President's Annual Address to the Faculty 2011

September 20, 2011

Welcome and thank you for coming. It’s a pleasure to see you back for a new academic year. Let me extend an especially warm welcome to our new faculty. We are delighted to have you join us, and like each class of freshmen that comes in with higher test scores, grades and promise than the previous class, we have high expectations of you. A senior recently told me that it was gratifying to be told as a freshman that your class was the best ever at Notre Dame, and that each subsequent year the University admitted even better, brighter students, until in your final year, you realize with a sinking feeling that you and your classmates now constitute the weakest class currently at the University. Some of us who have been on the faculty for a while may have a similar feeling.

When we tell the story of Notre Dame, we often focus on the pivotal moments that define the University and its remarkable growth.

The tales of Fr. Sorin’s rebuilding of the Main Building after a fire in 1879 reveal the fierce determination of our founders to build something lasting and great. The stories about Knute Rockne often show how a regional Catholic institution that served mostly poor immigrants became a football powerhouse with a national reputation and following. And many of the anecdotes told about Fr. Ted Hesburgh make clear his unflinching commitment to transform Notre Dame into a research university whose academic prowess matched its athletic success.

These pivotal moments tell the story of a University that grows and evolves to keep pace with a changing world, while remaining true to a distinctive, founding mission. It is the story of how Notre Dame, time and again, responded to challenge and seized opportunity.

The recently completed Spirit of Notre Dame Campaign provides another example. Despite a severe economic downturn just past the midway point of the campaign, we were still able to exceed expectations and raise more than $2 billion, a new milestone for universities without a medical school. The impact of the Spirit Campaign will reverberate at Notre Dame for generations. Nearly 50 named faculty positions were created with Spirit funding. At the beginning of the campaign, we had 124 Endowments for Excellence supporting academic departments and initiatives; now we have 417. The campaign also funded two residence halls, four athletic facilities, and new buildings or renovations for engineering, science, the business and law schools, libraries, international programs and our Catholic mission. We responded to a challenge in pursuit of a compelling vision for Notre Dame. I congratulate and thank all who contributed to this effort in any way.

While we celebrate the success of the recently completed campaign and take satisfaction in our progress, we must turn our attention to the next steps toward our goal of being a premier research university that offers an unsurpassed undergraduate education and is informed by a distinctive Catholic mission. Today I want to speak to you about two important steps: first, an initiative to identify funds that can be reallocated to our greatest needs; and, second, the process for formulating a strategic plan that will help us establish priorities for the next development campaign.

Advancing Our Vision

To continue our momentum created by the success of our recent campaign, we must continue to invest in promising initiatives, build infrastructure, strengthen our libraries, and ensure that a Notre Dame education is affordable for all admitted students.

That is why, last February, I formed a committee to review our budget and identify $20 million to $40 million in recurring expenses or potential revenue that can be redirected to fund our top priorities. We entitled this initiative Advancing Our Vision. Because so many generous benefactors had made sacrifices to contribute to our work, and many parents make tremendous sacrifices to send their child to Notre Dame, we were obliged to take a hard look at ourselves to see if we could find resources to advance the vision of Notre Dame, even if this did require some sacrifices on our part.

Since then, the need has become even greater. The economic situation in our country and around the globe has not improved and even deteriorated, so fewer resources are available from benefactors and government, and there is even greater pressure to keep our tuition increases low.

Yet I was convinced that despite these external factors, significant as they are, we could find resources to invest in our core academic activities and continue our progress. Our goal was to be at the same time prudent and bold in finding new resources that could be directed to funding new faculty positions, providing financial aid to meet the growing needs of our students, and enhancing staff support, libraries and infrastructure to accomplish our academic mission of teaching and inquiry.

The Strategic Funding Committee was formed to identify these resources. This group of campus leaders, which included faculty members and most of the Deans and members of my leadership council, met regularly last spring. The committee’s working group also spent the summer evaluating potential new revenue opportunities, many of which were submitted by employees to the Advancing Our Vision website. 
I want to thank the committee members who spent long hours in meetings and conscientiously evaluated numerous proposals. I recognize in particular Tom Burish and John Affleck-Graves, who co-chaired this committee, and many staff members who supported its work. I also want to thank the members of our faculty and staff who took the trouble to suggest areas of possible savings or new revenue to the committee.

