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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Jenkins addresses campus issues, policies in annual address to faculty

University President Fr. John Jenkins discussed Notre Dame’s contraception policy, the new housing requirements, the University’s sexual assault policies and other campus issues in his annual address to the faculty senate Tuesday.

Jenkins addressed a recently settled lawsuit involving the University and the Department of Health and Human Services regarding insurance coverage for contraceptives that came about as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The act required organizations to provide contraception as part of insurance plans, and while certain religious institutions were exempted, universities were not.

“This policy, which departed from a long tradition of federal law, was the result not of legislative process but administrative decree,” Jenkins said. “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, Jenkins said.

After a legal back and forth, a settlement was reached with the Department of Justice, a result Jenkins said the University “welcomed.”

“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,” Jenkins said. “Our interest, rather, has been to avoid being compelled by the federal government to be the agent in their provision.”

Employees will receive “contraceptive services” directly from insurance providers Meritain and Optum without the University’s involvement, Jenkins said.

During the address, Jenkins also gave an overview of the new undergraduate housing policy. He showcased the results of a survey given to graduating seniors about their Notre Dame experience. The school received high marks for its sense of community, and the “most highly rated” factor behind this sense of community was residence hall life. Though overcrowding has become an issue in recent years, the construction of Dunne and Flaherty helped relieve that problem, he said.

“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,” Jenkins said. “Due to the moves off campus and study abroad, on average, 64 percent of the students living in our traditional halls are first-years and sophomores.”

The problem with this trend is fourfold, Jenkins said. First, it means that upperclassmen do not have leadership opportunities in their dorms. Second, living off campus gives students fewer safety nets. Third, moving off campus segregates students. Fourth, students who leave campus are less likely to be intellectually or socially engaged with the community.

There are two main components of the new residency policy, Jenkins added. Students will have to live on campus for their first six semesters and the school will present incentives for seniors to stay in the dorms.

“We will offer a collection of incentives to keep seniors in the residence halls,” Jenkins said. “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.”

Jenkins also answered questions from the audience, covering topics such as Notre Dame’s sexual assault policy, the decision to close University Village and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

One audience member asked if the University will continue to follow the “preponderance of evidence” standard in finding responsibility for sexual assault, even though the Department of Education recently released guidelines calling for a higher standard of evidence. The audience member also asked if waivers will be granted allowing survivors of sexual assault to opt out of the required six semesters on campus.

“I think the answer to the first one … is yes. And the second is I think we’re developing those waivers and certainly that’s critical,” Jenkins said.

Multiple questions focused on the University’s decision to close University Village, which currently houses graduate students and married undergraduates. Audience members raised concerns primarily about the lost sense of community. Jenkins said the facility serves a relatively small population and is so dilapidated that it would have cost tens of millions of dollars to repair. He said there are facilities off campus that house large numbers of graduate students that the administration believes can meet students’ community needs.

The final question related to what actions the University has taken since the Trump administration announced it was ending the DACA program and what will be done to protect DACA students.

“These students are so talented and so wonderful and add so much to this country, so I feel strongly about it,” Jenkins said. “I don’t need to tell you the politics in this country are really pretty crazy. I would say a few weeks ago I felt very optimistic. Speaker [Paul] Ryan was here and I mentioned this to him and he said, ‘We’re going to get something done.’”

Jenkins said he has also discussed his concerns with Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indianna.

“Since that time — and I talked to Senator Donnelly as well — as you may know, President Trump has put certain conditions on, after there were indications that he wouldn’t, legislation that would achieve that goal. Is that political posturing? I have no idea,” he said. “Your guess is as good as mine. So I was very optimistic from both the Republican and Democratic side that something would get done. But I think since then the situation has changed. As I’m sure you know from reading the paper, it’s all tax reform all the time right now. So I don’t expect anything to be done soon, but I am hopeful.”

Notre Dame’s process of “internationalization” has been “one of the most significant accomplishments of the past decade,” Jenkins said. He noted that former White House chiefs of staff Andrew Card and Denis McDonough have visited campus recently, and he spoke of his visit to Brazil to award the Notre Dame Award to Sergio Moro. Moro has been a leader of “Operation Carwash,” an anti-corruption probe that has brought down leaders of Brazil’s political and business classes. Jenkins said Moro’s bravery in prosecuting the crimes was one of the reasons he was invited to be the Commencement speaker this spring.

“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,” Jenkins said.

In keeping with the international theme, Jenkins called attention to the recent opening of the Keough School of Global Affairs, saying that its first class represents a “talented and internationally diverse” group of masters students. He also noted the establishment of the Ansari Institute, which will focus on relations between different faith traditions.

Jenkins also listed the new University facilities that have opened in the past year: Nanovic Hall, Jenkins Hall, Corbett Family Hall, Duncan Student Center and O’Neill Hall.

“These new facilities have been built to last for centuries by skilled laborers from this region and neighboring states,” Jenkins said. “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.”

After a brief discussion of commercialization and innovation at the University, Jenkins discussed the school’s finances.

“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,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said much of the University’s spending is funded by the endowment, which means the school can implement new programs without raising tuition. However, it also means that market trends can affect the school’s budget.

“Though we have had a number of years of strong markets, our endowment spending remains at the top of the acceptable range,” Jenkins said. “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.”

Jenkins said he was concerned with a provision of the recently released Republican tax plan that would levy a tax of 1.4 percent “on investment income of private colleges and universities with endowments reaching a certain threshold.”

In September, Jenkins attended an event in Chicago where retired Notre Dame professor emeritus Alvin Plantinga was honored with the “prestigious” Templeton Prize. Jenkins said Plantinga was an example of the “significant work” Notre Dame faculty are a part of.

The president commended faculty for the fact that research funding in the 2017 fiscal year has nearly doubled from $74 million ten years ago to $138 million today, thanks to “strategic research investments.” This result was achieved despite more stringent government policies regarding university research funding, Jenkins said.

Jenkins also talked about recent and upcoming Notre Dame events that will aim to foster religious dialogue. These events include a conference at Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway and a recent prayer service involving clergy from different denominations.

“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,” Jenkins said.

During the address, Jenkins also described his involvement with beginning of the year activities to honor the University‘s 175th anniversary. Though he described anniversaries as “somewhat artificial temporal mileposts,” Jenkins said they offer opportunities for reflection.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Jenkins closed his speech by thanking the faculty for their work.

“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,” Jenkins said.