President's Annual Address to the Faculty

September 16, 2014

Among my summer reading was Titan, Rob Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil and arguably the richest American ever.  Through his generous benefaction, and to an extent through his vision, the University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  Because of Rockefeller’s vast wealth, he and the university’s first president, William Rainey Harper, could from the start aspire to make Chicago a great university by attracting some of the best faculty in the nation.  President Harper was given an unlimited budget to realize these aspirations and, to Rockefeller’s chagrin, he regularly exceeded it.  Yet they did succeed in building in a relatively short time one of the nation’s great universities.

I was struck by the contrast with Notre Dame’s trajectory.  The University was founded with paltry resources and in the early decades its most noteworthy achievement was simply survival.  Indeed, even to call the small school a university was more than anything evidence of Fr. Sorin’s chutzpah.  At that time, most would have had a hard time imagining, even in their wildest dreams, what their school would become.  Yet it has accomplished so much through the efforts of successive generations to envision and pursue a fuller, bolder realization of its distinctive mission.

As I address you at the start of this new school year, I am above all proud and grateful that you, our faculty, and others at this time are doing so much to contribute to this stage in Notre Dame’s growth.  In a way no less heroic than those who went before, you are contributing to that multi-generational effort to build a great and distinctive university.

And the world notices.  I was speaking to the provost of a strong private university who told me they benchmark Notre Dame and were very impressed at the academic progress we have made. Last April, two prominent New York Times columnists, in separate articles, used Notre Dame to illustrate the increasing competitiveness of the nation's top universities. Frank Bruni selected six universities to make his point: Brown, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Notre Dame; and a few weeks later, David Leonhardt's article "Getting Into the Ivies" grouped Notre Dame with a collection of other "select colleges."

Our estimation of our progress should not be measured by what others think of us, but such observations confirm our sense of what has been accomplished.  Our progress has been more gradual than a school such as the University of Chicago, but I hope you are proud of what has been accomplished in Notre Dame’s past and of your role at a critical moment in its history.  Today I plan to review some key accomplishments as well as some challenges for coming years.  

The Class of 2018

We just had the joy of welcoming a new class of undergraduates to campus.  Thanks to the hard work of Don Bishop, our associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, and his staff, we had a very strong applicant pool and welcomed another impressive first year class.   With just under 18,000 applications, we enrolled a class of 2,010 and had a yield rate – the percent of admits that enroll – of 53 percent, which puts us in the top 10 among the most selective private national research universities.  Almost 40 percent of the incoming class ranked in the top 1 percent nationally in terms of SAT and ACT scores and a similar number were in the top 1 percent of their high school class.  The admissions office also considers evidence of intellectual curiosity and creativity, leadership, consonance with the University’s Catholic mission, and this year’s class excels in these areas as well.  

The class of 2018 is also among the most diverse classes we have ever welcomed, with 30 percent who are U.S. citizens of color or internationals. We are welcoming a record number of international students, with 109 first-year students representing 45 nations.  And in light of the national conversation about college affordability, we can report that 55 percent of incoming students received Notre Dame scholarships or grants in aid totaling over $37 million.  Approximately 250 of our first-year students come from households that earn less than $60,000.  

My thanks go to the Admissions Office for their excellent work, and to you, who make Notre Dame such an attractive place to study.

Accreditation

Last spring we hosted an external evaluation team from the Higher Learning Commission as part of our decennial reaccreditation.  Two years of work went into the preparation for this visit, led by Vice President and Associate Provost Dan Myers, who hired Dan Hubert to assist.  One hundred twenty faculty and administrators contributed to a 245-page self-study document that was presented to the evaluation team. 

Though we never thought our reaccreditation was seriously in jeopardy, we knew that Notre Dame and other distinguished institutions have encountered in this process difficulties that led to negative reports and a good deal of follow-up work to rectify problems, real or perceived.  Thus a significant effort went into preparing for this evaluation.  

I am very pleased to tell you that the report of the evaluation team was remarkably positive.  The University received the highest possible score on all items as the evaluator recommended renewal of our full accreditation. 

Let me read a few lines from the report.  “Simply walking on campus, one witnesses the goodwill extended to friends and strangers alike.  A pervasive decency and generalized kindness live on this campus and characterize its members. . . . Undergraduates recognize their privileged place . . . and graduate students feel they benefit from the student-focused accessibility of the faculty.” 

