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Board of Trustees to elect new president after Jenkins’ tenure

| Monday, November 13, 2023

Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame
Fr. John Jenkins will step down as president at the end of the academic year.

On Oct. 13, University President Fr. Jenkins announced he would step down from his role at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, leaving the Board of Trustees to select his successor.  

Jenkins was elected the 17th president of the University in 2005, succeeding Fr. Edward Malloy. Jenkins was reelected as president by the board of trustees for four five-year terms, the most recent one beginning in July, 2020. Jenkins is stepping down a year before the end of his fourth term.

In his 2005 inaugural address, Jenkins vowed “to build a Notre Dame that is bigger and better than ever — a great Catholic university for the 21st century.” He said Notre Dame must be “one of the pre-eminent research institutions in the world, a center for learning whose intellectual and religious traditions converge to make it a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need.”

Not long into his presidency in 2009, Jenkins received criticism for inviting newly-elected President Barack Obama to speak at that year’s graduation ceremony. Some argued Obama’s abortion-rights policies were at odds with the University’s Catholic nature. Notre Dame has had a tradition of inviting presidents to speak at graduation ceremonies, going back to President Eisenhower.

In 2020, both Jenkins and the University received considerable national attention. After canceling in-person classes for the rest of the spring 2020 semester in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenkins made the controversial decision to resume in-person classes in the fall.

In a May New York Times opinion piece, Jenkins defended his decision to allow students to return to classes, arguing if virtual-only classes continued, “we would risk failing to provide the next generation of leaders the education they need and to do the research and scholarship so valuable to our society.”

That October, Notre Dame was put into the spotlight again when President Donald Trump nominated Notre Dame Law School alumna and professor Amy Coney Barrett as the newest Supreme Court justice. At Barrett’s nomination ceremony at the White House, media captured Jenkins without a mask. He was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19. Following student outrage and calls for his resignation, Jenkins issued an apology for not wearing a mask during the ceremony.

Recently, the University was accepted into the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Jenkins has overseen a period of growth. When he became president in 2005, the University endowment sat at $3.7 billion. Today it sits at $20.3 billion — the seventh largest of all private universities. In 2005, Notre Dame enrolled 11,417 total students. In 2022 (the last year for which data is available), the University enrolled 13,105 total students.  

Physically, Notre Dame has expanded as well, with six new residence halls and a plethora of academic buildings being constructed during Jenkins’s tenure. 

Jenkins’ 19 years in office also marked the continuation of a period of stability in the Notre Dame presidency.

After Fr. Edward Sorin served as president for 23 years after founding the University, no other president served for more than 15 years in the role until Fr. Theodore Hesburgh’s 35-year tenure from 1952 to 1987. Fr. Malloy took over for Hesburgh, serving for 18 years from 1987 until 2005. Fr. Malloy now serves as President Emeritus.

With Jenkins stepping down, the process of selecting a new president will begin. According to the University bylaws, the president is elected by the Board of Trustees. Though Jenkins was elected to five-year terms, the president may be given a term of up to seven years.

The bylaws stipulate the president must be chosen “from among the clerical members of the Congregation [of Holy Cross].”

However, the Board of Trustees as a whole does not have free reign to pick who this member of the Congregation is. Rather, the “Provincial of the Congregation” recommends a member of the clergy to the Governance and Nominating Committee of the Board of Trustees, which consists of at least seven members.

According to the Congregation of Holy Cross website, the Provincial Superior of the Congregation is Fr. William Lies. Lies formerly served as executive director of the Center for Social Concerns and vice president for mission engagement and church affairs at Notre Dame. He is currently a fellow of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

The bylaws also note “the Governance and Nominating Committee may also receive recommendations from any other interested person or persons.”

After the Governance and Nominating Committee receives these recommendations, they recommend a candidate to the whole board.

The president of the University must recuse himself from the Governance and Nominating Committee when a nominee for president is being considered. It is unclear if other committee members who have been nominated for the role of president must recuse themselves.

After the committee makes its recommendation, the board votes on whether to approve the nominee. 

In a statement in response to Fr. Jenkins’ announcement, John J. Brennan, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the Board is “confident that the next leader will take the University to even greater heights of accomplishment.”

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