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.


Create, Learn

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.