Through this effort, the Committee identified approximately $30 million in recurring funds that it has recommended we redirect toward our key priorities. This represents about 3 percent of our total University budget. The committee rightly embraced in its work the principle that the commitment and skill of our faculty and staff are among Notre Dame’s most valuable assets, and so they made the protection of jobs, benefits and salaries the primary goal in identifying resources that could be redirected. 
The Committee in particular worked hard to identify process improvements that can save money and also improve service. Let me give two examples: TravelND and VOIP phones.

Departments across campus implemented TravelND last year. The old system of getting reimbursements for official University travel involved piles of paper forms and receipts, and hours of wearisome toil in repetitive paperwork. The new online system is faster, more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and it makes possible new business partnerships. It also will save about $1.3 million each year.

We also distributed new VOIP phone lines last year. These phones are attractive and have a number of modern functions that many of us have become accustomed to in the age of cell phones. Some guessed that Notre Dame paid handsomely for this upgraded service. In fact, the acronymVOIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and this technology uses the existing internet lines rather than requiring us to maintain a separate set of phone lines, saving us a half-million dollars every year.

The Committee also looked for possible sources of new revenue, an area where faculty and staff comments on the Advancing Our Vision website were especially helpful. The Committee analyzed options ranging from changes in our licensing agreements to reviewing our endowment for funds that were not being fully utilized. They recommended a number of ideas with a potential for up to $7 million in new revenue.

Another area of focus is employee benefits, which many of our peers have cut significantly since the economic downturn in 2008. For example, we implemented a voluntary staff early retirement option that will help employees retire in a better financial position. Some staff members will get an opportunity to retire earlier or with more security than they would otherwise have.

We are also opening an on-campus wellness center to support the well-being of our employees—both faculty and staff—and their families. The wellness center, which will be located in the northeast corner of campus, will provide everything from urgent care to pharmacy services and physical therapy to flu shots. The facility will be more convenient for our employees and more economical for the University. Other organizations that have implemented such centers have realized significant savings and greater productivity, and we expect to do the same.

From the start, I have said clearly that continuing our momentum will require more than just some technological advancements and new programs. It also requires some shared sacrifice. Early retirements will result in reorganization rather than full replacement. This means that some employees may pick up the duties of those who are leaving, a burden of which we all should be aware.

We also plan to limit a few of the perks that have been offered in the past. Our goal in this effort was to have the least effect on those who earn less and cannot afford more financial stress. Instead, we reviewed eliminating or reducing some of the perks that our peer institutions have never offered. These include a 20 percent subsidy in the voluntary purchase of football tickets and a cell phone policy with few restrictions. We will share more details about these changes in the coming months.

One recommendation from the committee that I did not accept was to impose a general fee for parking. The committee’s recommendation was certainly understandable, for Notre Dame is one of only four universities of the thirty-one private and public institutions we benchmarked that charges no fee for parking. Yet the imposition of a fee in these difficult economic times would have been a burden on some employees. We will offer a dedicated parking bay for a fee for those who want this convenience. 
We must warn you, though, that because of the growth of our campus we will need to build layered parking in the next three to five years and, when we do, we will need to charge a parking fee to cover the construction and upkeep of parking structures.

Earlier, I spoke about the completion of the Spirit Campaign that raised more than two billion dollars for Notre Dame. It is natural to ask why the University doesn’t use that money to fund these new initiatives. Of course, that money is going to fund new programs, buildings and scholarships that will benefit Notre Dame for generations. The great majority of those funds have been explicitly designated for very specific purposes, mostly to improve student opportunity through financial aid and to improve the campus through new facilities. Moreover, we cannot respond to our benefactors’ generosity to the work of Notre Dame by using these resources to fund inefficiencies or provide benefits that exceed the vast majority of our peers.

