President's Annual Address to the Faculty

September 17, 2013

Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel laureate who held an honorary degree from Notre Dame, passed away this summer. I met him on two occasions and he struck me as a particularly genial and humble man. His wife, Marie, once told me the honorary degree from Notre Dame meant a great deal to him.

In Heaney’s beautiful poem, Digging, he juxtaposes himself, composing poetry at his desk with pen in hand, with his father and grandfather, farmers who worked with a spade to harvest potatoes or cut turf. Heaney wrote:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap 
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head. 
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Like Heaney’s poetry-writing, your work as faculty is generally not strenuous physical labor, but the work of the mind and imagination. You write, collect data, draw conclusions, create works of art, teach, and engage in many conversations with colleagues and students. Yet it is as demanding and productive as those engaged in physical labor.

Most of your thinking and conversations are within your respective disciplines, but some are about the nature, purpose and effectiveness of the University itself. This is good, for a healthy university community is one in which conversation about the University’s direction is robust while always in service to the mission and central goals.

I welcome you to this annual President’s address to the faculty. In it, I will try to contribute to our conversation about the University and advance our common work by drawing your attention to what I see as major initiatives, opportunities, and challenges in the fall of 2013.

Here is a list of the topics I will discuss:

  • Strategic Plan
  • Funding our Aspirations
    - Reallocation: Advancing our Vision
    - Development Campaign
    - College Affordability
  • Challenges, Opportunities and Initiatives
    - Digital Technology
    - Accreditation
    - Curriculum Review
    - Central Campus Planning Project
    - Communication
    - Reporting Misconduct

This address is, of course, a one-way communication: I speak to you. In order to enable me to listen to you—both those who are here today and those who will read this address on-line—I have set up the following email address You are invited to submit questions, comments or suggestions and I will try to respond promptly. The text of the address and the email address will be on my President’s website at And I will take questions at the end of my address.

Strategic Plan

I want to thank all who participated in conversations around the recently completed strategic planning process. Such a process is a chance to raise our gaze from the immediacy of day-to-day demands in our respective areas and together identify longer-term aspirations, consider their place within the broader goals of the University, and think about how we might realize them. Due to a significant effort by many people in formulating plans and holding critical discussions, we now have a university-wide plan that is aligned with the plans of each division, college, school, center, and institute.

The clarity the plan provides about priorities and strategic directions will help shape decisions about allocations of energy and resources in coming years. Last year, thirty-five leaders from across campus created funding plans that will allow their units to achieve the goals in their strategic plan. This year, these leaders will meet to assess what has been accomplished, what circumstances have changed, and what steps are needed in the coming year.

The strategic plan should be viewed as a course we have charted on a map to our destination, not as a road we must slavishly follow. As circumstances change and opportunities or challenges emerge, we must retain the flexibility to revise the plan. As we make revisions, however, two conditions must be met. First, we must maintain the fiscal discipline to ensure that any new initiative is funded through reallocation of existing or anticipated revenue. And, second, any change must remain faithful to the University’s mission and core goals.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who oversaw the tremendous complexity of the D-Day invasion of World War II, once advised that we should trust the planning, not the plan. Changing circumstances often demand that a plan be revised, adapted or even set aside. But we must be committed to a process of planning characterized by collective clarity about goals, attentiveness to emerging opportunities and threats, continuing discussions of strategies, and, in the end, common commitment to the implementation of the plan that emerges.

Because we seek this combination of both common commitment to a plan, on one hand, and the flexibility for periodic reviews and, as needed, revisions, on the other, we will publish the plan on a website, Unlike a printed text, a website will allow us to make revisions that are immediately accessible to all interested parties. It will also make our plan available not only to those inside the University, but also, at least in part, to those outside the University.

Funding our Aspirations

Our plan charts a path to realize aspirations, and funding decisions must be directed to progress along that path. Our more ambitious aspirations require new funding, and we have or will take steps to secure that funding.

