Senate.

Today, the Notre Dame Faculty Senate will hold an evening meeting to discuss a vote of no confidence in Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins. What weight will this carry, you ask? What imminent danger or problems will this solve? What change will come out of this?

The answer: absolutely nothing.

I am not writing to attack or defend his behavior but simply to tell the Faculty Senate to move on. Jenkins’ negligence at the White House and its resulting effect has passed. He will not be removed, nor will he resign. This issue is over, so please, stop living in the past. Notre Dame is facing many crucibles right now, as is the rest of the world. Now is not the time to intentionally divide and provoke instability; it is time to buckle down and finish these last two weeks with a winning attitude rooted in unity, compassion, and even, some forgiveness.

The preamble of the Faculty Senate Bylaws states it “shall be the responsibility of the [Faculty] Senate to initiate proposals in the interest of the University’s development and to evoke and utilize the knowledge and experience of the faculty in whatever way necessary in the formulation of such proposals.” This motion of no confidence frankly is, and should be, the least of those proposals.

Rather than waste discussion time on this, I ask the Faculty Senate to quickly move to vote. Vote no; end this nonsense. Move on; use your time wisely. You ask your students to appropriately budget their time to complete their workload for your courses. I ask you to do the same with your time. Use it to discuss meaningful issues of the academy, present and future: improving remote learning methods, Winter Session concerns, Spring 2021 syllabi adjustments and managing the Honor Code during remote testing. Dedicate your discussions to how resources for research and administrative budgets can be best managed during the pandemic or how the travel or testing policies could be best adapted to accommodate your work.

These are the issues the faculty in your departments — the constituency you represent — care about.  These are the issues the students — who are blessed to receive your instruction — care about.

The only result from passing a vote of no confidence in such a chaotic time would be a negative one. Now is the time for stable leadership, not an abrupt transition. News outlets, local and national, are bound to pick up this headline. But I am tired of the news stories attempting to discredit this University and its bold action steps to attempt to deliver the best education it can. Evoking such a strong message of fear will only add more turmoil to this difficult semester and unnecessarily assault the reputation of this great University and its mission. There is something to be said about proper criticism at proper times in order to help an institution improve and progress forward. This motion is not one of those cases; this motion it accomplishes nothing.

Rather, the result of this vote is more indicative of the Faculty Senate itself. Should this motion pass, the University’s confidence in Fr. Jenkins will not waiver more than it has, but it most certainly would indicate a lack of confidence in the Faculty Senate to prioritize its goals for the University community.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in seeing how full-time undergraduate students, in contrast to Professor Barron, can author well-researched, mature and impactful resolutions, please visit the Notre Dame Student Senate Webpage.

Thomas Davis II


Student Union Parliamentarian

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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