We have not made specific, final decisions about how to spend the recurring budget money we are redirecting. But I can give you one example of an area of obvious need. Over the last three years, our commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student meant that we had to spend an additional $30 million on financial aid. That is money we could not spend to hire new faculty – the scholars like you who will continue to provide our students with an unparalleled education and who contribute the research and scholarship that is the heart of Notre Dame. We hope to address this challenge, using the reallocation to hire a substantial number of new faculty members over the next few years.

The redirection of a small percentage of our total budget will allow us to continue our momentum and make the coming years even more exciting and productive for Notre Dame. I ask for your support for these changes that will provide a significant and sustained help in advancing our vision for Notre Dame.

Strategic Plan and the Next Campaign for Notre Dame

I was recently speaking to one of our more generous and long-standing donors about our future, and he commented, “As sure as day follows night, there will soon be another development campaign for Notre Dame.” He is right. The sun will rise tomorrow, and there will soon be another development campaign. We simply cannot be the institution we want to be without asking help from our generous benefactors. Our task in the coming two years is to take the necessary steps to prepare for that campaign. At Notre Dame, as at nearly every university, the first step in preparing for a campaign is to undertake a university-wide strategic planning process to identify key needs.

The formulation of a sound, substantive, and comprehensive strategic plan is important not only for development campaigns. It is essential if we are to realize our vision for Notre Dame. Without the formulation and implementation of such a plan, that vision will remain a mere wish.

In my six years as President, we have tried to bring greater focus to the work of planning throughout the University. In that vein, we created the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research under Erin Hoffmann Harding, who was appointed Associate Vice President for Strategic Planning on July 1, 2008. Although a relatively small office, Erin has assembled a superb staff, and brought under her leadership the Office of Institutional Research. This office has been invaluable to me and to the various colleges, divisions, departments and institutes as they developed strategic plans for individual units and for the University as a whole. It has also helped us make great progress in gathering, analyzing, storing, and making accessible data that inform our assessment of and decisions about the University.

Of course the hard work of constructing a plan for a college, institute, or division must be led by the respective college dean, director, or divisional head. I want to commend those leaders and their respective units who have embraced this work, constructed sound plans, updated them regularly, and made decisions in accord with those plans. The acceptance of a practice of careful, informed deliberation about our future and the formulation of a plan puts the University in a stronger position to achieve our central goals and more fully realize our vision for the University.

Because a good deal of time and effort has already gone into the formulation of strategic plans, we are in a stronger position as we prepare for the next campaign, and consequently we will approach it somewhat differently than we did in the past.

In recent decades our practice at Notre Dame has been to undertake a comprehensive university-wide strategic planning process designed specifically to set the priorities for the new development campaign. As some of you may recall, in the spring semester of 2002 my predecessor, Fr. Edward Malloy, announced a strategic planning process entitled, “Notre Dame 2010: A Quest for Leadership”. Fr. Malloy established a university-wide committee and several sub-committees as part of that process, and each of the colleges, institutes and divisions created plans that led in 2003 to a university-wide plan, “Notre Dame 2010: Fulfilling the Promise”. This plan then became the basis for the recently completed and extremely successful “Sprit of Notre Dame Campaign”, begun in 2004. We at Notre Dame today are all beneficiaries of the strong and ambitious leadership of Fr. Malloy and the hard work and long hours of so many to formulate our last strategic plan, set priorities for our campaign, and make that campaign so remarkably successful.

As we prepare for the next campaign, there will be two major changes in our preparation. First, a sustained focus on strategic planning in recent years obviates the need to form committees to generate a new plan from scratch. We will rather bring together the previously developed and updated divisional plans—those of colleges, institutes, and other divisions—into a draft of a university-wide plan around our central University goals. With this draft as a starting point, we will seek your comment and suggestions on key elements of this plan.

In coming months, then, Tom Burish, Erin Hoffmann Harding and I will schedule meetings with each academic department, the heads of the major institutes, the Academic Council and the Faculty Senate. We will present to you the key strategies of the plan we are drafting at these meetings and seek your comments and suggestions. We will begin these meetings in coming months and continue them through April.

