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."
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.