President's Annual Address to the Faculty 2016

September 20, 2016

Arnie Weber, once president of the University of Colorado and Northwestern University and provost and dean at Carnegie Mellon University, was a wise Notre Dame trustee in the 1990’s. On the subject of higher education rankings, he would say, “When a university does poorly on such rankings, they are unscientific, beauty contests designed to sell magazines. But when it does well, it pops the champagne bottle corks and celebrates the institution’s remarkable progress.” 

Well, with Notre Dame’s highest-ever ranking of 15th in last week’s U.S. News and World Report Rankings, we popped the champagne corks and celebrated our progress. While I question whether such rankings truly benefit higher education, there is little doubt that they influence prospective students, their parents, employers and many of our colleagues in higher education. Whatever else we may say about such rankings, they reflect—and perhaps occasion—the recognition of the rising academic strength of Notre Dame.

As you may have noticed on the light pole banners around campus, we look forward to celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of Notre Dame, and we remember the first year which our founder, Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and companions lived in the very modest log chapel on campus, from which he made his immodest assertions that Notre Dame “will develop on a large scale,” and that “it will be one of the most powerful means for good in this country.” As improbable as that forecast was in November of 1842, it turned out to be accurate. As we prepare to celebrate that anniversary, we pay homage to our predecessors by continuing the dream boldly, and act on those dreams. I am happy today to report to you on some of those activities.

Campus Construction and New Academic Space

“We are in the midst of one of the most ambitious periods of construction in Notre Dame history. When complete, it will bring on line 1.4 million square feet of additional space.”

Anyone who has tried to park on campus in the last couple of years could attest to Fr. Sorin’s prescience about Notre Dame’s development on a large scale. We are in the midst of one of the most ambitious periods of construction in Notre Dame history. When complete, it will bring on line 1.4 million square feet of additional space. Of that space, 80% will be dedicated either to academic use—in the form of faculty offices, research space, classrooms, a digital studio and administrative space for academic programs—or to student life—in the form of new residence halls and a new student center.

I have been asked many times why, if we have roughly the same number of students, why we need this new space. Why so big? Why so much? Why now?

The answer has much to do with the work of you, the faculty. Today at Notre Dame, the research, scholarship and creative work of the faculty demands more space, and we have more students, graduate and undergraduate, involved in that work. 

McCourtney Hall, which is already completed, will open up new collaborations between the College of Science and the College of Engineering. As we commemorate our 175th year, we will—in the fall of 2017—add Nanovic Hall, which will house economics, political science, and sociology, and the connecting Jenkins Hall, which will house the international institutes and the Keough School of Global Affairs. We expect that these new buildings will facilitate much new interaction among these departments and programs. Campus Crossroads will give us a music hall that is actually designed for music—something our music department and new sacred music program have quite rightly been asking for years—as well as Corbett Family Hall with new homes for anthropology and psychology and the Rex and Alice Martin Digital Media Center.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it indicates our belief in the immense capacity of our faculty to lead us in fulfilling Notre Dame’s academic mission—via the work you are already doing, the work you will be doing in years to come, and your ability to help us recruit others to join you.

Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves and his team, including Associate Vice President for Facilities Design and Operations and University Architect Doug Marsh, have been masters of planning and multi-tasking in managing the complex and demanding design and construction schedules involved—as have Lou Nanni, Vice President for University Relations, and his team in helping us secure the benefaction to make these beautiful additions to campus possible.

Academic Initiatives

Thanks to the leadership of Provost Tom Burish and deans—and most of all, the leadership and hard work of you, our faculty—and the work of so many, we have seen great progress in our central mission of teaching and learning. I will mention just a few highlights.


In my judgement, the increasing internationalization of Notre Dame is among the most significant accomplishments of the past decade. Through the vision and leadership of Nick Entrikin, internationalization has become an integral part of the life of the University. Nick retired recently, and we are grateful for his efforts. We are very pleased to welcome Michael Pippenger as the University’s next vice president and associate provost for internationalization, who will, I am sure, build on Nick’s great work.

