President’s Annual Address to the Faculty
September 11, 2007
Of all the memorable occasions that I enjoy as President of Notre Dame, none are more privileged than this—when I stand before the assembled faculty at the start of a new academic year to take stock of where we are and to talk of our plans and aspirations.
Of course, some university events are more glamorous, others may be more light-hearted, some are attended by people who have a lot more money than we do—imagine that! But none have the significance of this annual occasion—as I join with you to speak about our goals and the future of our common enterprise.
Yet, in another sense, there is nothing terribly special about this meeting. We hold conversations daily, usually in gatherings a bit smaller and more casual than this one, about our hopes and ideas for Notre Dame. Today is just another installment in an ongoing conversation that is critical for the life of the university. Of course, today I will do most of the talking and you—I hope—will do most of the listening. But I know and you know these roles will soon be reversed, and I welcome that.
At Notre Dame, we aspire to greatness—and no university can be greater than its faculty. Fortunately for our aspirations—your work continues to enhance the academic reputation and high regard for Notre Dame. At a time when external funding across the nation was flat, your research funding at Notre Dame increased by 16 percent. You continue to lead the nation in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. You had a stellar year in recruiting distinguished new faculty members who are dedicated to the mission of Notre Dame. For all this and more, I thank you and congratulate you.
As we look forward to the new academic year, we rededicate ourselves to Fr. Sorin’s vision: “This college will be one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country.” We seek to be a force for good by becoming an ever greater university inspired by a profound commitment to our Catholic character. We seek the excellence in teaching, inquiry and discovery that are at the heart of any university’s work, and we strive to do so in a way that resonates with our distinctive Catholic mission. Our goal, simply put, is to be a truly great . . . and a truly Catholic . . . university.
With two years behind me in this position I am more firmly convinced that our distinctiveness is our strength, that the magnitude of our challenges is simply a measure of the importance of our work.
Success requires not only talent and dedication, but also a relentless emphasis on the goals at the core of our mission. There are three.
- Offer an unsurpassed undergraduate education
- Become a premier research university
- Ensure that Notre Dame’s Catholic character informs all endeavors of the university.
Today I will speak about our progress in these three crucial areas, with special emphasis on our efforts to become a premier research university.
The University is a community dedicated to learning and discovery, “to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake,” as the University’s Mission Statement puts it. This is fully evident in our passion for undergraduate education—the original mission and emphasis of Notre Dame. Some in the Notre Dame family have been concerned that a commitment to excellence in research will diminish our commitment to undergraduate education. This is not an unreasonable worry. A number of prestigious universities have emphasized research in a way that neglects undergraduate education, and are now finding it necessary to recommit themselves to undergraduates.
At Notre Dame we have not strayed from a commitment to excellence in undergraduate education, and we will be resolute not only in maintaining but in enhancing its quality.
While Notre Dame’s commitment to research has risen over the past decade, the quality of our teaching has increased. In 2007–08, 85 percent of all Notre Dame students rated their instructors as good or excellent, a 3 percent increase over data from 1997–98. We will sustain an unwavering commitment to undergraduate studies and excellence in teaching and will wholly resist any temptation to compromise the quality of undergraduate instruction for the sake of research.
How do we reconcile these two apparently competing demands? At Notre Dame, we must enhance undergraduate education by making research an important and expanding aspect of the undergraduate experience. As we improve the breadth and quality of research, we will be working to find new ways to draw our undergraduate students more fully into the intellectually exciting and often personally transforming activities of scholarship, inquiry, and creative expression, and enable them to become intellectual leaders.
To do this we must give our undergraduate students the knowledge and skills to engage in research or creative expression in the manner appropriate to their level; we must inspire them and give them confidence to undertake such work; and we must provide them with opportunities to do so.
In recent years, Notre Dame has been able to attract stronger and stronger undergraduate students.SAT scores are a limited index of academic potential, but they are easily measured and compared, and often cited. As [Chart 1] shows, the mean SAT scores of incoming first year students from 1996 to 2006 shows steady improvement.
