I turn now to three enduring challenges for Notre Dame. They are not the only important challenges we face, but I mention them for they draw our attention to three areas that will be critical for us in coming years: 1) the efficiency of our operations, 2) the need to innovate as we remain committed to a traditional, residential campus, and 3) the range of commitments that arise from our Catholic mission.
An Efficient, Effective, and Thriving University
I have already outlined some tangible results of the “Advancing our Vision” initiative, an effort to seek efficiencies, improve processes, and reallocate resources from lower to higher priorities. AOV has helped us hire new faculty and increase funding for several academic departments in which we have historically underinvested, despite their being some of the university’s strongest areas. We have also been able to free up funds to meet the financial aid needs of our students, and provide enhanced staff support, libraries, and infrastructure. And since the most valuable assets at Notre Dame are the people who work here, we have made it a high priority to protect jobs, benefits, and salaries.
The AOV process and similar efforts are valuable for the obvious reason that they allow us to identify resources to invest in our highest priorities, but that is not all. As you are no doubt aware, with the high cost of higher education, universities are regularly portrayed in the media as inefficient, bloated, and complacent organizations. We can ignore the bombast of uninformed critics, but we must be able to give an account of our operations to reasonable people with sincere and probing questions. Part of that answer must be to point to substantial efforts to seek efficiencies and improve processes. If we are unable to do this, then benefactors will be less likely to be generous, the public will be less likely to support institutions like ours, and we will have fallen short of our responsibility as stewards of the resources entrusted to us.
"we must be...a place that continually seeks to use its resources well, finds efficiencies, improves processes, and reallocates funds to be more effective in our work."
We must, therefore, make AOV and initiatives like it a regular part of our work at Notre Dame. We must be—and be perceived to be—a place that continually seeks to use its resources well.
I know that these processes often demand time and create inconveniences, and I want to thank all those who have made and continue to make sacrifices to make the university better. I know that your willingness to embrace the changes comes from your dedication to the university’s mission and our central work of teaching and inquiry. I am personally grateful to you for your spirit of service to our common work.
A Commitment to a Residential Campus and Digital Innovation
We have all heard the predictions that disruptive innovation around digital technology will eventually make residential campuses obsolete. On this account, we are the sailing ship that will soon be replaced by the steam engine, the compact disc that will be shoved to the side by iTunes.
As is clear from the construction on campus, which includes two new dorms and a new student center, we remain committed to the irreplaceable value of a residential campus. The University of Notre Dame is a community of teachers and learners, and all of us—faculty and students—do some teaching of and learning from one another. In such a community, personal relationships are critical—between faculty and students and among students. Such relationships are formed not only in formal instruction in classrooms, but also in conversations in a faculty office, in dining halls and residence halls, in student organizations, and on retreats. Often the most formative and valuable insights come from a spontaneous conversation over a meal or on a walk. I do not believe that the richness of such relationships and conversations can be fully captured by an exclusively online community. They require coming together in a common place, with all the routine and serendipitous interactions to which a common place leads.
"The challenge for Notre Dame is to maintain and even deepen our commitment to cultivating the possibilities for learning and student development on a residential campus while creatively embracing the educational possibilities afforded by digital technology."
We must, nevertheless, recognize the educational value of digital technology. Elliott Visconsi, our Chief Academic Digital Officer, and his colleagues in the Office of Digital Learning have helped us do so. Digital learning can disseminate the expertise of you, our faculty, to those who do not otherwise have access, and we have recently launched several new online courses on topics as diverse as statistics, wireless technology, and Jesus in Scripture and Tradition. Digital technology allows faculty to be more creative and flexible in instruction on campus and enhance our understanding of student learning, and I know many of you are taking advantage of it. Finally, as we increase research collaboration and international opportunities for our students, it can connect us with faculty and students who are not on campus.
The challenge for Notre Dame is to maintain and even deepen our commitment to cultivating the possibilities for learning and student development on a residential campus while creatively embracing the educational possibilities afforded by digital technology. While I do not believe that exclusively online learning will replace residential campuses, we must use the tools it gives us to enhance learning and inquiry at Notre Dame.
Catholic Mission: A Goal and a Challenge
The third central university goal at Notre Dame—ensuring that our Catholic mission informs all our activities—spans all departments and divisions. It makes our mission distinctive and as such gives us great opportunities, while presenting us with challenges.
It is hard not to be impressed with even the following partial list of initiatives that directly serve the Church or prominently reflect our Catholic mission. The Institute for Church Life sponsors programs in catechesis, liturgical renewal, youth ministry, theological education, and many more. The Alliance for Catholic Education sends young teachers and trains principals for Catholic schools, while providing strategic thought and counsel to dioceses on how to make those schools strong. The new doctoral degree from our Program in Sacred Music has begun placing its first graduates in dioceses and churches around the country. The Economics Department has partnered with Catholic Charities to create the Lab for Economic Opportunity that studies models of the most effective programs in serving the needy in this country. We have been a partner with Catholic Relief Services to train peacebuilders, to provide training for administrators through the Mendoza College of Business, and to send students on CRS internships. Indeed, such opportunities to work with CRS worldwide will increase with the new Keough School of Global Affairs. Fr. Bill Lies, C.S.C, our Vice President for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs, has facilitated a partnership with the Vatican Library, so our scholars can use and make known the treasures of the world’s oldest, continuously operating research library.
Building on the legacy of Notre Dame’s Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, we have tried to strengthen the University’s role as a Catholic university at the heart of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This year’s ND Forum will take up critical documents of Vatican II, promulgated fifty years ago, that encouraged such dialogue and growth in mutual understanding. In our world, the University’s role as a leader in such dialogue will be ever more important.
To fulfill our mission, we seek faculty committed to it. I thank you for your efforts to find and recruit distinguished Catholic scholars and those of other traditions who are committed to our mission and want to contribute to it in meaningful ways. I understand the challenges, but unless our faculty can be intellectual leaders in the context of our Catholic mission, we cannot achieve our central goals.
I am well aware of the growing secularism of our world and the growing skepticism of younger people about institutional religious affiliation. I am also aware of the challenges of striving to be a preeminent research university with a Catholic mission. Whatever the challenges are, however, they are our challenges, and we cannot turn from them without losing our identity and our purpose.
"Laudato Si' is a clarion call ...that presents us with a comprehensive moral vision..."
As I said in my homily for our Opening Mass of the Academic Year, Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, is a clarion call not only about our environment, but about global society. It is, as the Pope put it, a “joyful and troubling” message that presents us with a comprehensive moral vision about the environment, technology, the character of our communal lives, our responsibility to the poor and marginalized, the dangers of a compulsive consumerism, and the need for global solidarity. It is a challenging moral vision, but one for which, I believe, our world is hungry, and no university is better positioned to respond.
I look forward to responding to this and other challenges with you.
"Many deserve thanks for this progress, but none more than you, the faculty."
I am proud of the progress Notre Dame has made in the past ten years, a decade that has seen many challenges in higher education. Many deserve thanks for this progress, but none more than you, the faculty. The work of Notre Dame is education and inquiry, and, though many support this work, it is the work that you, the faculty do. Along with my colleagues in the administration, I have done my best to support you. Thank you for your dedication, your effort and—when it was necessary—your patience with me and others in university administration. I look back with satisfaction at the last ten years, but I believe that because of your talent and commitment, an equally committed staff, and the generosity of so many, we can exceed what we have done so far in offering an unsurpassed undergraduate education, attaining preeminence in research and graduate education, and letting our Catholic mission inform all we do.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.