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Jenkins addresses faculty on strategic framework, AAU acceptance

and | Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Beau Steller | The Observer
University president Fr. Jenkins addressed the faculty in Debartolo Performing Arts Center Tuesday.

During his annual address to the faculty Tuesday, University president Fr. John Jenkins highlighted the recently released “Notre Dame 2033: Strategic Framework” and celebrated Notre Dame’s recent acceptance into the Association of American Universities (AAU). 

Jenkins described the day he received a call from Barbara Snyder, president of the AAU, describing Notre Dame’s acceptance into the organization as “among the most memorable days” in his 19 years as president of the University.

 “The AAU invitation is a recognition by the world’s most distinguished association of research universities of the progress Notre Dame has made in recent decades,” Jenkins said. Jenkins specifically highlighted the improvement in Notre Dame’s research programs as one of the main drivers of the University’s progress.

“Over the past 15 years, Notre Dame’s trajectory in key measures is among the most steeply positive of all ‘R1’ research universities,” he noted.

While Jenkins praised the progress that Notre Dame has made in recent years, he cautioned the University against becoming complacent in its quest for research excellence. 

“We are proud of that record, but we cannot be complacent,” Jenkins said. “An institution recognized for the steep upward line tracking its research will look far less impressive if that line plateaus or declines. We must sustain and even enhance the work of recent years.”

In order to achieve this growth, Jenkins pointed to the recently released Strategic Framework that includes three themes to guide University policy for the next 10 years.

Jenkins said that the University will “strengthen foundations” by “identifying vital areas where we are already strong and might become preeminent,” investigate “the meaning for Notre Dame of a multicultural, multilingual Catholic Church” and place a “renewed emphasis on science and engineering to serve a world in need.”

Jenkins emphasized that Notre Dame’s identity as a Catholic university will remain central to the University and intertwined with its focus on research.

“Notre Dame’s distinctive mission and special contribution is to bring faith into dialogue with inquiries across the disciplines in order to engage the great questions and challenges of our time,” Jenkins said. “Notre Dame will continue that tradition effectively, only if its research is truly superb, and it fosters a dialogue between faith and reason appropriate for our time.”

Jenkins also thanked the faculty for their work to lift up the University.

“Our celebration of Notre Dame’s membership in the AAU is above all a celebration of you and your accomplishments,” Jenkins declared.

Beau Steller | The Observer

After Jenkins delivered his speech, Notre Dame Provost John McGreevy moderated a conversation with Barbara Snyder and Peter Lange, former provost of Duke University. Faculty members anonymously submitted questions beforehand.

Snyder initiated the discussion by highlighting a significant challenge facing higher education institutions: the erosion of trust in knowledge, wisdom and expertise in society.

She followed this by stating that the AAU’s tangential mission lies in the “education of policymakers, members of Congress and also members of the public” saying that “higher education has become seen too much as a private good.” 

Snyder also highlighted the opportunities that arise from Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.

“I do think that, given the power of Catholicism globally, and especially in the parts of the world developing now, our opportunities for providing solutions to research are tremendous, almost limitless, and the need is so great,” she said. 

After the panelists were then asked to share their honest reactions to Notre Dame’s strategic framework, both Lange and Snyder expressed their support for it, with Lange describing it as “very good.” Specifically, they praised the University’s courage in making difficult choices when it comes to allocating resources, which they explained can often be challenging given the importance of various departments within the institution. 

When asked by McGreevy about what a model diversity, equity and inclusion program might look like, Snyder pointed to generous financial aid and a diverse faculty as important factors.

Lange, on the other hand, focused on the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down affirmative action, arguing that schools will need to push the limits of the ruling in order to maintain diversity.

“From my point of view, our commitment to diversity means pushing those boundaries, even taking the risk that someone may get sued. You may have to defend yourself. You’ll defend yourself within the bounds that you felt the law was, but if you don’t take those risks, we’re going to have a serious backslide in the diversity of our student bodies,” Lange said.

Like Jenkins, Lange also warned the University against complacency.

“You’ve got way more money than you used to have, you’re in the AAU now, you’re feeling great and you’ve got a strategic plan. You’re either going to push it or you’re going to say, ‘Wow, we’re doing great,’” Lange said. “If you just sit on where you are and bask in the incredible accomplishments you’ve had, you’re actually going to go backwards.”

Snyder, too, emphasized the importance of the current moment for Notre Dame.

“I think you are at an inflection point, having just come into the AAU, having accomplished a lot,” Snyder said. “Inflection points come along very rarely. You have one in front of you right now, and I hope that everyone in this room and everyone who’s not in this room, sees that as both the biggest risk — not seizing it — and the greatest opportunity for Notre Dame.”

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