President's Annual Address to the Faculty 2017

November 17, 2017

Good evening.  Thank you for your presence here. 

I begin by thanking Ben Heller, chair of the Faculty Senate, and the Senate for inviting me to deliver this address at tonight’s meeting. I suggested to Ben that we might try this venue for the faculty address for a year, and the Senate graciously agreed to extend an invitation.

In this address, as in previous addresses, I will not attempt to discuss every topic of significance, nor even treat in great depth those I will discuss. I will highlight several topics of particular prominence at this time: the University’s 175th anniversary, new facilities, the internationalization of Notre Dame, the Keough School of Global Affairs, interreligious dialogue, on-campus residency for our undergraduates, innovation and commercialization, the financial landscape for the University and the recently settled lawsuit regarding the provision of a range of contraceptive services. There will be some time for questions after my address.

175th Anniversary

The academic year got underway for me on August 13 in Vincennes, Indiana, when I joined a group to retrace the steps of Fr. Sorin and his companions to campus. Sorin and his companions had arrived in Vincennes, the largest city in the state at the time, from France a year earlier and had spent a frustrating year looking for the opportunity to establish a university. In the fall of 1842, the Bishop of Vincennes offered Sorin 500 acres of land some 300 miles to the north, near the south bend of the St. Joseph River, on the condition that he would start a school in two years. Sorin and his companions did not hesitate. They loaded all their possessions in an oxcart and made the long trek by foot in eleven days, arriving on November 26, 1842.

Anniversaries are somewhat artificial temporal mileposts, but they provide us an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from, the progress we have made and where we are going. The re-creation of the journey of Sorin and his companions was an attempt to remind ourselves of and reflect on the vision and determination that led to the creation of Notre Dame. I do not doubt that Sorin and his companions would be impressed and perhaps amazed at how far we have come from those days when Notre Dame was simply an aspiration. We should be proud of that progress. Yet the surest way for us to fail in our time is to cease to reflect on the vision and mission that animated the founding and growth of the University, and to stop grappling with the question of what it means for us today.

I did only three days of that long journey—many did the full 300 miles. Even my brief time on the trail reminded me that one does not undertake such a journey without tremendous dedication to a goal worthy of such time and effort. You, my faculty colleagues, know that from the long and arduous work you put into your research and teaching. In that work, I sincerely believe, you continue the trek of Sorin and his companions to build Notre Dame.

I had the opportunity to reflect on the distinguished work of Notre Dame faculty when I went to Chicago on September 13 for the awarding of the prestigious Templeton Prize to Al Plantinga, a recently retired member of our philosophy department. At the ceremony, a Jewish scholar, a Muslim scholar and a Catholic Christian scholar—our own Megan Sullivan—spoke of the profound impact of Al’s work not only in philosophy, but on thought in our culture about religious belief and related issues.

I mention this recognition of Al’s work as an example of the significant work that you, our faculty, do across the disciplines. Your work deepens understanding and leads to significant discoveries, and you bring your expertise to our classrooms to train and inspire undergraduates and graduate students alike.

The quality of your work is reflected in our success in setting a new record for research funding at $138 million dollars in the 2017 fiscal year. With that record, we have doubled the $74 million we attracted only a decade ago. 

When we compare research expenditures in the years 2005 up to 2010, our growth rate was pretty much in the middle of the pack compared to AAU universities.

However, starting in 2011, when the effect of our strategic research investments started to play out—faculty and staff hired, equipment purchased and installed, proposals submitted, grants awarded and grants spent—our growth rate changed relative, and upward, compared to AAU institutions, with expenditures increasing by 90% compared to 2010.

This occurred during a time of increasing government retrenchment against university research funding. Nonetheless, each year, Notre Dame is being recognized for more ambitious and more significant research projects.

So, thank you for advancing your own scholarship, as well as Notre Dame’s reputation in these fruitful and material ways, and for engaging both undergraduate and graduate students in hands-on research. I am honored to be your companion on this continuing journey of building Notre Dame.

New Facilities

We celebrated in recent months the opening of several new facilities that will serve our mission.

Nanovic Hall

The new home to the departments of economics, political science, sociology, and their affiliated centers and programs, and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.

Jenkins Hall

I can’t say that name without a tinge of embarrassment. The home to the Keough School of Global Affairs, which will include the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Liu Institute for Asia & Asian Studies, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development and the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business.

