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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Jenkins discusses misconduct, cost of education, leadership changes in faculty address

University President Fr. John Jenkins discussed clergy and institutional misconduct, the cost of a Notre Dame education, new facilities on campus and changes in the University’s staff and leadership in his annual faculty address Tuesday evening in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Jenkins dedicated part of his address to the importance of reporting wrongdoings, mentioning the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse and “the finding regarding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick” as examples.

Kelli Smith | The Observer
University President Fr. John Jenkins speaks to staff and leadership at annual faculty address Tuesday evening in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center.

“Our gaze, however, must not simply be on the evil acts but on the work of attending to victims, protecting the vulnerable and healing the Church,” Jenkins said. “These will be tasks of coming months and years, and the University will look for ways to assist in these tasks.”

It is not only the Catholic Church that has had to deal with problematic behavior extending over long periods of time, Jenkins said. He cited the University of Southern California, Michigan State, Ohio State and the University of Maryland as examples of institutional misconduct.

“You only need to look at the tragic aftermath for individuals and institutions mentioned above to see why this is important at Notre Dame to report and address misconduct,” Jenkins said. “Yet the most important reason you should report is because it is the right thing to do, and that is what we do at Notre Dame. That is what we at Notre Dame should always aspire to.”

Jenkins also discussed the country’s “negative public perceptions” on higher education, criticizing Congress for taxing the endowments of certain private universities like Notre Dame.

“I agree with those who suggest the tax was politically motivated, as the Republican majority targeted a relatively small group of private institutions, mainly in Democratic states,” he said. “These institutions were viewed by some as liberal strongholds routinely critical of Republican administrations, and left-leaning on social values.”

The endowment excise tax is estimated to cost Notre Dame $8 million to $10 million annually, Jenkins said, an enactment made possible by a negative public perception of universities.

“[Higher education’s] reputation — deserved or not — for elitism, political bias, expense and even irrelevance did real damage to Notre Dame and a select group of other universities last year as the tax reform legislation unfolded,” Jenkins said. “ ... [The excise tax] succeeded only in diverting to the federal government money that would have otherwise been available for financial aid.”

To counter such perceptions, Jenkins said, a broad range of views must be expressed on campus and the case must be made for the value of a Notre Dame education.

“I am proud of the fact that while Notre Dame has hosted controversial speakers, left and right, I know of no case where someone has been prevented from speaking at the University, nor of any invitation to speak that has been withdrawn,” Jenkins said. “I hear regularly from some that Notre Dame is too liberal, and from others that it is too conservative. These are indications, I believe, that we maintain a healthy openness in the marketplace of ideas.”

Jenkins argued the current financial investment in Notre Dame “makes sense” because of the returns of such an investment, pointing to the University’s graduation rate as an example. Even so, he said the University must do all it can to keep costs down while remaining committed to excellence.

“We must make it a priority to make attendance affordable for qualified students and relieve the burdens on students and families who are making such great sacrifices to receive a Notre Dame education,” he said.

An area of concern in remaining financially sound and affordable for students is the “steady growth” of Notre Dame employees, Jenkins asserted, as their salary and benefits make up the greatest percentage of University costs at 60 percent.

Jenkins said Notre Dame’s staff is growing 16 percent faster than faculty, which can be attributed to a number of “good reasons,” such as the University’s expansions and research expenditures. Even so, he said the rate of growth must be controlled to make education accessible for students and families.

“While we understand the pressure to grow staff in various areas, the rate of growth is unsustainable and we must find ways to control it,” he said. “ ... We do not foresee layoffs. Our focus will be on restraining growth and, when possible, reallocating to the highest and best use of resources.”

Jenkins pointed out the University’s new facilities and improvements in physical space on campus, including the formation of an arts corridor at the south end of campus with the construction of the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art.

“Central to the Catholic tradition is the encounter with spiritual realities through the sensible media of color, form, sound and movement. Through the literary arts and dramatic performance; and through the built environment,” he said. “Such facilities would be welcome on any campus, but they have for us a deep and close connection with our distinctive Catholic mission.”

Along with a number of other faculty members whose positions have been filled as either a temporary or permanent fixture, University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves will be stepping down June 2019. His position will be appointed by the University’s Board of Trustees, Jenkins said, after hearing recommendations by a search committee of trustees chosen by Jack Brennan, Chairman of the Board.

“His are big shoes to fill, but we begin a search to do so,” Jenkins said of Affleck-Graves. “ ... Our goal will be to conduct the search in coming months and bring to the full Board of Trustees a recommendation early in the new year.”

In closing, Jenkins thanked faculty members for their “hard work and dedication” in building the University.

“While remaining faithful to its mission, Notre Dame has evolved dramatically over the course of its history,” he said. “That evolution continues today in many new facilities, a new school and many new programs, and in the many initiatives to which you, Notre Dame’s faculty, have contributed to making the University better and stronger.”