Michael comes to Notre Dame from Columbia University, where he served as dean of undergraduate global programs. He brings extensive experience in international programming, has overseen student study abroad, fostered global research through support of faculty, and worked closely with a group of global centers not unlike our own Global Gateway network.

The Notre Dame Global Gateway network includes Global Offices, Global Centers, and the Global Gateways themselves and is intended to serve the entire University community, from students studying abroad to faculty building research collaborations. Nick Entrikin envisioned it as a means to extend both the University’s geographic reach and its volume of academic engagement, and so far it has been very successful in accomplishing these goals.

The network has recently expanded with the addition of the Kylemore Abbey Global Center in western Ireland, which officially opened in August and has already hosted academic programming and spiritual retreats.

“ … the compass of Notre Dame’s internationalization efforts now clearly points south to a region rich in its Catholic heritage, diverse in its people, and with longstanding ties to Notre Dame.”

We are opening two Global Offices in Latin America—one in Mexico City, and one in São Paulo, which will complement our Santiago Global Center in Chile. As I said in addresses in each of these countries, the compass of Notre Dame’s internationalization efforts now clearly points south to a region rich in its Catholic heritage, diverse in its people, and with longstanding ties to Notre Dame.

Thanks to collaboration between the Executive Vice President’s and Provost’s Office, we have implemented a new financial model for study abroad that will, when fully implemented next summer, allow an even greater number of Notre Dame students to benefit from an international academic experience. And Notre Dame itself is now a study abroad site for international students, twenty-five of whom will take part in the new Notre Dame American Study Abroad Program during the 2016–17 academic year.

I communicated with you about a potential international collaboration with Zhejiang University to build a joint liberal arts college at its new international campus in Haining, China. Despite diligent work done, I believe, in good faith by both parties, we were not able to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement with Zhejiang, but it is clear that our serious engagement with this unique proposal enhanced the visibility and reputation of Notre Dame throughout the Greater China region. We continue conversations with other top Chinese universities on possible collaborations. Also, as part of the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People exchange sponsored by governments of the two nations, forty-one coaches and athletic administrators from China spent several weeks this past summer on our campus to learn about our athletic programs.


2015-16 was another strong year for your research. Grant awards were at $128 million, the second best year in Notre Dame’s history despite very tight federal budgets for research. We continue to lead the nation in the number of NEH fellowships won by our faculty. Investments in new faculty through the AOV initiative continue on schedule. Several new faculty hired through this program will join us this year, further strengthening approximately ten research priority areas. 

Innovation and Technology Transfer

“ … when faculty, students or even alumni create some valuable innovation, we want to help them get that creation to production and to the marketplace …”

As a University, we engage in research and discovery because we are about the search for truth and understanding, yet we also hope that many of the discoveries made here can find practical applications that will make us an even more powerful force for good. So when faculty, students or even alumni create some valuable innovation, we want to help them get that creation to production and to the marketplace, whether it be a new design for a simple device to wash clothes, as was created by our faculty and students in Art, Art History, and Design, or a new “laboratory on a chip” device that can inexpensively diagnose diseases in poorer nations, as was created by one of our Engineering faculty and his students. We plan, then, in the year ahead to take some major steps in the area of entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology transfer.

Two years ago, Tom Burish commissioned a committee referred to as the Notre Dame Research and Commercialization Committee to look at the commercialization programs at Notre Dame. The group included equal numbers of Notre Dame alumni and non-alumni, some with no prior connections to the University. The group was largely from corporate and start-up companies, but included university perspectives such as those provided by a former university president and a sitting university provost, and several faculty and deans from Notre Dame who met with the group. Consistent with the recommendations of the committee, Tom Burish has reallocated resources within the Provost’s Office to create a new position for an associate provost and vice president for innovation. A largely faculty search committee is now evaluating candidates for the position. The committee also recommended transforming our intellectual property and technology transfer programs through a complete restructuring of our current programs into what it referred to as the IDEA Center, an acronym that stands for Innovation, Discovery, and Enterprise Acceleration. We will begin to implement this recommendation this year. The IDEA Center will report to the new associate provost and vice president for innovation. It will be housed in a new building at Innovation Park, Thomas H. and Diane G. Quinn Hall. The current Innovation Park building has been at capacity since 2012. The new building will also include the type of prototyping and fabrication space often referred to as “Maker Space” that will be available to our faculty and students as well as the residents of Innovation Park.