Advancing Our Vision

In 2010, we launched the Advancing Our Vision initiative to find resources in our operating budget that could be reallocated to our core goals. Individuals and units in the University were asked to make sacrifices to provide resources to help fund our central goals of education and research informed by our Catholic mission. In undertaking this initiative, we made a special effort to ensure that those at the lower end of the university pay scale were not adversely affected.

Early retirement packages were offered to qualified employees and we closed out a number of vacant positions, allowing us to reduce staff. We asked units across campus to cover their responsibilities with reduced staff, and these units have responded admirably. We also eliminated the discount on football tickets, stopped the underwriting of many cell phone plans and cut out similar support for non-essential items. All these changes demanded very real sacrifices of members of our community.

The Advancing Our Vision initiative has so far freed up more than $13 million in recurring resources for reallocation to key priorities. Tom Burish and the Deans set up the Strategic Hiring Initiative to ensure these resources were thoughtfully and strategically invested. They received 46 excellent proposals for concentrated faculty hiring in fields where Notre Dame is poised to make signal progress in research and scholarship. Ten proposals were selected in the end, covering the fields of analytical chemistry and biochemistry, nuclear physics, economics, advanced circuits, adult stem cell research, computational and data science and engineering, global history, chemical and biomolecular engineering, topology, and applied and computational mathematics and statistics. We expect to make as many as 80 new faculty hires using AOV funds and cost-share contributions from the relevant departments and colleges. We anticipate that the bulk of this hiring to take place over the next three years, to be completed by 2018.

Development Campaign

We have begun a quiet phase of the next development campaign at Notre Dame, and I am very pleased to report that we have had an exceptionally strong start. I anticipate in coming weeks and months the announcement of several major gifts to support our academic efforts. I want to acknowledge the leadership of our Vice President for University Relations, Lou Nanni, and his talented and dedicated team. We are in the midst of what promises to be a record year for Notre Dame Development.

We must never take for granted the generosity of those who support our work of education and scholarship at Notre Dame. Some of them are able to give very large gifts, and some have the ability to give only smaller gifts. Yet every gift, large or small, reflects the generosity of a benefactor who had many other demands for her or his resources. We must always be mindful that the generosity of many people devoted to Notre Dame allows us to do what we do. We must work hard to be worthy of that generosity and be careful stewards of the resources entrusted to us.

College Affordability

Lately, the media, President Obama and others have drawn national attention to the cost of a college education and asked pointed questions about the sustainability of the system. The issue is real, the concerns are legitimate, and the questions raised are among those we in university administration have been asking and trying to answer for decades.

There is no question that as higher education gets more expensive everywhere, the cost of a Notre Dame education is rising too, commensurate with our rising costs. In the past 12 years, our annual operating expenses have more than doubled, from just under $400 million in 2000 to $971 million in 2012. Salaries, wages and benefits comprised more than half of that growth as we made new faculty and administrative hires, positioned ourselves to avoid furloughs and layoffs during the recession and maintained our ability to compete in the labor marketplace.

The other significant driver of our annual expenses is financial aid, which accounts for nearly a quarter of our increased costs over this period. Tuition continues to rise every year as it must, but the annual rate of increase in our nominal tuition has slowed dramatically and is less than half what it was during the 1980s.

Nominal Notre Dame undergraduate tuition increases peaked in 1980s

A more interesting slide, however, may be this one, which also shows the annual hike in net tuition revenue per student and the Consumer Price Index, a standard measure of inflation. You see that while our announced tuition increases have been coming down near the CPI, our Net Tuition Revenue—the average amount students and their parents are paying out of pocket—fell below growth in the CPI in 2010 and has remained there ever since.

Nominal Notre Dame undergraduate tuition declined steadily since the mid 2000s


Still, we are working hard and must work harder to relieve the financial burden on students’ shoulders. The Spirit of Notre Dame campaign, which concluded two years ago, raised over $2 billion overall, including more than a quarter of a billion dollars for student financial aid. That boost to our financial aid endowment has enabled us to expand both the number of students receiving financial aid and the amount we award per student. And the upcoming campaign has set a target to raise more than $550 million for undergraduate and $125 million for graduate financial aid. These funds will help us build an endowment that will make Notre Dame more affordable to students and their families who struggle to meet the cost.