As a faculty, we must ask ourselves: Is the quality of our instruction improving and evolving with the quality of our students? Are we individually and collectively seeking and finding new, innovative, and more effective ways to engage these students? Can we challenge our students more, intellectually stimulate and inspire them more, and enable them to reach even higher levels upon graduation?
As the university strives to be a place of ever higher levels of scholarship, we must ensure that our undergraduate students receive the full benefit from being at a university that hosts high quality research. When distinguished members of the faculty are available to teach and advise students, the thrill of research and discovery becomes part of the undergraduate experience in a way that is impossible at a four-year college. We can, if we do it right, offer a better undergraduate education because we are not focused solely on undergraduate education.
A number of recent initiatives and new programs will expand and facilitate undergraduate opportunities to participate in research. We have recently created a new position of assistant director for undergraduate research, which will be under Bob Bernhard, our new vice president for research. Cecilia Lucero has just been appointed to fill this position. Her role will be to assist and augment the offices and initiatives already in place in a concerted effort to promote undergraduate interest in research, expand opportunities, and connect students with these opportunities.
Through the generosity of John and Barbara Glynn, we have expanded the Honors Program in the colleges of Arts and Letters and Science in the new Glynn Family Honors Program. In addition, the College of Engineering has created an Honors Program.
The majority of academic departments have established an Honors Track for majors, which will demand more academically of their students who choose this track and require them to engage in some research effort.
These programs will attract more highly talented students who will be prepared for and expected to undertake a significant research program in their undergraduate careers.
We seek to graduate intellectual leaders at Notre Dame, and a Notre Dame graduate may become such a leader by pursing a J.D., M.D., M.F.A., another advanced degree or no additional degree. Yet one very important avenue to intellectual leadership is to earn a Ph.D., the terminal degree in most fields. Evidence indicates that our undergraduates who go on to earn Ph.D.‘s are among our most intellectually engaged students. In a survey of Notre Dame graduates, nearly 80 percent who complete a Ph.D. say that “intellectual interests” and a “passion for the discipline” led them to decide to pursue a further degree, while of those who pursue another degree only 55 percent cite “intellectual interests” as a reason, and 48 percent cite a “passion for the discipline [see Chart 2]”. Moreover, as the following slides show, graduates who earn Ph.D.’s are far more likely to have assisted a faculty member in research as an undergraduate, [see Chart 3] and to have been influenced in their career decision by a faculty mentor.
Although correlation does not prove causation, it is reasonable to suppose that if a higher percentage of our undergraduates participate in research with a strong faculty mentor, then more will go on to earn a Ph.D. Such a development will enhance the life of the mind on campus and help us graduate more intellectual leaders for the future.
A recent article in The Chronicle reported some ambiguous results regarding the value of undergraduate research in science (Lila Guterman, “What Good is Undergraduate Research, Anyway?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 53, No. 50 (August 17, 2007): A13–A16). It seems that undergraduate research is less beneficial when students lack a mentoring relationship with a faculty member and work in a lab but are not engaged in substantive research. But this is less of a criticism of undergraduate research than it is a guide for how to do it correctly.
In any case, the data about the experience of Notre Dame students is clear: a mentoring relationship with a faculty member and involvement in research are critical factors in the lives of our highly intellectually engaged students who go on to earn Ph.D.’s.
Notre Dame faculty do a very good job in inspiring undergraduates engaged in research to embrace the life of the mind and to become intellectual leaders. However, compared to peer institutions, the percentage of our students who are so engaged is limited. In the years between 1995 and 2004, approximately 5 percent of our graduates earned a Ph.D. As [Chart 4] shows, we lag behind a number of our peers in this regard. And we compare even less favorably with some liberal arts colleges [see Chart 5].
As I said, our graduates may become intellectual leaders by taking a number of different paths. But earning a Ph.D. is one very important road to such leadership, and we must do a better job of sending our graduates to Ph.D. programs. That 5 percent number must rise. In consultation with Tom Burish, we have asked Dennis Jacobs, vice president and associate provost, to bring together a group to consider this issue, set achievable goals to bring this percentage higher, and determine the steps we must take to achieve these goals.