Undergraduate Education–Admissions

As I have said often, research and graduate education were the areas in which the University had the greatest opportunity to improve in the past decade, and we have devoted resources and energy to them. Yet the education of undergraduates remains the heart of the University, and we remain focused on it. 

Through the work of Don Bishop, associate vice president of undergraduate enrollment, and those in the Enrollment Division, this year’s undergraduate freshman class is once again academically the strongest in the University’s history. (This means that my class, the class of 1976, has slipped yet another notch in the talent ranking!) More than 70% of the class had a high school record, or standardized test score, or both, in the top 1% of the nation. Forty-five percent were the captains of varsity sports teams. Fifty percent were in musical, theatrical, or dance performances. They hold citizenship in 46 different countries and are fluent in 35 different languages. And they are the most diverse class in Notre Dame’s history. About 10% of the class are first generation students, a record in recent times. International students and students of color make up approximately 32% of the class. This year sets an all-time record for African American students at 7.2%.

Core Curriculum Review Committee

The Core Curriculum Review Committee recently distributed its final report, and I want to thank co-chairs Dean John McGreevy and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Michael Hildreth and the whole committee for their hard work. The report is the result of extensive consultation with students and faculty and long deliberation and discussion by the committee, and it proposes the most significant revision of our core curriculum in fifty years. In the coming semester, its proposals will be presented to each college council or equivalent body, the Faculty Senate and the Academic Council. If approved by the Council, it will come to me for final approval. 

Ad Hoc Committee on Teaching Effectiveness

We certainly have talented students, and we must be committed to being the most effective teachers we can be. Our commitment to excellence in research must never be a reason for compromising our commitment to excellence in teaching our students. 

It is key, then, that we fairly evaluate and recognize a faculty member’s work as a teacher. We now have several years’ experience with both the CIFs and the ACPET Guidelines, and Tom Burish appointed a faculty committee last fall to conduct a careful and comprehensive review of them as well as all other methods we currently use to gather student feedback and evaluate teaching within and outside of the classroom.

Over the course of the past academic year, the committee surveyed faculty and department chairpersons about the administration and evaluation of CIF reports, examined our current practices for peer review, analyzed our institutional data on student feedback, and studied extensive literature on best practices for fair and constructive evaluation of teaching and learning. The committee expects to release its recommendations this year. I thank the committee for their work on this topic that is so important for us. 

Student Life—Residence Halls

The construction of men’s and women’s residence halls, Dunne and Flaherty Halls, has added to the number of welcoming dorms conducive to building student communities on campus and allowed us to reduce the overcrowding in other halls. We are grateful to the generous benefactors who have made these halls possible.

“When we ask seniors to name the factors that contributed to this sense of community on campus, they identify residence hall life as the most important.”

Residence hall life, we believe, is critical to creating the kind of community that is an essential part of a Notre Dame education. In our senior survey, which all seniors must complete, 93% express satisfaction with the sense of community on campus, compared with 74% at peer institutions. When we ask seniors to name the factors that contributed to this sense of community on campus, they identify residence hall life as the most important. 

With a proliferation of apartment complexes near campus, a growing number of seniors and some juniors are moving off campus. In recent months, we have been conducting focus groups with students who have stayed on campus and those who have moved off. Our purpose is to understand the preferences of our students and to take any steps necessary to ensure that the sense of community engendered by our residence halls remains strong at Notre Dame. 

Graduate School

Graduate admissions are handled by departments, and so I cannot report on general admission numbers, but our graduate students have had great success. They received $2.4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and twenty-six of our graduate students will travel on Fulbright grants in 2016-17. 

Vice President and Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Laura Carlson and her office have supported our graduate students in many ways. Last month, for example, 300 graduate students joined Laura to sample restaurants in downtown South Bend, meet the Mayor, and otherwise get to know and feel more at home in our local community. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion also arises from our aspirations about the community we want to be, the educational environment we hope to provide our students and the moral character they will develop during their time with us. It goes to the heart of our mission, to who we are and to what we want to be.