The report praised the academic distinction of many departments and observed that faculty showed an “unusual” commitment to their undergraduates. “In short,” they wrote, “Notre Dame [provides a high-quality education across the board] in a way that is truly exemplary.” 

I want to thank Dan Myers, Dan Hubert and all who participated in this reaccreditation process.  And I thank every faculty member for making the University a place that merits such high praise.

University Finances and the Cost of Education

Responsible stewardship is one of Notre Dame’s five central goals.  Today the University releases its annual Financial Update and Budget Outlook report, and I encourage you to review it.  (Click here to review the report.) The University continues to stand on exceptionally strong financial footing thanks to the oversight of our Board of Trustees, the leadership of John Affleck-Graves, our executive vice president, and John Sejdinaj, our vice president for finance, and the responsible stewardship of many across the university.  We are also extremely fortunate to have what I believe is the best investment office in higher education, led by Scott Malpass, our chief investment officer.

As you know, the cost of higher education continues to be a concern across the nation, and we strive to provide an exceptional – and inevitably costly – education that is nevertheless accessible.  We have been able to hold the increase in tuition and fees to about 4 percent for each of the past four years, which is the lowest rate of increase in five decades.  At the same time we have grown undergraduate financial aid at a compound annual rate of 6.6 percent. We have made progress, but affordability will remain a concern for us.

Campaign

In this situation, the revenue from tuition and fees net of financial aid from the university constitutes an ever decreasing percentage of the University budget, and so the support of many generous benefactors is ever more critical to our ability to improve academically.  We should all be mindful that what we do relies on such generosity, and in this regard Notre Dame is blessed.  We have begun a new fundraising campaign  and I am very pleased to report that at the end of the last fiscal year, the campaign has already received $1.1 billion in total donations and pledges, due largely to the 2013-14 fundraising year that shattered the University’s previous annual record by nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. 

Of that total, $293 million had yet to be designated at the time of the gift, though I expect the large majority of those funds will go to academic priorities.  Of the remaining approximately $800 million, $626 million, 78 percent of the total, is devoted to academic initiatives.  One hundred fifty million dollars of these contributions will fund need-based and merit-based financial aid, while the remaining $476 million is dedicated to a variety of academic endowments and facilities.   

One particular gift merits special mention.  Jay Jordan – an alumnus, a parent of two graduates, a Trustee – was already one of the University’s most generous benefactors.  Last May Mr. Jordan made the largest single donation Notre Dame has ever received, a $75 million gift that he is directing toward the creation of world-class research in science and technology. Tom Burish, our provost, Bob Bernhard, our vice president for research, the deans and several faculty members are in the process of examining the best possible ways to direct Jay’s extraordinary gift.  We are committed to using this gift to create programs of true distinction that will serve Notre Dame, the nation and the world.  

Our development staff led by Lou Nanni, our vice president for university relations, deserves much credit for these remarkable results, and I want to thank them for their tireless efforts.  Yet I have learned that regardless of the connection with the university, an individual, family or foundation must be convinced of the quality of the institution’s work if they are to make a major gift.  People do not give large portions of their wealth for the sake of mediocre results.  Critical for our recent success is the confidence that you, our faculty, inspire in potential benefactors.  It is because they see the quality and impact of your work across the disciplines, and because they know of your dedication to the university and the education of its students, that they are willing to be so extraordinarily generous.  So I see the remarkable success of the early phase of the campaign as an endorsement of the quality of your work and the depth of your commitment.  

External Research Funding

Other important sources of funding – grants and contracts for research – depend directly on the quality of your research work, and there is a very good story to tell here.  Research and sponsored programs funding awards for the last fiscal year totaled $113 million, up from $96 million last year. This total is higher than any year in our history, except 2009-10 when our total of $118 million was aided by $31 million in stimulus funding which was, of course, not available in the past year.  Unsurprisingly, a large portion of the total came from the College of Engineering ($44 million) and the College of Science ($45 million), but the College of Arts and Letters had its best year on record with $17 million of external funding, up from $8 million last year.  Congratulations to every member of the faculty who received these awards.

An important development arising from excellent aerospace research by our faculty was the recently announced creation of the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Facility through a partnership with General Electric Co., the city of South Bend, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Great Lakes Capital, and Indiana Michigan Power.  Ground will be broken this fall for what will be nation’s foremost research and test facility for massive turbine engines, and we expect this facility to create 57 jobs at the facility, and an estimated 315 new jobs in associated activities.