Corbett Family Hall

The new home for the departments of anthropology and psychology, the Rex and Alice A. Martin Media Center, as well as teaching, tutoring, and research rooms.

Duncan Student Center

The Center will include student meeting rooms, lounges, dining areas, organization space, a student ballroom, the Smith Center for Recreational Sports and the Career Center.

O’Neill Hall

The new home to the department of music, the sacred music program, our music library, recital and rehearsal space, a lab for studio production, a lecture hall, classrooms and faculty offices.

These come on top of last year’s addition of McCourtney Hall, an inter-disciplinary research facility, and Dunne and Flaherty Halls, two new residence halls for our undergraduates.

These new facilities have been built to last for centuries by skilled laborers from this region and neighboring states. According to our long-standing custom, we were proud to pay these workers union wages, and we were delighted with the aid this construction gave to the local economy.

I want to commend all those from many departments who worked on the projects and made them possible. I must mention in particular John Affleck-Graves, our executive vice president and Doug Marsh, our vice president for facilities, design and operations and our University architect. With many others, they have masterfully managed and executed the largest and most complex construction undertaking in the University’s history. 

We as a University community must always remember in gratitude those benefactors whose generosity and dedication to Notre Dame made these beautiful facilities possible. Students, faculty, staff and visitors will benefit from the beautiful facilities for years to come.


As I said in my address last year, I believe that the internationalization of the University is one of the most significant accomplishments of the past decade. Progress continues under Michael Pippenger, our vice president and associate provost for internationalization, in collaboration with the colleges, the Enrollment Division, the Division of Student Affairs and many others at the University.

This year’s Notre Dame Forum, “Going Global: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization” speaks to this theme and featured a discussion with Andrew Card and Denis McDonough, chiefs of staff to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively, on how global trends shape U.S. foreign policy.

On October 2 of this year, I had the honor of traveling to São Paulo, Brazil to award the Notre Dame Award to Judge Sérgio Moro. Judge Moro courageously led an effort to expose and prosecute systematic corruption in the highest levels of Brazil’s political and business leadership. The efforts led to the imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva and brought many others among the nation’s political and business elite to justice.

The Notre Dame Award was established by my predecessor, Fr. Malloy, to recognize the University’s growing international role and honor those outside the United States who serve in exemplary ways the ideals of Notre Dame. Because Judge Moro has received many death threats, we could not publicize the event in advance due to concerns for his safety. Nevertheless, the event was well covered in the Brazilian press as part of a conference on the rule of law sponsored in part by Notre Dame Law School.

It was important that we recognized Judge Moro in his own nation, yet we thought that it would also be good for someone who fought so courageously against corruption to address our graduates at Commencement. We invited Judge Moro, he accepted, and we were able to announce recently that he will be our speaker at our 2018 Commencement

The willingness of Judge Moro to be present to receive the Notre Dame Award, to be our 2018 Commencement speaker and the international coverage these events were given speaks to the growing international reputation of Notre Dame, and the role the University can play not only in this nation, but in the wider world.

Keough School of Global Affairs

In this regard, the Keough School of Global Affairs, under the leadership of the Marilyn Keough Dean, Scott Appleby, welcomed a talented and internationally diverse first class of master’s level students. It is appropriate that the first new school at Notre Dame in nearly a century should have an international focus not only in its study but in the make-up of its student body.

Guided by a commitment to integral human development—a phrase taken from a pivotal encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum progressio—the Keough School, through research, education and partnerships, will emphasize the design and implementation of effective and ethical responses to various threats to human dignity, such as poverty, war, disease, political oppression and environmental degradation.

Although drawn from Catholic social teaching, the notion of integral human development is one that, we believe, has resonance with the other great religious traditions of the world. In this regard, we were extremely pleased to announce the establishment of the Ansari Institute, made possible through the generous benefaction of Rafat and Zoreen Ansari. The Ansari Institute will strive to engage the world’s religions in a collaborative effort to serve genuine human flourishing. It also hopes to provide a distinctive and powerful voice for leaders in media, government and civil society to counter what one prominent figure has called the “secular myopia” among elites in these areas.