Our undergraduates with high potential do not begin their first year capable of engaging in research, and most may not even begin with a strong interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in their chosen field. Instead, they begin by taking courses in and outside their majors that will inspire them to undertake their own inquiries. Most of the faculty’s responsibility lies in teaching these courses, not in directing undergraduate research projects. But we might ask ourselves: can we teach our courses in ways that inspire our students to ask their own questions and pursue their own inquiries? Can our courses give our students an even better understanding of the epistemology and methods of inquiry within our disciplines so they can begin to understand how to formulate questions and seek answers? Do the assignments we give challenge students to employ these methods? Do we open avenues of inquiry for our students as well as give them the results of inquiries already completed?
I realize I am addressing many stellar teachers who inspire, stimulate, and empower students to inquire in precisely the way I am suggesting. But because education is an elusive goal, always calling us to devise new strategies to train and inspire the minds of our students, we should always strive to improve. And because the impact we have on our students is through our collective and not simply our individual efforts, we can ask how together we can teach our students more effectively.
As teachers we know that the best teaching moments are those when the distinction between teacher and student, between expert and novice, fades. At those times we become a fellow inquirer with our students seeking to understand, persevering through frustrations, and sharing the exhilaration of discovery. As we seek to enhance scholarship, inquiry, and creative expression at Notre Dame, let us individually and collectively strive to encourage our students to become fellow inquirers and colleagues in the pursuit of discovery, understanding, and expression.
While we remain committed to unsurpassed undergraduate education, we have and will continue to pursue opportunities to improve in original research, scholarship, and creative expression. Excellence in research is a central goal at Notre Dame for many reasons, but most of all because it is through the scholarly and creative work of our faculty that the university exerts a greater influence for good, which is our driving ambition. We believe that knowledge is good for its own sake, and believe that through discoveries we can serve the world. And of course, it is through superb graduate programs that we will attract the most talented students, and inspire and train them to become intellectual leaders who will reflect the values of Notre Dame.
Positive or negative evaluations of the quality of our research should not be our primary concern, and should never alone drive our decisions. Yet we cannot ignore these evaluations. They influence our ability to attract strong graduate and undergraduate students; to recruit accomplished, talented new faculty members; and to find external funding and fruitful collaboration for our research. Positive evaluations enhance our reputation and help fulfill the mission and advance the goals we have set for our University. As such, we would be undercutting our mission if we did not take them seriously.
The most distinguished group of research institutions in the nation is the Association of American Universities. Today, the AAU is an association of 62 universities whose members are pre-eminent in the breadth and quality of their research. Periodically, the AAU evaluates new candidates and makes nominations to the full body for membership.
Notre Dame is not currently a member of the AAU, but with continued improvement I believe we can become a strong and even a compelling candidate. Tom Burish in a previous address reviewed Notre Dame’s standing regarding AAU’s criteria for membership, and I will only briefly summarize it here.
There are two phases in the AAU’s evaluation of candidates. We have been told that a strong candidate is expected to rank in at least the third quartile of AAU institutions. The first phase criteria, as you can see from this slide, includes federally funded research support; membership of faculty in national academies; National Research Council rankings; arts and humanities faculty awards; fellowships and memberships; and citations of faculty publications. Notre Dame’s greatest strength is in arts and humanities awards, where we have consistently ranked in the top half of AAUinstitutions. In citations of faculty publications, we rank between the third and fourth quartiles. In the somewhat dated 1995 National Research Council rankings, which were based on 1993 data, we rank in the fourth quartile. In federal funding and in membership in national academies, we are near or at the bottom of AAU institutions.