There can be no question that a Notre Dame education is very expensive. Yet the record number of applications this year suggests that prospective students and their families seek entry into Notre Dame despite the sacrifices required, and we are confident that the education our students receive is extremely valuable. And the great value of that education is due primarily to you, the faculty. As you see from this slide, the percentage of Notre Dame seniors who report being ‘very satisfied’ with the ‘overall quality of instruction’ at Notre Dame stands at 57 percent, more than 20 points above the national average among other highly selective private universities. Overall classroom satisfaction here is 97 to 98 percent.

Quality of Instruction


Outside the classrooms, labs, and office hours, students benefit from the distinctive quality of our residence hall system that builds community and fosters personal growth. Nearly two-thirds of our undergraduates study overseas before graduation, which puts us near the top of AAU private schools. Meanwhile, the number of student internships and percentage of seniors reporting satisfaction with the services of our Career Center have reached all-time highs.

While we will do all we can to keep costs low while maintaining the quality of the education we offer, I do not foresee a scenario in which the cost of a Notre Dame education will decrease dramatically. We must, therefore, work hard to increase endowment for financial aid so that every admitted student, regardless of resources, will have the chance to attend Notre Dame. And, perhaps most important, we must continue to work hard to ensure that the education our students receive remains worth the sacrifices families make to provide it. 

Other Challenges and Opportunities

Digital Technology

Digital technology holds at the same time abundant promise and abundant uncertainty for higher education. I am not sure what role it will play in coming years, but I am certain that its implications for teaching and research merits our attention and reflection.

Many of you, our faculty, utilize streaming video and digital filmmaking; you use iPads and eTexts in your teaching; you have captured lectures and used video-conferencing to interact with colleagues in other places. Last May, Tom Burish announced that Notre Dame has joined a consortium, SemesterOnline, that will investigate for-credit undergraduate online learning, and two on-line courses taught by Notre Dame professors are being offered this semester.

As digital applications and needs proliferate, I have taken steps to ensure that we have university-wide coordination and infrastructure for academic and non-academic applications. Ron Kraemer, our Vice President and Chief Information Officer and head of OIT, has taken on the additional role of Chief Digital Officer. Ron will convene leaders in digital technology from across the University.

Among these leaders will be Elliott Visconsi, whom Tom Burish recently appointed Chief Academic Digital Officer. His role will be to develop a smart and robust university-wide digital strategy, to cultivate online learning platforms and partnerships, and to encourage and support digital innovation among our faculty, staff, and students. He has undertaken this task with characteristic energy and imagination and he has been or will be in touch with many of you to discuss needs and possibilities.

In addition, Diane Parr Walker, University Librarian, and her colleagues at the Hesburgh Library are also working hard to provide opportunities for faculty and staff to participate in digital scholarship.  The Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship serves as a research “hub” for anyone needing assistance in digital scholarship, ranging from how to get started using digital tools and resources to advanced level research, and as a referral service to others with digital expertise on campus.  Later this fall, the Libraries will launch CurateND as the institutional digital research repository to preserve Notre Dame’s intellectual work (articles, research reports, data, etc.) and to increase its discoverability worldwide.  Providing even more opportunities for digital scholarship is a goal for the significant library renovation that is currently being planned.

Some envision a day when university education will be delivered wholly online. Although this may be a possibility for some schools or degrees, I do not believe it will ever be possible to deliver the richness of a Notre Dame education wholly online. An essential part of a Notre Dame education is the community that comes from physical proximity, the relationships that are developed among students and between students and professors, and the serendipity of critical insights through unplanned interactions. Yet, although that is so, digital technology is a tool that will become ever more important in our teaching and research and we must together reflect on how we can use it well.

Accreditation and Assessment

We are nearing the completion of this cycle of accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. From March 31 through April 2, Commission peer reviewers will visit campus and subsequently file a report to the Commission, who will decide on accreditation. Our preparation has been thorough, and I want to thank Dan Myers in the Provost’s Office for his diligent work and superb leadership. Having been involved in a previous iteration of this process, I know how much work it requires and what an excellent job Dan has done. And I also know that we would not be so well prepared without the help of hundreds of faculty, and I am very grateful to all who assisted.