Interreligious Dialogue

The work of the Keough School, the Ansari Institute and many other parts of the University will help us promote interreligious dialogue and understanding in a fractured world in which religious faith is often invoked to deepen divisions. Guided by the call of the Second Vatican Council and the inspiring voice of Pope Francis, Notre Dame is compelled by its commitment to a distinctive Catholic mission to foster such dialogue. The Keough School will encourage interreligious collaboration in addressing the world’s great challenges.

As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we recognize Notre Dame’s long tradition in fostering ecumenical dialogue between divided Christian churches through our Tantur Ecumenical Institute. To enhance this work, we recently appointed Fr. Brian Daley, S.J., the Catherine F. Husking Professor of Theology, to serve as our Senior Ecumenical Fellow and help us foster ecumenical work on campus and at Tantur. In March, members of our theology department will join with faculty at the University of Heidelberg to host the final of four conferences devoted to the Reformation and subsequent consequences. At our Commencement Exercises last May, we gave an honorary degree to Rev. Martin Junge, General Secretary of the World Lutheran Federation, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Since his visit, we have continued conversations with Rev. Junge and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in Rome, and plans are underway for a conference at Notre Dame on the ecclesial implications of a pivotal agreement among Christian churches, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Differences about this doctrine were central to the divisions of the churches in the Reformation, and the recent agreement sets the stage for further steps toward unity. Notre Dame is proud to play a role in these discussions. 

In January of 2018 at our Rome Global Gateway, members of our theology department will host a conference titled, “The Whole is Greater Than Its Parts: Christian Unity and Interreligious Encounter Today”. It will strive to bring together dialogue among various Christian traditions with dialogue among the world’s great religions, and will draw on experiences of communities of faith from around the world.

Finally, last Sunday I welcomed leaders of various Christian denominations to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus for a Common Prayer of Reconciliation and Remembrance. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America delivered the homily, and she was joined by Rt. Rev. Douglas Sparks of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, Dr. Charles Wiley of the Presbyterian Church and Bishop Dennis Madden of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and past chairman of the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Notre Dame is unapologetically a Catholic institution, and one committed to facilitating dialogue, deeper understanding and greater collaboration among religious groups. We are in a position to make an important contribution in this area, so badly needed in our world today.

On-Campus Residency

In September, we announced to our students a plan to encourage and enhance on-campus residency. These plans have been a subject of discussion for several years among members of my leadership team, the deans and the Board of Trustees, and I want to review with you our rationale for them.

From Notre Dame’s earliest days, on-campus residential life has been a critical component of undergraduate life. Sorin Hall, one of the University’s oldest buildings, was a novelty at the time in that it was a student residence with private sleeping and study space at a time when the standard was a large dormitory room with many beds. The construction reflected a commitment to make residential life not simply the provision of functional space for sleeping and eating, but the creation of a community where a student could develop intellectually, physically and spiritually.

Since the late 1960’s, the University has adopted a model of mixed class, single sex dorms, which enabled upper class women and men to interact with and provide example and leadership for younger students.

These halls have contributed significantly to undergraduate life. Each year, every graduating senior is required to take a survey about their experience at Notre Dame, and we are able to compare our results with those of the nation’s other elite, private universities. As  you can see from this chart, we compare favorably on a range of questions. However, on one question we dramatically exceed the results at these other institutions: the sense of community on campus. When we ask our students what creates the sense of community on campus, they identify several factors, but the most highly rated one is our residence halls. 

We believe this sense of community is important to the personal growth of our students, which is a central feature of the education we strive to offer our undergraduates. Because it is so important, Erin Harding, our vice president for student affairs, and her team have worked with others to strengthen our residence hall life. One problem we had was overcrowding, which forced us to cannibalize social and study hall space and undermined the capacity of these buildings to be the home they should be for our students. In the fall of 2016, we were able to add two new dorms, Dunne Hall for men and Flaherty Hall for women, which allowed us to eliminate the overcrowding problem.

In addition, we have established a schedule for the renovation of our residence halls, which will bring to older and newer dorms comparable physical conditions, social space, study space and normalized room configurations.

Having taken these steps, we turned our attention to a concerning trend for upper class women and men, and particularly seniors, to move off campus. The graph tells the story of that trend. Due to the moves off campus and study abroad, on average, 64% of the students living in our halls are first-years and sophomores. 

