Last week, we held a panel on the presidential debates as part of this year’s Notre Dame Forum, Debating Our Future, and next week, we will have a debate watch on the quad, weather permitting. I want to thank the Forum panel that helped plan these events.
These are uncertain and, in many ways, challenging political times. The divisions in our nation are deep, and political rhetoric on offer tends to deepen them. It is certainly not the University’s role to take a position on candidates or parties, but I would suggest that we should, as a University, stand for the cultivation of debate that engages substantive positions, not simply slogans, that approaches the election as a contest of ideas and not simply personalities. Mean-spirited campaigns, personal attacks, political pandering, manicured candidates and outsized personalities have always been part of elections in this nation, and probably always will be. But the health of our democracy requires that opponents engage one another’s ideas and policies in serious exchange. Any university and Notre Dame in particular, must foster such exchanges and develop in our students a readiness to have these kinds of conversations. I hope this year’s Forum will encourage us all to think about how we can foster this sort of exchange.
In closing, let me thank you for your hard work and encourage you in the coming academic year. I began this talk by speaking about our ranking against other universities. We must strive to compare favorably with other institutions, but our overriding goal is not to be among the top twenty, top ten or top five universities. Our guiding aspiration is to be the very best Notre Dame we can be every day. Let’s work together for that in the coming year.