Although we are confident that accreditation will be awarded, it is important that we take the process seriously. If done well, it can help us reflect on policies and practices that are central to our mission. One of these is a regular practice of assessment at various levels of the University of our success with regard to our educational goals. In all our educational efforts—whether in general requirements or specific programs, disciplinary or interdisciplinary engagement, inside the classroom or outside it—we must be able to articulate what we were trying to help our students learn and determine whether we have been successful. For only if we do so will we know when we are successful, continue to improve in these efforts and show others—prospective students, parents, prospective employers, media, government officials, etc.—that Notre Dame students receive a superb education.

Core Curriculum Review

Once the accreditation review is complete, we will undertake the decennial review of our core curriculum. This review will be coordinated by Hugh Page, recently appointed Vice President and Associate Provost in addition to his role as Dean of the First Year of Studies. Hugh will soon appoint a committee which will examine the process used by other universities to undertake such a review.

Our core curriculum, which is more extensive than that at many of our peers, has been shaped by the long tradition of Catholic education. It includes a theology requirement to cultivate in our students an informed faith in dialogue with reason and wider culture. It exposes them to a range of disciplines to give them knowledge and skills that will help foster, in the words of the University Mission Statement, “those disciplined habits of mind, body and spirit which characterize educated, skilled, and free human beings.” Our task will be to review the core curriculum and to determine whether there are ways to make it more effective in achieving these goals at present and—even more importantly—in the future.

Among the challenges facing higher education today, one of my greatest concerns is a tendency toward what I call its commoditization. To justify the expense of a Notre Dame education, we argue—accurately, I believe—that a degree enhances the earning power of our graduates by several multiples of what the education costs. It is important to make this case to the families of our students so that they can justify their investment, and I have made it many times. Yet such an argument, standing on its own, can lead us to think of the education we provide simply as a commodity we sell and whose value is simply the greater financial returns the buyer can realize through possessing it.

It is important to remind prospective students, parents, and ourselves that although a Notre Dame education makes sense in financial terms, its value cannot and should not be reduced to an analysis of our graduates’ future earning potential. We stand in a tradition that views education as morally transformative, instilling in our students an understanding of their place in the world and the ability and desire to contribute to it. As we undertake the curriculum review, we must do so with those educational ideals at the center of our concerns.

Central Campus Planning Project

On May 2nd of this year, we announced a feasibility study to consider using our football stadium as a hub for several academic and student life facilities. Given the stadium’s central location on campus and its proximity to critical academic buildings, we were eager to explore possibilities.

We launched the study, which we have called the Central Campus Planning Project, over the summer. Leaders from the Provost’s Office, Student Affairs, University Relations, the University Architect’s Office and Athletics came together under the leadership of our Executive Vice President, John Affleck-Graves. The group has made great progress and considered the possibility of a student center adjacent to the stadium, buildings to house one or more academic departments and space for a digital media center. I want to thank everyone involved for their hard work and John Affleck-Graves for his leadership.

The committee will complete the feasibility study in coming weeks and offer recommendations to me, at which time we will decide whether to move forward. Whatever we decide, I assure you that it will not detract from the priorities identified in our strategic plan and our development campaign targets based on that plan. And we will maintain the fiscal discipline of ensuring that any construction is funded by existing or anticipated revenues.

I recently visited the football stadium at the University of Michigan for our game. As you might guess, the game was not so enjoyable, but I was impressed by the renovation of that stadium, which was originally constructed in 1927, just three years before our stadium was built. The Michigan renovations admirably preserved the traditional character of the stadium while enhancing the experience of the fans. It was, however, a renovation of an athletic facility for athletic purposes and for entertaining guests at the game. The renovation we envision at Notre Dame is different. Though it will serve athletic facilities and provide hospitality areas for guests, it will create significant facilities to serve the academy and student life. And it is that integration of athletic, academic and student life interests that I find most intriguing and reflective of the ideals at Notre Dame. 