So why do we care about this trend? First, as I said, with lower numbers of juniors and seniors in the halls, there is less opportunity for them to provide leadership and example to less mature students. Secondly, students living off campus have fewer University safety nets, such as peer and staff support in times of crisis, whether physical or emotional. Thirdly, the move off campus tends to segregate our students. Whereas wealthier students, students in a number of varsity sports and business students are more likely to move off and live together, U.S. minorities, first generation students, women, architecture and engineering students are more likely to stay on. Fourth and finally, students living off-campus are less involved in the intellectual and social life of campus. Off-campus students are less likely to spend time on student clubs and activities, participate in a professor’s research, and study and discuss course content outside of class. They are more likely to miss class and have a higher rate of drinking.

Both David Bailey, our vice president for strategic planning and institutional research, and the Division of Student Affairs analyzed surveys, met with student focus groups and consulted various student groups to understand better what leads students to decide to move off campus and how we might attract them to stay on campus. In addition, we surveyed parents and benchmarked peer institutions. Based on this work, Erin Harding and the Student Affairs team formulated a comprehensive strategy to encourage students to stay in our residence halls and enhance the student life in those halls.

We announced to our undergraduates recently a suite of initiatives:

  • We will offer a collection of incentives to keep seniors in the residence halls.  Among these are flexible dining hall plans, financial incentives for students who commit early to staying on campus in their senior year, and new roles with modest financial remuneration for seniors to provide leadership in the residence halls.

  • We will establish a six semester (or three-year) on-campus residency requirement, up from our current one-year requirement. The requirement is comparable to peers such as Duke, Georgetown and Brown and less than Vanderbilt, which has a four-year requirement. Because 98% of our sophomores and 85%-90% of our juniors live on campus, it will affect a limited number of students. We plan to begin this with the undergraduates who will matriculate next fall, in 2018.

In addition to these initiatives, we plan to establish a list of off-campus residential facilities that we recommend. This will be a helpful guide to seniors who do move off, but also to our professional and graduate students, to enable them to identify facilities that are safe and of good quality.

In order to implement these plans, we will need to construct two new dorms in coming years to house these students. We are working to identify funding for these new facilities.

Innovation and Commercialization

Last year, I explained how Notre Dame was going to develop the capacity to commercialize the very best discoveries from all of our colleges' and centers' superb research. To this end, I am happy to report that during this last year, we have successfully acted on many of the recommendations of the report commissioned by Provost Tom Burish. In particular, we have created the IDEA Center to house commercialization, Innovation Park, and campus-wide entrepreneurship education, and we have hired a new associate provost and vice president of innovation, Bryan Ritchie, to run this new center. Under Bryan’s leadership, we have restructured university commercialization operations to prepare new discoveries for the market, and broke ground and began construction on our second building in Innovation Park, Quinn Hall, which will be finished by January of next year.

This is just the beginning of efforts that we hope will successfully bring the discoveries of faculty to have an impact for good in the world. Whether these discoveries help treat cancer or diabetes, develop new computing technologies, or facilitate advanced manufacturing, the processes and resources at the IDEA Center will have a positive impact on the lives of individuals and society.

University Finances

Through sound financial management over the years, the tremendous generosity of benefactors and superb management of our endowment, Notre Dame is in a strong position financially. Aside from a handful of institutions that stand out from the rest in terms of financial resources, Notre Dame is one of the most financially healthy, as evidenced in our triple-A (Aaa) Moody credit rating.

The financial crisis of 2008 taught us, however, that complacency would be a mistake. One area that merits attention is our endowment.  The fact that University finances have become more dependent on endowment is a positive story for us, for the endowment allows us to maintain and even grow important programs and operations without increasing tuition. The downside is that our endowment and the operating funds we take from it are vulnerable to market downturns, which will inevitably occur.

Our policy has been to bring the spending rate from our endowment down when markets are strong and then, in the case of a downturn, to bring the spending rate up so that we can maintain a relatively steady flow of dollars in both strong and weak markets.

Though we have had a number of years of strong markets, our endowment spending remains at the top of the acceptable range. In coming years we will need to bring this spending rate down, which will require us to lower spending to a degree. Although somewhat painful in the short term, this will provide the latitude we need to maintain spending when markets turn down.

Other areas that we will continue to watch closely are the growth in the number of employees at the University and the growth in space, both of which add pressure to the University budget. The increases in both these areas are due, understandably, to the growth in important work in research, teaching and related areas, and we will continue to support this work.