When we complete these meetings, we will, aided by your comments, revise and refine our plan and present it to the Board of Trustees for their comment at their meeting on May 4. We intend to finalize the plan in the summer of 2012.

The shift in our approach to formulating a university-wide plan arises from a recognition that strategic planning at a university should be a continuous rather than an episodic, once-in-a-decade event. A continuous attention to and regular updating of our plan will make this somewhat large and complex institution more nimble in responding to external changes, more sensitive to possible threats, and more ready to seize opportunities. In the coming academic year we will ask you, the faculty, to help us review and update our university-wide strategic plan.

A second change in our approach in this current effort is that we will separate the drafting of the strategic plan from the formulating of funding priorities for the next campaign. In past campaigns, these two efforts were combined, but I believe there is an advantage to separating them. Obviously, the priorities for the next campaign must and will be based on the objectives of the strategic plan we develop. Yet a good plan does more. Some new initiatives in a plan can be undertaken within the limits of our current budget and do not demand new funds from philanthropy. Moreover, some of the most important decisions to be made will be to redirect the focus and emphasis from one area to another. If the planning process is too closely tied to the preparation for a new campaign, we can fail to give sufficient time and attention to important aspects of a plan that do not require new benefactions. The separation of the two tasks will help us formulate a strategic overall plan, and then to formulate campaign priorities to address our most important needs.

We look forward, then, to discussing with you the key elements of our strategic plan in the coming year and listening to your comments and suggestions. With the help of your comments, we will bring this version of our strategic plan to some finality over the summer. In the fall of 2012, then, we will turn to developing priorities for our next campaign. In the spring of 2013, we will be in a position to formulate a statement of purpose and priorities for the next campaign.

Other topics

Before I wrap up, I would like to welcome a new member of our leadership team. Dan Myers is not new to Notre Dame; he has been a professor of sociology since 1998. He previously chaired that department, directed research and faculty development at the Kroc Institute, and served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Letters. He was recently appointed Vice President and Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs. His responsibilities include leading the Provost Office’s faculty recruitment and hiring process and coordinating the work of the Provost’s Advisory Committee. He also oversees tenure and promotion procedures, orientation and mentoring programs for faculty, academic space management, and the University’s relationship with its regional accrediting body. I am delighted that Dan has accepted these new responsibilities and am excited to work more closely with him.

I also want to take this opportunity to encourage you to fully engage with this year’s Notre Dame Forum, which will explore K-12 education and education reform. Called “Reimagining School: to Nurture the Soul of a Nation,” this Forum is a yearlong discussion on the profound and challenging questions that shape the national debate on K–12 education. I believe these forums are most successful when they lead to discussions with our students across the disciplines, grappling with the topic in sociology, economics, political science, psychology, business, theology, and many other classes, and I encourage you to hold these discussions.


In this address I have focused a good deal on the rather mundane topics of funding, resource reallocation, revenue enhancement, and development campaigns. But as you well know, we cannot achieve our ambitions without the funds to support our work. And so rather than thinking of these financial resources as simply crass necessities, I encourage us all to see them as benefits that impose on each of us a responsibility to use them well in service of our mission. Notre Dame has been blessed in recent years with an exceptionally strong financial position, but that blessing places a demand on each of us.

In 1871 Fr. Sorin, wrote a letter reflecting on the remarkable progress the University had made since he arrived in a “wild forest” twenty-nine years before. He wrote, “While I find no words to express our sentiments of gratitude and love, I deem it one of our first duties to receive, in faith and humility, each of those precious blessings and gifts as a sacred deposit, or as the talents of the Gospel, which must fructify in our hands.” (Very Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC; Circular Letter XX. November 26, 1871.)

Notre Dame’s resources do have a sacred character that imposes duties upon each of us. If for no other reason, we owe it to the benefactors, parents, and those who have gone before us to make the most of what we have received; we owe it to our students to give them the best education we can; and we owe it to the world to give it the benefits of our scholarship, research, and creative work. We ought to see these resources as “sacred deposits” that we must use to serve the mission of Notre Dame and make it even more powerfully a force that heals, unifies, and enlightens. The needs are urgent.

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