I am very pleased to introduce Paul Browne, our new Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications. In this role, Paul reports directly to me.  He brings with him great depth of experience and judgment as a former New York journalist and as a communications strategist in academia and government. He has held posts as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s press secretary and chief of staff, and most recently as Deputy Commissioner for Public Information at the New York City Police Department. We are fortunate to have Paul, and I’m sure you’ll join me in welcoming him to the Notre Dame community.

We must continue to work hard to communicate to the wider world the outstanding achievements of our faculty and the university at-large. Because we are not in a major media market, and because our athletic teams and our Catholicity loom large in the popular imagination (and indeed in the imaginations of many journalists!), our academic accomplishments often do not receive the recognition they should. Paul will work with academic leaders to enhance our research and teaching reputation. He will work closely with Marie Blakey, who was recently appointed to the newly created position of Executive Director of Academic Communications, and who reports to both Tom Burish and Paul Browne. Paul, Marie and all who work in communications will need the help and support of you, the faculty, as we strive to tell the story of Notre Dame’s academic accomplishments.

Reporting Misconduct

The University’s commitment to integrity demands that we hold each other to high standards of personal integrity—in how we perform our roles, in how we steward university resources, and in how we interact with one another.  Yet, despite our best efforts at education, training, and prevention, we know that unacceptable conduct will inevitably occur here just as it does at other institutions.  In such instances, misbehavior must be addressed. But the University can only address situations if the misconduct is reported, and that depends on each of us.

Last year I reminded you in this address about the importance of reporting ethically or professionally problematic behavior at the University. Through the conscientious reporting by many at the University, we have learned of situations to which we then could respond. However, we have also learned of cases in which faculty or staff who knew of possible misconduct failed to report appropriately. This meant that our response was delayed and the reputation of the University suffered.

Let me say this emphatically: it never serves the reputation of Notre Dame, no matter how embarrassing to the University or its members in the short term, to fail to report problematic behavior. And, indeed, according to the University’s Ethical Conduct Policy every University employee—each of us—is expected to report any misconduct that he or she believes has occurred here. 

There are numerous avenues for making a report:

  • The number for the Integrity Line (1-800-688-9918) and more information can be found on the Human Resources website, []. It is not necessary to leave one’s name, just a description of the behavior or situation in question.
  • Sarah Wake, our new Director of Institutional Equity, can be approached on any matter involving discrimination or harassment, including matters involving race or disability.  As the University’s Title IX coordinator, she also receives reports involving discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex. 
  • The University’s office of Audit and Advisory Services, headed by Roger Mahoney, our Chief Audit Executive, can be contacted with reports of financial malfeasance.
  • Any suspected crime, including crimes against minors, can be reported to Notre Dame Security Police at 631-5555 from a cell phone or 911 from a University landline.
  • And every University Vice President and Dean is also equipped to receive reports of misconduct.

I assure that, if you make a report, anyone who tries to retaliate against you for doing so will be subject to disciplinary action under the University’s Non-Retaliation Policy.

There are many obvious reasons why the University needs to know about and address misconduct—reputational, financial, administrative, and otherwise.  But, ultimately, misconduct should be reported because it is the right thing to do, and that is what we at Notre Dame should always aspire to.  I ask you to join me in continuing to foster a culture at Notre Dame where doing the right thing—the ethical thing— informs all we do. 


I have summarized, then, some of the major issues facing the University in the coming year. Institutions of higher education in this country currently face many challenges and a great deal of uncertainty. While we at Notre Dame have our fair share of challenges, we are, in comparison, in an exceptionally strong position and, if we can successfully navigate the shoals in this passage, we can become a stronger and better university. 
Our work, individually and collectively, is hard work. It is not physically strenuous work, but it is very demanding. I thank you for your efforts in serving Notre Dame and its mission. I continue to believe that our greatest strength is our distinctive mission in integrating research and teaching, reason and faith, and a deep commitment to the well-being of our students. That distinctive mission is embodied in the work of each of you, the faculty. I look forward to continuing to work together with you to advance our mission.

I will take some time for questions, if anyone has them.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.