In the second phase of evaluation, the AAU considers funding from other external research funding sources not necessarily allocated through competitive merit-review processes; the number and distribution of Ph.D.’s granted annually; the number of post-doctoral appointees; and the institution’s commitment to undergraduate education. Notre Dame is in the third quartile in non-competitively funded research support, doctoral education, and post-doctoral appointments. Although the AAUspecifies no metrics for evaluating undergraduate education, I am confident that we are strong under any criteria they might choose.
Although we must continue to improve if we are going to be a strong candidate for AAUmembership, this is an achievable goal in coming years.
I want to emphasize that our primary goal is not to join an elite club simply for the sake of prestige or pride. Our goal, rather, is to be the sort of institution that is accurately judged to be in such a group, and to reap the benefits of association, access to information, and reputation that membership can bring. Because Notre Dame is not currently in an academic consortium, these benefits are particularly valuable to us.
Of course, we don’t have to be an AAU member to accelerate efforts to enhance research at Notre Dame. This past year, we brought to campus some distinguished academic leaders to speak to us, including Martin C. Jischke, former president of Purdue; Larry Faulkner, former president of the University of Texas at Austin and president of the Houston Endowment, and Don M. Randel, former president of the University of Chicago, now president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
We also invited two individuals from private sector firms—Patrick J. Finneran Jr., president of support systems at Boeing, and Stephen Webster, vice president of research and technology commercialization, 3M. Their firms make significant investments in research. Through visits like these, we gain an opportunity to learn from people who have a deep understanding of many aspects of university research, and our guests get a chance to learn about Notre Dame.
Great research, as we all know, demands deep resources. With the approval of the Board of Trustees, we will invest $25 million in new one-time funding and $5 million in new annual recurring funding in research initiatives. We expect additional funding in coming years. Our Provost Tom Burish has formed the Strategic Academic Planning Committee, and it has been examining ways we can advance our research efforts and invest our resources wisely. Soon the SAPC will be receiving proposals and making decisions about what research to support in our first phase of funding. I am confident that these new resources will significantly strengthen our efforts.
These funds are not the only good financial news for our research efforts and for the University. As you all know, the Office of University Relations is conducting the Spirit of Notre Dame Campaign, and has had a banner year in the areas of gifts and commitments ($334 million); cash receipts ($215 million); unrestricted gifts ($31 million) and alumni participation (54.3 percent). All of these figures are records for Notre Dame, and some shatter the previous record. In May of 2007 we announced our campaign publicly, and just two weeks ago we exceeded the $1 billion mark.
I want to acknowledge the efforts of Lou Nanni and the University Relations Office for their work in encouraging the remarkable generosity of the Notre Dame family. In addition, Scott Malpass and our University Investment Office have had remarkable success, and their results this year should put them among the top three university investment offices in the nation. I want to acknowledge and thank Scott and his team for helping ensure that we make the most of the gifts we’ve been given.
Our development efforts and our investment returns are, along with the grants and contracts we win, the financial drivers of our research efforts. Of course, the group on campus that raises the most money for research is you, our faculty. External funding for research at Notre Dame grew 16 percent to over $83 million this year, an all-time record. As I noted earlier, this occurred in a year when federal funding was flat and in some cases declining. This continues a steady increase in external funding for Notre Dame research over the past decade.
For eight years in a row, Notre Dame faculty members have won more NEH fellowships than the faculties of any other university. And I am proud to report that one of our largest grant recipients in recent months has been a member of my department, a philosopher. Mic Detlefson has received a $2.4 million grant from the French National Research Agency for research into methods of proof.
The rise in fellowships and in research funding is a promising development. But it’s really just an indirect measure of the rise in impressive, world-changing research happening here at Notre Dame.
As financial opportunities present themselves, we will continue to invest in initiatives that will put us among the best research universities in the nation. We will also invest in you, our faculty. As we become more comparable with AAU universities, we will work to make faculty salaries comparable with those of AAU private universities. I am confident that we can do this—and the University will reap the benefits.
Becoming a premier research university and offering unsurpassed undergraduate education are very noble pursuits, but these twin goals are not what set us apart in higher education. What makes us unique is our pursuit of these goals as a Catholic university.