We must acknowledge the sometimes disheartening context for our efforts in our nation and our world. We have seen massively lethal terrorist attacks by ISIS and its sympathizers on ordinary, innocent people simply going about the business of their daily lives – from the mass shootings of club patrons in Orlando to the brutal, ritualistic murder – on the altar – of an 84-year old priest saying Mass in Normandy. And, in response, we have seen the wholesale condemnation of Muslims, singled out to be barred from entering our country. An understandable anxiety among those who suffer the disruption of globalization and do not enjoy its benefits has found expression in nativist remarks about immigrants and members of some national groups. We have seen a chilling series of videos of violence by police toward African American citizens, followed by the cold-blooded shooting of police officers simply doing their job in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and earlier, in New York. We have been numbed by the dreary series of mass killings, often carried out by unstable people who have some grievance against one or another group. 

Against this background, we may be tempted to discouragement, or at least to a complacent acceptance of dark tendencies, perennial in human history, toward fear, hatred and violence—and of the tendency of leaders to exploit such forces. Yet we must not succumb to such temptations. We must strive to make this community something better, and to call our students to something better—both while they are with us and after we send them forth.

Such aspirations were behind the creation of the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion three years ago. Building on decades of efforts by my predecessors, the committee brings together those who work in student life, the academy and with our staff. Its role is not to initiate or manage efforts in particular areas, but to see that initiatives are underway and progress is being made. The focus is on the practical tasks of identifying areas for improvement, setting achievable and measurable goals and monitoring progress.

I am pleased with the progress that has been made by dedicated individuals and teams at Notre Dame. For the purposes of this talk and in the interest of time, I will focus on initiatives for faculty and students; there are, of course, also many initiatives underway with respect to staff. I encourage you to visit our website,, to learn more about staff initiatives. There you will also find more information for faculty and students as well.

With regard to students, the Division of Student Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Erin Harding, has done extensive work in tracking student perceptions through climate surveys and focus groups. Based on what they learned, they have formulated twenty-one specific action steps. Last year, they undertook a major redesign of first year orientation to ensure that students’ initial experience of campus reflects a genuine spirit of welcome and inclusion for all. In addition, through a major gift from a generous benefactor, we created the Fighting Irish Initiative, which puts in place infrastructure and programs to enhance support for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

With regard to faculty, the results of the Faculty Experience survey, further explored through a series of focus groups and listening sessions, have been very helpful. A number of academic leaders, including deans and department chairs, have participated in diversity training. Pamela Nolan Young, recently recruited for a new position as director of academic diversity and inclusion, will assist in the implementation and coordination of various initiatives. Among the possible new initiatives, we are thinking very concretely about how we can create structures that will support faculty during key pivot points in their lives.

Last fall, each dean prepared a diversity strategic plan for their college or school. Like many institutions, we are committed to hiring faculty from underrepresented groups and to the hiring and support of female faculty. The plan of each dean reflects that commitment at Notre Dame. We recognize, however, that in some fields minority groups are not well represented and in all fields, with similar commitments from many other institutions, competition will be intense for qualified candidates. Yet Tom Burish, along with the deans, have made such hiring a priority and I am confident we will be successful, even if progress will be gradual.

After successful events last year, we have begun work on this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and our Walk the Walk Week. I thank you for your flexibility and support last year as we cancelled classes at mid-day to allow time for people to pause from regular activities to be part of the commemoration. More information about this year’s commemoration will be forthcoming. We hope to build on the positive momentum of last year.

On college campuses across the country and in society in general, discussions of diversity and inclusion are prominent and often contentious. In such exchanges, the rationale for fostering diversity often seems vague, with a shifting focus as the public’s attention turns to one or another set of concerns. At times, it seems that diversity and tolerance for various forms of identity and self-expression are the only absolute, while we are encouraged to maintain moral neutrality on nearly everything else. Our rationale at Notre Dame must be different and can be, I believe, more deeply embedded in our mission. As a Catholic institution, our commitment finds a firmer foundation in several pivotal principles of a rich social teaching.