Advancing Our Vision

Although benefaction and research grants and contracts are critical factors in our ability to undertake new initiatives, they are not the only ones.  Rather than rely solely on the sacrifices of benefactors and the families who pay tuition or the decisions of funding agencies, we must do all we can to identify internal resources to invest in our priorities.  Indeed, parents are more willing to shoulder the burden of tuition and benefactors are more likely to be generous if they see that we are doing what we can to support our priorities.  And if we take steps to strengthen research centers, they will be better positioned to win external funding.

It was for this reason that in February 2011 we launched Advancing Our Vision (AOV).  The goal of this initiative was to generate significant recurring funding for key academic priorities by reducing inefficiencies in our business processes as well as identifying new revenue sources and possible saving opportunities.  Through a variety of initiatives, AOV is now generating $20 million in funding each year and the majority of this funding will underwrite approximately 70 new faculty positions.  Provost Tom Burish led a review that selected 10 areas that, with the investment of these funds, have the potential to be truly preeminent, and we will direct the funds to these areas.  In addition, AOV funds are also helping to fund construction of our new research facility and renovations to the Hesburgh Library.

We are now exploring the possibility of a second phase of what we see as a periodic reallocation exercise.  A working group for this new reallocation initiative will continue its deliberations through December, when it will make its final recommendations to the oversight committee, which includes the deans, the President’s Leadership Council and five faculty members.  Suggestions from the faculty and the Notre Dame community at large are welcome as these discussions proceed.

Although I am confident the working and oversight groups will be judicious and fair in their deliberations, we understand that such reallocations will require sacrifices from individuals and units in the University community.  Nevertheless, I believe they are necessary if we are to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by parents, who pay tuition bills, and our generous benefactors, and if we are to play our role in helping the University fulfill its mission in an even greater way.

Keough School of Global Affairs

A historic step in Notre Dame’s progress was made this past January, when the Board of Trustees held its annual meeting at our new Notre Dame Global Gateway in Rome.  At that meeting, the board endorsed the creation of a new school of global affairs – the first new school at Notre Dame in nearly a century.  It will directly engage the University in the worldwide effort to address the greatest challenges of our century:  formidable threats to security and human dignity that come in the form of crushing poverty and underdevelopment; failed governance and corruption; resource wars, civil wars, and other forms of political violence and human rights violations; and, exacerbating these familiar problems, a new ominous wave of natural disasters that are wreaking havoc with vulnerable populations on an often unprecedented scale.

Thanks to the extraordinary support of two long-standing champions of Notre Dame, Donald Keough, the former chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Marilyn, the new school will be called the Keough School of Global Affairs.  It will be housed in one of a pair of new buildings on Notre Dame Avenue immediately south of the Hesburgh Center.  Scott Appleby, a professor of history who for 14 years led the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies with exceptional vision, skill and success as its John M. Regan Director, has served this past year as the director of academic planning for the new school.  On July 1, Scott became the inaugural dean of the new school, which will formally open in August 2017. 

The Keough School of Global Affairs will devote itself to the advancement of integral human development – a holistic model for human flourishing articulated in Catholic social thought by popes from Paul VI to Francis. The faculty of the Keough School will pay special attention to the cultural and religious dimensions of the challenges they engage as they prepare students for effective and ethically grounded professional leadership in government, the private sector and global civil society.

The school will offer a master of global affairs degree and we will also consider creating a supplementary undergraduate major with thematic tracks in areas such as peacebuilding and development.  Through its cross-disciplinary research, teaching, policy studies and public education efforts, the Keough School will extend Notre Dame’s capacity to work more closely with the global Church, as well as with other leading international players, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, corporations and foundations. I am confident that the Keough School will raise the University’s profile as a truly global Catholic research university and further strengthen it to be a “powerful means for good” – not just in this country, but throughout the world. 

Construction of Academic and Student Life Facilities

As you are no doubt aware, there is quite a lot going on with regard to campus construction.  The rumor, however, that we will soon issue hardhats to all faculty and students is without foundation. 

The Campus Crossroads project, the largest building initiative in the 172-year history of Notre Dame, will soon begin with the construction on two of the three new buildings adjoining the football stadium.  In November we will break ground on the west side of the stadium for a much-needed student services center, which will house a food court, meeting and programming space for student clubs and organizations, an expanded Career Center and a fitness center.   At the same time, we will also begin construction on a new building on the east side of the stadium which will house the anthropology and psychology departments and a digital media center. With the construction of this building, anthropology and psychology – which had their offices, labs and classrooms spread across campus – will be able to consolidate nearly all of their teaching and scholarship in one place, allowing for more regular interaction between undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.  The digital media center will contain a 2,000 square-foot studio and facilities for production, teaching and creative work.