To fulfill our mission, our distinctive Catholic character should inform all endeavors of the university, and no area is more important than the intellectual life that is the heart of this community. We aspire to be a place in which religious faith and spiritual values are not just respected, but lived, explored, and cultivated, where research on issues of religious faith are conducted at the highest scholarly level, and where a dialogue between faith and reason is present across the disciplines.
It is not necessary, of course, that every faculty member make issues of religious faith and spirituality an intellectual focus. It is, however, desirable that some do—and that all respect the value of such research at Notre Dame. And because we are a Catholic university, I believe that we must have a preponderance of Catholic faculty and scholars, those who have been spiritually formed in that tradition and who embrace it. This will continue to be an emphasis for us.
At the same time, I believe that faculty of other religious traditions and no religious tradition enrich the intellectual life of this university and enrich it precisely as a Catholic university. Notre Dame must be a place for respectful, informed dialogue about matters of faith and spirituality, and we cannot be such a place without those who embrace other great religious traditions. Moreover, we must be a place where religious belief and unbelief are in dialogue, and therefore we are enriched by those who do not share religious faith, but are willing to engage in serious dialogue with those who do.
In the past year Tom Burish and I have met with faculty and discussed opportunities and challenges of hiring faculty for mission. With the help of a committee that has worked on this issue and of many people who have shared valuable comments and observations, we will formulate a brief statement of the rationale for hiring faculty who will enrich our Catholic mission. It will state why we seek faculty who are Catholic and faculty who are of other faith traditions and of none, and how each can contribute to this Catholic university. This document will, I hope, be a guide for seeking great scholars who will contribute to the distinctive mission of Notre Dame. We look forward to sharing a draft with a wide array of faculty members before finalizing the document.
The combination of our distinctive Catholic character, our respectful understanding of religious faith, and our commitment to intellectual inquiry do more than merely offer us an opportunity for some interesting conversations on campus. They position us, in a unique way, as a center for respectful, but rigorous dialogue on issues of Catholic faith and theology, of course, and also on ecumenical dialogue among Christian churches, inter-faith dialogue among the world’s great religious traditions, and discussion of religious faith generally. At a time when religious understanding is low, hostility is high, and healing dialogue is desperately needed, this is a role Notre Dame is not only able to play—it is a role we are obliged to play.
It is critical to the health of society in the 21st century that there is a place where religious faith is treated with respect and its claims are accorded the highest level of intellectual consideration. Being such a place, providing such a forum, is at the heart of the contribution we can make to this nation, to the Church, and to the world.
While these three goals at the core of our mission define what we will be working on in the coming year, we must also consider how we will work together to accomplish them. In 2006–07 we set a goal to improve organization, structure, and cooperation in the University, and we have taken steps to do so.
Significant progress on the central work of the University requires the collaboration of many units and individuals across campus. To establish and maintain preeminent areas of research, for example, our University Relations office must respond to academic priorities and identify benefactors who will support them; our Investment Office must invest these funds skillfully to generate resources from our endowment; our Facilities division must collaborate with academic leaders to construct physical space for the work; academic departments, colleges, and the Provost’s Office must make sound decisions about hiring and investment of resources; our new vice president for research, Bob Bernhard, must coordinate and support these many, varied efforts; and, most importantly, you, the faculty, must apply your intelligence, learning, and creativity in long hours in labs, libraries, and offices to make discoveries and publish work that will have an impact.
Among the great research universities in this country, we are a relatively small institution and will likely remain so in the foreseeable future. We do not enjoy the advantages of scale that many research universities have. Therefore, if we are to succeed, our decisions about where and how to invest must be more discerning, our energy and resources more focused, our follow-through more disciplined, and the support provided by numerous units more integrated and collaborative.
In an attempt to enhance discernment and integration across the University, we brought together for the first time the college deans and the University Officers’ Group in a retreat of several days in the summer of 2006, and for several meetings in the course of the last academic year. This gathering has had a positive effect in bringing the academic and nonacademic units of the university closer together, and enhancing communication and cooperation. I believe this will continue to have a positive effect in the future.
