Update for faculty on COVID-19 issues

April 22, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

As we approach the end of what has been the most unusual semester in my experience, I want to thank you for your remarkable pivot to online instruction for the second half of the semester. Although I’m sure I do not know most of what you have done, the stories I have heard of your hard work and tremendous creativity in offering the best instruction possible, despite the constraints of the online platform, are inspiring. Many have commented on the genuine sense of solidarity you have shown as scholars and educators to continue your work under these unprecedented conditions.

I write today to inform you about three topics: planning for summer session and fall semester; Commencement; and our recognition of Tom Burish as he steps down after 15 years as our Provost.

Summer and Fall Plans

As Tom Burish informed you in an April 7 letter, there will be no summer on-campus courses, conferences, programs or camps until at least July 6. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and make a decision regarding the second half of the summer by May 15.

We are also engaged in discussions about the fall semester, and several committees are at work on various aspects of planning. Our goal is, of course, to hold classes on campus in the fall, if health and safety guidelines permit. We recognize the challenges this presents, and we are planning for contingencies. Marie Lynn Miranda, our Provost-elect, has been involved in those discussions, and I’ve asked Tom and Marie Lynn to work with me on a communication to go out soon on planning for the fall. Although we will not be able at that time to communicate definite decisions, we can let you know about the considerations guiding our thinking.


We recently sent a letter to our 2020 graduates that we will have an online Degree Conferral Ceremony on Sunday, May 17, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. EDT. We have been in discussion with members of the graduating class, and they asked that we keep the online conferral dignified but simple, without the speeches Commencement usually involves. The centerpiece of the ceremony will be the conferral of degrees on our graduates by me, as President, upon the recommendation of their respective Deans.

We are planning to welcome the 2020 graduates back to campus on Memorial Day weekend of 2021 to honor them properly with a continuation of the Commencement celebration—a traditional ceremony in Notre Dame Stadium, a Commencement Mass and other events that mark this important occasion in their lives and in the life of the University.

The diploma we will confer is the fruit of the instruction you have given our students. I hope—and I’m certain our graduates hope—that you will join us virtually for the May 17, 2020, online conferral and the on-campus continuation of Commencement on Memorial Day weekend, 2021.

Tom Burish

Just as we are unable to gather in person for Commencement this spring, we are also unable to host our traditional President’s Dinner for Faculty at the end of the academic year. The absence of these gatherings is particularly sad this year, for we had intended to recognize and thank Tom Burish at these events as he steps down after 15 years of truly distinguished service as our Provost. We had planned to award Tom an honorary degree at our Commencement on May 17, 2020, and to celebrate his service at our Faculty Dinner. We are all about contingency planning these days, and we are making alternative plans to honor Tom.

When we gather the Class of 2020 on the Memorial Day weekend of 2021, Tom will emcee that Commencement celebration for the last class of his Provostship and, with them and you, our faculty, we will award Tom an honorary Notre Dame degree.

Among Tom’s many contributions has been his effort to cultivate the next generation of leaders in the academy. In 2011, Tom created ND Lead, a program to develop value-based future leaders who will serve the mission of Notre Dame. It has been effective in developing these leaders, and it will continue to be. Henceforth, that program will bear Tom’s name as the Thomas Burish ND Lead Program.

Tom’s leadership has also been pivotal in making Notre Dame more preeminent as a research university. As I said in my 2019 faculty address, in the opinion of leaders in higher education across the nation, no other highly ranked research university has improved more dramatically than the University of Notre Dame during Tom’s provostship. To honor Tom’s legacy and continue his work, we will create a discretionary fund in his name to be used by future Provosts to enhance research at Notre Dame. With the current financial crisis, that fund may start smaller and grow more slowly, but it will be there as a permanent source of research funding at the University bearing Tom’s name.

As many of you know, Tom’s wife Pam has been an instructor in our Alliance for Catholic Education program, an invaluable ambassador for Notre Dame in many settings and a good friend to many of us. When public health considerations allow, we will host a campus reception for Tom and Pam—we hope—in the fall semester. We will announce the details of this reception when we have a definite date.

As I have said before, no day in my presidency has been more significant than the day that Tom Burish agreed to serve as Provost at Notre Dame. He brought experience, a devotion to our Catholic mission and a commitment to the highest standards in research and teaching. He combined ambition for the institution with personal humility, exacting standards with a real sense of fairness and compassion. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work alongside him.

I hope you can join us when we celebrate Tom publicly at the reception in the fall and at our convocation on Memorial Day weekend 2021. In the meantime, I invite you to express your personal appreciation directly. Although Tom tends to deflect public praise, I am sure he would value appreciative notes from his colleagues.

As always, know of my prayers for you and your loved ones.

In Notre Dame,

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