Both the west and the east buildings will include seating and common space for fans and media for home football games, and a number of spaces will be designed so that they can also be utilized on other days for other student, academic and University events.  Revenue generated by added premium seating will contribute to the cost of construction and continued maintenance for the academic spaces and student center.

Site clearing, including the replanting of some trees elsewhere on campus and the removal of benches and sculptures around the stadium, has already started in preparation for the construction of these buildings.

In fall of 2015, we hope to begin construction on a third building which is part of the Campus Crossroads project, located on the stadium’s south side and designed to house our music department and the cross-disciplinary sacred music program.  This facility will include performance spaces as well as house our extensive music holdings, which are currently held in Hesburgh Library.  We are still seeking funding for this space, but I am optimistic that we will be able to begin on schedule.  

In a few weeks, we will have the ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing of the construction site for McCourtney Family Hall which will be home to our new multidisciplinary research center, a 200,000-square-foot facility that will feature laboratory space for science and engineering research.  The need for this space is a direct result of your expanded research.

We will also soon begin construction on Jenkins and Nanovic Halls, which will be interconnected facilities to house the social sciences as well as our new Keough School of Global Affairs, about which I spoke earlier.  And in 2016, we will begin work on the new Walsh Architecture Hall, which will be a beautiful building designed by John Simpson, one of the world’s leading architects in the new classical style. 

Also getting underway next spring are two new residence halls to be located east of Knott Hall; the halls will open in the fall of 2016 and will allow us to address significant overcrowding in our current residences.  

Finally, we are undertaking a very significant renovation to the first and second floors of Hesburgh Library – a building that has not had an extensive redesign since it was built in the 1960s. This renovation will make the space more attractive and fitted to contemporary library needs.

2014 Faculty Address MapClick to view larger image

We are tremendously excited about the facilities these projects will provide for the educational and research work of Notre Dame.   A great university is much more than bricks and mortar, of course.  It is what goes on in the buildings – not the buildings themselves – that are the real mark of progress.  Nevertheless, to be able to provide you, our faculty, with facilities for your important research, scholarship and creative endeavors, to give future generations of Notre Dame students spaces and opportunities to learn, grow and develop all aspects of themselves, and to enhance our ability to welcome guests and visitors to campus to experience Notre Dame at its best, are great blessings for us as we continue our work in service to the mission of Notre Dame.   

As with any change, no matter how positive, there will be some disruptions, and with such extensive construction activity, these will be felt by all of us as we navigate on a daily basis a campus which is growing and evolving in these ways.  Let me ask for your indulgence for any inconvenience this work will cause.  It is temporary, and we will do our very best to keep you apprised of developments on these projects that might impact you, and we will do everything we can to minimize the disruption. Beginning today (September 16th,) we will maintain a website to provide updates, especially on practical concerns like road closings, etc. You can find it at construction.nd.edu.

Diversity and Inclusion

As the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion enters its second year, we see significant efforts underway in the area of student life, faculty and staff.  As I have said in previous communications, we have emphasized a practical focus by identifying achievable goals, undertaking initiatives and monitoring progress.  We are at an early stage in some areas and further along in others.

As Tom Burish announced in a recent letter to the faculty, a blue-ribbon faculty committee recently completed its analysis of a survey of faculty.  The survey indicated that, on the vast majority of items, Notre Dame faculty on the whole are more satisfied with their experience than faculty at a comparison group of schools.  Some groups of faculty, however, are less satisfied, and the survey identified a number of issues that demand our attention.  Women, for example, are on the whole less satisfied than men, those at associate rank for an extended period are less satisfied than others, and faculty in general are less satisfied with the climate for women and minorities.  The survey, then, gives us valuable information about areas related to diversity and inclusion which Tom Burish and I, along with leaders from across the university, will work to address, and it will establish benchmarks against which we can measure the effectiveness of our efforts.  This semester Tom, Dan Myers, the deans and others will meet with faculty to discuss the survey and possible strategies for improvement.  

Erin Harding, our vice president for student affairs, and her division continue to implement 21 recommendations that emerged from an extensive review of campus climate.  Among recent efforts are increased residence hall staff training on diversity issues, the launch of an online site, Speakup.nd.edu, to report harassment or problematic behavior, and the placing of a print of the University’s Spirit of Inclusion in all residence halls.