We affirm, first of all, the transcendent dignity and worth of every human person, from conception to natural death, regardless of race, nationality or ethnic group, religious tradition, gender, socio-economic class, immigration status, sexual orientation or anything else. There is not a more fundamental or consequential principle than this one.

Secondly, we believe that human beings are inescapably social, and the flourishing of each individual is possible only in a social context in which we each have responsibilities to others and others have reciprocal responsibilities to us. Together we strive to realize the common good—a term that refers to the complex and varied set of conditions that enable any sort of community and its members to flourish individually and collectively. Joined together in our various communities, we each contribute to and benefit from the realization of this common good.

Third, we are called to live in solidarity with all people, which arises from recognizing that the well-being of each person is a concern for us all, whether or not they have a particular claim of justice on us. We are all, in one way or another, our sister’s and brother’s keeper. Solidarity demands that we strive to overcome fragmentation and separation to see the deeper unity we share with all people.

“Indeed, the call is not simply to tolerate diversity, but to embrace sisters and brothers and to strive to build, however imperfectly, a community of love.”

It is in the context of these guiding principles that we see the diverse gifts and backgrounds of people as enriching, not dividing. They call us to join together to build a community in which all are included and respected, and each of us contributes to the common good. Indeed, the call is not simply to tolerate diversity, but to embrace sisters and brothers and to strive to build, however imperfectly, a community of love. Such a vision is, in the end, the most powerful justification of and motivation for diversity and inclusion that I can imagine. It animates our efforts at Notre Dame.


Near the end of the last academic year, I received the recommendations of the Executive Vice President’s Committee to Create a Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy. I want to thank the members of the committee for an excellent report and a comprehensive, ambitious and yet realistic set of recommendations for Notre Dame. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of John Affleck-Graves, who formed and convened the committee. I urge you to read the report, which can be found on It addresses the many aspects of sustainability—energy and emissions, water use, building and construction, waste and recycling, procurement, licensing and food sourcing and education research and community outreach. The strategy does all this while recognizing economic constraints and the centrality of our work as educators and researchers, and it is grounded in the key principles of Catholic teaching.

The convening of this committee is part of Notre Dame’s effort to respond to Pope Francis’ prophetic and powerful encyclical, Laudato Si’. With gratitude to the committee and to all in our University community who have been so dedicated to addressing these critical issues, I today announce publicly that we will accept the recommendations of the committee and that Notre Dame will begin implementing the five-year plan of action that the committee recommends. 

A standing committee will be established and will meet at least once a year to review our progress on goals and consider additional steps.

Our strategy does not include a divestment by our endowment of companies that extract and sell fossil fuels, as some within and outside our campus community have urged. I understand the principled commitment and sense of urgency from which the call for divestment arises, but I do not agree with this course of action. The withdrawal of the small portion of our endowment funds that are invested in such companies—roughly 4%—would have negligible if any practical impact on these companies. More relevant, though, is that nearly all acknowledge that there is no practical plan by which we could cease using fossil fuels in the immediate future and continue the work of the University. It seems to me at least a practical inconsistency to attempt to stigmatize an industry—as proponents of divestment hope—from which, we admit, we must purchase their product to do our work. 

“… we will continue to move to more sustainable sources of energy. Notre Dame will cease burning coal altogether in four years.”

Our time, energy and resources are better directed elsewhere. First, we must as an institution strive to be better at conservation and work to inculcate in our students and every member of the community habits of conservation. There is more the University as a whole and each of us can do in this regard. Second, we will continue to move to more sustainable sources of energy. Notre Dame will cease burning coal altogether in four years. Geothermal fields are being installed in several places on campus. We are also making plans for expanded solar power, and we are working with the City of South Bend to use hydroelectric power from the South Bend dam of the St. Joseph River. Thirdly, we must continue to educate our students and ourselves about environmental matters and sustainability practices and develop individual and collective habits that sustain the environment. Finally, we will work to direct our most powerful resource, the excellent research work of you, our faculty, across the disciplines, to the many dimensions of this challenge to our common home. If Notre Dame has any lasting contribution to make in this area, I believe it will be through our central work of education and research. 


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.