Reporting Questionable Conduct

A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President, University of Notre Dame

September 2012

Dear Notre Dame Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Warmest welcome back as we begin a new year and a new semester at Notre Dame. The University has been blessed in many ways, and among its greatest blessings are you, its faculty, staff and students. May God bless all our efforts in 2012.

The Christmas break gives us all a chance to reflect on the past year, and the beginning of a new year is traditionally a time to consider how we can improve. We set high standards for ourselves at Notre Dame. We know we are not perfect, and we must continually ask how we can better live up to our ideals.

I have in recent weeks given a good deal of thought to the stories about Penn State University’s alleged failure to respond promptly to possible cases of abuse. Others in higher education also have been considering this matter, and many universities have reviewed their policies, practices and procedures in reporting and addressing conduct that is contrary to their standards. Conclusions about what in fact occurred at Penn State, of course, can only be reached confidently when various investigations currently under way are completed, and we must be careful not to judge prematurely. Yet even the possibility of serious failures gives us at Notre Dame the chance to consider what we can do to prevent similar transgressions here.

In my reflection, I cannot but connect what is alleged to have occurred at Penn State with the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Both involved the abuse of minors, and both seemed to include a failure by some to report behavior and by others in authority to respond appropriately.

At Notre Dame, we do not tolerate the abuse or exploitation of individuals, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Can we learn anything from the experiences of others to prevent such abuse or other problematic conduct occurring here? As I reflect on this question, it seems that universities and religious institutions may be particularly vulnerable to such failures. For in these cases, those who work in such respected organizations feel great esteem for and loyalty to them. Moreover, both have strong communities in which people care for others. Ironically, it is that pride and devotion that may have made otherwise good people at Penn State and in the Church reluctant to report behavior that was so dramatically at odds with their ideals, or to report people whom they respect and for whom they care.

One of Notre Dame’s most valuable assets is the remarkable loyalty and love people feel for the institution, and a mark of our community is the concern we feel for one another. I never take these characteristics of our community for granted, and am deeply grateful for them. Yet loyalty to Notre Dame and care for one another must never allow us to be reluctant to report problematic conduct, even that which, if brought to light, might be embarrassing to the institution or an individual. For it is precisely by making the appropriate people aware of them that we can address and correct whatever problems there are.

Loyalty that hides problematic conduct is a false loyalty, for it elevates reputation over reality, and esteems image over character. Though we may believe we are acting to protect the institution, in reality we do the institution and individuals far greater damage – even if the deceit is never discovered. True loyalty, by contrast, prompts us to see our faults and correct them – not deny them. And so it is important that we report promptly and fully any questionable conduct—whether they are ethical lapses, failures to adhere to university policies by faculty or staff, student honor code violations, safety concerns, criminal conduct or any other situation that needs attention.

Please see the website here to review ways in which you can report questionable conduct.

Thank you for your cooperation on these important matters. I wish you the best for the coming semester and the new year.

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