We are also very concerned about the House tax plan released last week that includes a 1.4 percent tax on investment income of private colleges and universities with endowments reaching a certain threshold. Such a tax would reduce our ability to provide financial aid for poor and moderate-income students, fund programs that help the community, such as the Robinson Community Learning Center, and support research and education. This tax would not serve any educational or social mission, but would simply fill gaps created by tax cuts made elsewhere.  If passed, it will have serious repercussions for our budget.

The bill also would repeal the tax-free nature of qualified tuition reductions we offer to employees, spouses and dependents, as well as any help the University provides for those attending other institutions. Such benefits would become taxable to the employee and to the University. We are working very hard to persuade legislators to remove these parts of the bill.

Notre Dame’s financial position is strong, yet we must not be complacent in the face of some serious threats. We must work to make sure our activities are sustainable and that we maintain the financial health of Notre Dame, something that has been one of the hallmarks of the University.

HHS Litigation

Let me turn briefly to the recent settlement of a lawsuit involving the University against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regarding the provision of contraceptive drugs and services.

In 2012, as part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government through its Department of Health and Human Services adopted a rule obliging organizations to provide contraceptive drugs and procedures in their health care plans. While certain religious institutions, such as parishes, were exempt, charitable organizations, hospitals, schools and universities were not. This policy, which departed from a long tradition of federal law, was the result not of legislative process but administrative decree. We found it gravely concerning, for if the government can decide unilaterally which religious organizations, to what extent and on what issues can claim exception on the basis of their religious teaching, then they have lost any meaningful religious freedom in the face of the imposition of governmental power.

It was to defend this principle of religious freedom that Notre Dame joined other institutions in a lawsuit. While other institutions were successful in staying implementation of the rule, the University was not. When a federal district court decided that the University should comply with the rule, we did so, sending out a notice to employees and doing what was required as various accommodations were developed to provide the services in question through our insurance providers, Meritain and Optum.

The various cases from the appellate courts were consolidated in a case called Zubik v. Burwell in an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court encouraged the parties to resolve differences as it remanded cases back to the United States Courts of Appeals. A settlement was recently reached with the U.S. Department of Justice and more than 70 religious entities and dioceses. We welcomed this result, for it gives the University the freedom to make decisions in accord with its principles free from government interference.

As I have said from the start, the University’s interest has never been in preventing access to those who make conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. Our interest, rather, has been to avoid being compelled by the federal government to be the agent in their provision. I understand very well the controversial nature of the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraceptives, and I understand that both those who are not and even many who are Catholic conscientiously disagree with it. However, with ever greater government pressures and an environment ever less hospitable to religious institutions, if Notre Dame does not strongly assert its right to follow Catholic teachings free from government dictates, it could lose its ability to assert those rights in matters that are far more grave from a Catholic perspective.

Our Human Resources staff learned, as was recently announced, that contraceptive services will continue to be provided directly to employees through Meritain and Optum. This will allow employees who choose to do so to acquire contraceptives directly through these insurance providers, without the University’s direct  involvement. The University will not interfere with this practice. 

Of my many responsibilities as President of this institution, I take none more seriously than the maintenance of its distinctive Catholic mission, and I find none more challenging. While upholding that mission, we strive to be a welcoming place for those of other faiths and other perspectives. We recognize that there are points of tension, and I am grateful for your patience on this difficult issue and for your commitment to this community.

There are other important issues, but due to limits of time, I will not be able to discuss them at length. I will say briefly that we continue to work on diversity and inclusion across areas of the University. We are also lobbying lawmakers to support legislation that will protect our DACA students and give them a secure future in this country. 

Notre Dame at this time celebrates so many successes and enjoys so much promise. At the same time, we recognize very real threats from various quarters. Despite these threats, I have the highest confidence in our ability to navigate them. My confidence arises above all from the University’s greatest asset, the people who make it up. 

Our students are talented young people of character, and the dedication of our staff to this institution is, I believe, unsurpassed in higher education. The reputation of this institution, and its ability to do the work of teaching and research at such a high level, is due to you, the faculty. But it is your talent, creativity, accomplishments and dedication to scholarship and teaching that are the foundation that makes this University strong enough to withstand any challenges. Thank you for providing this foundation, thank you for listening and thank you for all you do for Notre Dame.