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Executive leaders discuss diversity, construction, vaccine updates in town hall

| Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Executive leaders gave updates on construction projects, health guidelines and new initiatives in the fall 2021 virtual staff and faculty town hall Tuesday afternoon.

Executive vice president Shannon Cullinan opened up the town hall by welcoming Jane Livingston, the new vice president for information technology and chief information officer who began her term in July.

Alysa Guffey | The Observer
Executive vice president Shannon Cullinan runs the operations of the University. He gave updates on construction projects, labor shortages and COVID-19 vaccinations.

As executive vice president, Cullinan is largely responsible for the operations of the University. Cullinan said a large concern that staff members had was the increase in electric scooters on campus and the potential dangers the scooters present on a largely pedestrian campus. As a result, an e-scooter committee has been formed to address the issue, he said.

“So in the next couple of months, [the committee is] going to get to work on that and see what other universities are doing to sort of address the challenge,” Cullinan said.

Current construction projects on campus include the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, Our Lady of the Lake World Peace Plaza and an expansion of the wellness center.

The museum is set to open in late 2023, Cullinan said, and will add to the arts hub on the south end of campus, which currently consists of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Walsh Family Architecture Hall and O’Neill Hall of Music.

Cullinan added that the University’s goal is to have the museum accessible to the greater South Bend area as well as college students.

“We want to get as many [K-12 students] through the building as we can,” Cullinan said. “It will accommodate buses in a way that’s really seamless, but we’re not able to do right now with the current Snite, so we’re really excited for this project.”

The construction of the Our Lady of the Lake Peace Plaza is an ongoing project near the east side of Saint Mary’s Lake. When completed, the plaza will include places to sit and an engrained prayer for world peace in seven different languages.

“Right now, you just see a crane and a bunch of machines, but the idea is to create sort of this more beautiful spot for people to relax and enjoy each other by Saint Mary’s Lake,” Cullinan said.

Cullinan said the plaza has a tentative completion date of summer 2022.

Next, Cullinan gave updates regarding the University’s announcements to reduce the school’s carbon footprint by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Currently, the University utilizes 40% of the output of the St. Joseph Solar Farm and has geothermal energy locations by Ricci Fields on campus. Cullinan said the University hopes the hydroelectric dam in downtown South Bend will become active in 2022. The dam will represent 7% of power on campus.

Cullinan addressed faculty concerns on sustainability and said that while it’s a large focus area for the University, individuals can take small steps to improve sustainability such as printing less paper and consuming less waste.

“It is one of the most institutional goals I can think of for Notre Dame, so we all need to pitch in and do our part,” he said.

Turning the conversation to COVID-19, Cullinan thanked the faculty for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, saying he believes the Notre Dame vaccination rate is currently 95%.

“We will stay humble on this,” Cullinan said. “You never know when those rates might change but for now they’re low.”

Cullinan said the University has not decided whether it will require or recommend booster shots.

A challenge Notre Dame has faced this semester is labor shortages on campus, as the trend has continued nationally. Cullinan said employees of the University are the best recruiters when it comes to hiring and encouraged people to seek potential hires, particularly for food service positions.

“I will give a special shoutout to our food services area,” he said. “It’s very hard right now for all of them to keep these dining halls going.”

The executive leaders decided to give faculty and staff an extra two days for winter break, raising the rest period from 6 days to 8 days (Dec. 23 through Jan. 3).

From there, provost Marie Lynn Miranda began her list of updates. As provost, Miranda serves the academic side of Notre Dame, but she stressed the importance of the intersection between operations and academics.

“Shannon and I work very closely and we’re not able to do what we want to do on the academic side without all of the people on the operation side and the operation side is supported by the academic side as well,” she said.

Miranda announced the recent hiring of three leadership positions at the University: K. Matthew Dames as head librarian of Hesburgh Libraries, Santiago Schnell as dean of the College of Science and Suzanne Shanahan as executive director of the Center for Social Concerns. All three began their positions this semester.

Next, Miranda spoke on the transformational leaders program, which is intended to help students of geographic, income and racial or ethnic diversity. She gave a special shoutout to Hugh Page and Maria McKenna who lead the program.

The last topic Miranda touched upon was the Moment to See, Courage to Act initiative. Faculty and staff were encouraged to submit ideas of potential endeavors the University. She said she received 106 unique proposals involving 700 faculty.

“We know that anything that we’re able to do that comes out of Moment to See, Courage to Act is very much a product of faculty and staff collaborating,” Miranda said.

A symposium will take place Friday in Leighton Concert Hall where each proposal group will have 3 minutes to present their idea.

Miranda handed the virtual microphone over to University President Fr. John Jenkins, who closed the town hall by reading a letter of gratitude from the Board of Trustees addressed to faculty and staff.

Jenkins also talked about the importance of speak-up culture and the University’s policy of retaliation.

“If you do see something please, let us know,” he said. “Beyond asking you to report any concerns, we are seeking to ensure that our culture supports openness, transparency and candor.”

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

Contact Alysa