To make this somewhat large group more effective and focused, we broke it down into five subcommittees, called Leadership Committees, around the five key goals of the University.
They include the three goals I have described at some length today. There are also two further goals that serve as essential support for the first three — namely:
4. Create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and overall excellence in service supporting the university’s mission, and
5. Communicate strategically and effectively to internal and external constituencies.
The committees set up to promote these five goals will enhance the cross-divisional communication we need to integrate our work. They are not designed to add another layer of bureaucracy nor to take authority from those divisions where it properly belongs. Their purpose is to overcome the isolation and lack of coordination among divisions that inevitably occurs in a large organization.
Each group brought proposals to our retreat this summer, and we identified initiatives that will contribute to our progress on each of these goals. I will not go through them all, but for those in the areas of Undergraduate [Excellence], we seek to define a vision for undergraduate learning and formation, identify measures for success in undergraduate education, and perform peer benchmarking on undergraduate research. For the Leadership Committee on Research Advancement, we seek to develop measures for success in research and update the college strategic plans.
Although the respective Leadership Committees identified these as important objectives, faculty and others at the University will be asked to participate in the completion of the tasks.
If the effort to enhance collaboration and cooperation remains only at the level of the central University administration, its effect will be limited. I ask you faculty and academic leaders, as I ask all at the University, to deepen this spirit of collaboration in your work.
Disagreements and differences in perspective are inevitable in a university, and they should be aired as they arise. Far from being a problem, open and reasoned discussion of differences of opinion on matters of common concern is a sign of health. But in our discussions, the intention of each individual must not be to advance a set of vested interests, but to work together—in departmental committees, college councils, and University committees—to advance the core goals of the University.
I close this address by calling to mind two events. The first will occur in four days—on September 15, in Le Mans, France—when Fr. Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross and the person who sent Fr. Sorin to the New World to found a school, will be beatified by the Catholic Church. Beatification, as you may know, is the penultimate step in the process leading to the canonization of a person as a saint. Although Frs. Sorin and Moreau clashed in the course of their lives, Moreau’s vision and qualities exerted a lasting influence on Sorin and on Notre Dame. Fr. Moreau was a person of deep faith and prayerfulness; he was zealous in responding to the needs he saw around him with generous service; he established for all Holy Cross schools the ideal of educating the whole person—intellectual, moral, spiritual, and physical; and he made communal life central among the religious priests, brothers, and sisters in his congregations. The presence of these qualities at Notre Dame—faith, prayerfulness, generous service, the ideal of educating the whole person, and the sense of community—have their source in Fr. Moreau and his vision.
The second event occurred six years ago today. On that morning we saw on our television screens horrific pictures of planes smashing into the World Trade Center, of the buildings burning and collapsing. Later we heard reports of thousands killed. On that day of fear and confusion, classes were canceled and thousands of members of the Notre Dame family gathered on the South Quad for an open air mass celebrated by Fr. Malloy. I will never forget the solemnity, faith, and communal solidarity—such a marked contrast to blind hatred and division that triggered and emanated from the event that we gathered together to mourn. It was a kind of sacramental expression of the qualities that define Notre Dame’s spirit.
In the coming year our task is to make that spirit a more powerful means for doing good through a commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and fulfilling our Catholic mission. It is a mission that inspires many among the Notre Dame community, but also those outside. One of our visitors this past year, a former president of one of the nation’s best universities, told one of our colleagues—and I quote: “There are just a small number of institutions in this nation—a handful really—that due to their history and character are worthy of the significant and sustained efforts of the very best men and women of the academy. Notre Dame is clearly among them.” We are blessed to have such a talented and dedicated faculty serving this University. Each of you will be at the heart of my thoughts and prayers as I join in Fr. Moreau’s beatification ceremony in France in a few days. I will pray through Fr. Moreau’s intercession for God’s blessing on you, on those who are dear to you, and on your efforts on behalf of Notre Dame. Thank you.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.