Under Bob McQuade, vice president for human resources, a Staff Diversity and Inclusion Committee has conducted 100 one-on-one interviews to better understand the staff experience and craft a plan to improve diversity and inclusion among staff.  We have also expanded efforts to recruit a diverse staff.  Finally, the University’s diversity website is being updated and we plan to re-launch it in January of 2015.

An eloquent expression of the difficulties we have and must still overcome as a University community can be found in the book Black Domers, edited by two of our most distinguished alumni, Don Wycliff and David Krashna, and published by Corby Books earlier this year. The book provides a compelling account of the experiences of 70 black students who attended Notre Dame during the past 70 years; from Frazier Thompson, who came here during World War II as part of the United States Navy’s officer training program, to a few graduates of the Class of 2014.  

One of those recent graduates, Olevia Boykin, recounted how her remarks to a newspaper reporter about her own experience of being black at Notre Dame sparked controversy. She said the aftermath of her attempt to offer the reporter a candid answer proved alienating – an “emotionally straining learning experience,” in her phrase. But she persevered through those difficulties, and her response to that challenge offers a hopeful indication of how we might all be part of making Notre Dame a more welcoming place. 

One thing becomes clear in reading those pages:  the personal care and mentoring of faculty are among the most valuable part of the experience of many of these students.  Olevia writes that she drew close to her professors, “who excited in [her] a passion for academia.” She worked with one professor on a paper and learned what it takes to publish research. She designed a website for another and took directed readings with a third. “Working with these brilliant and passionate professors – who challenge me and care about me; who tell me when I am flat wrong or when I need to do or be better . . . has been the most formative part of my experience at Notre Dame,” she wrote.  Olevia graduated last May and is now in her first year at Yale Law School.  

I want to thank you for your commitment to all our students, particularly those in minority groups.  We will continue to work to foster an environment of mutual respect and welcome for all so that we can become less imperfectly what we aspire to be – in the words of our University mission statement, an “authentic human community graced by the Spirit of Christ.” 

The Honor Code

As you know, the University recently announced an investigation into possible violations of the Honor Code involving both student-athletes and students who were not varsity athletes.  

In late July the Athletic Department’s Compliance Office, which oversees our compliance with NCAA regulations, became aware of a potentially problematic situation involving a current student-athlete as well as a student who served for a brief time as a paid student employee of the Athletic Department, although that position had no role in academic tutoring or advising of student athletes.  I want to underscore that the current investigation has not revealed any misconduct or knowledge of impropriety by regular, full-time staff.  However, given the student’s brief status as a paid employee, there was the possibility of what the NCAA considers an “excess benefit” given to the student-athlete by a representative of the institution.  It was therefore necessary for an investigation to be conducted in light of NCAA regulations and according to NCAA standards, and the Athletic Department Compliance Office referred the matter to our General Counsel’s Office to conduct an investigation.  Once initial evidence was gathered, it was clear that there were possible violations of the University’s Honor Code by several students and a process was begun under the University’s Honor Code Policy.  

With the initial evidence we had in August, it was clear that we could not guarantee that the students-athletes involved were eligible under NCAA regulations to play, and for that reason they were held out of practice and competition.  

As is obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with Notre Dame football, the media attention is intense.  Before we made any announcement, the names of student-athletes involved leaked through social media.  In order to deter unfounded speculation about individuals not involved, we made an exception to our policy of not releasing the names of students involved in such a process and confirmed the identities of implicated students who had already been named in the public forum.

I emphasized in my public statement and I emphasize now, no one has yet been found responsible for an Honor Code violation.  Whether there is any responsibility will be determined by the appropriate faculty and student Honesty Committee on the basis of our Academic Code of Honor.

We can and will learn from this incident.  We will continue to look for ways to prevent and address any incidents of academic dishonesty among all our students.  Honor Code violations are becoming more common across the nation, and we must hold ourselves and our students to a high standard of honesty.  This is a time when all of us should recommit to strengthening adherence to the Honor Code among our students.  

Conclusion

As I said, I believe we are now at a moment of historic progress in a fuller realization of Notre Dame’s distinctive mission.  So much is possible for the institution because of the talent, hard work and dedication of you, the faculty.  I thank you for your efforts, and I urge you to continue your excellent work.  Your efforts will be a force for good for generations to come.

 

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. 
President, University of Notre Dame