University’s president-elect believes all of his objectives are within reach p.
SOUTH BEND — As president-elect of the University of Notre Dame, the Rev. John I. Jenkins has a threefold vision for the future.
His plans for Notre Dame include maintaining its traditional excellence in undergraduate teaching, improving it as a key research and graduate institution, and maintaining the university’s Catholic identity.
“I really want to retain those three points and enhance each one of them, without sacrificing the others,” Jenkins said Friday.
The priest believes firmly that the goals are simultaneously attainable.
“We are the most prominent institution that tries to retain its religious character — Catholic character — while being a distinguished university,” he said. “That’s not easy, but I think it makes us much more interesting. And I think that is the calling of this institution.”
Jenkins, 50, in late April was elected Notre Dame’s next president by the university’s board of trustees.
He will become the 17th president in June 2005, when the Rev. Edward A. Malloy steps down after 18 years in the job.
Jenkins said Notre Dame can maintain its teaching strength while growing as a graduate and research institution.
“A university doesn’t have a responsibility only to its students but also to the wider culture, to enter into debates about science, ethical values, religious questions and cultural questions,” he said.
“Unless Notre Dame is doing high-level work in those areas, it will not contribute to those debates,” Jenkins said. “And I think society would lose an extremely important voice in those debates.”
Jenkins felt his calling to the priesthood in his early 20s and was ordained a Holy Cross priest in 1983. Being a priest is the central focus of his life.
“I do see my life as flowing out of that vocation,” he said.
Jenkins, a faculty member and former vice president and associate provost, is settling into a new office on the third floor of the Main Building. He’ll occupy that office for the next 13 months, until he becomes president.
The board of trustees gave Jenkins specific responsibilities as president-elect, including some budget matters and working with the development office on a new capital campaign.
He’ll be working closely during the next year with Malloy and with John Affleck-Graves, the newly named executive vice president.
Jenkins also is making travel plans. Although he won’t reveal specific names, he’ll be visiting presidents of some other major universities and key members of the Catholic Church in the United States.
The president-elect is a respected scholar and author of the 1997 book “Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas.”
Jenkins earned bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy at Notre Dame in 1976 and 1978. He later earned a master of divinity degree and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, Calif., and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oxford University.
Jenkins specializes in ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy and the philosophy of religion.
Jenkins is a “genuine Catholic intellectual,” said W. David Solomon, a Notre Dame philosophy professor. He taught Jenkins as both an undergraduate and graduate student and has worked with him as a faculty colleague in the philosophy department.
“He was a superb student as an undergraduate, very thoughtful from early on,” Solomon said. “He’s exactly what we look for at Notre Dame: a commitment to undergraduate teaching and scholarship at the highest level.”
Alasdair MacIntyre, another Notre Dame philosophy professor, echoed that assessment of Jenkins’ academic profile. The priest’s book was a “particularly nuanced and clear statement of themes in Aquinas’ work,” he said.
Jenkins was on sabbatical for the 2003-04 academic year, working at the University of Chicago on a planned book about St. Augustine.
The manuscript is half finished. Because of his new commitments, Jenkins said he may have to turn his work into a series of articles rather than a full book.
However, intellectual pursuits don’t occupy all of Jenkins’ time.
He’s a reader who appreciates P.D. James mystery novels in addition to philosophical works.
Jenkins stays fit by running in the warmer months and swimming in the winter. He ran his first marathon last fall in Chicago, finishing “somewhere in the middle,” he said.
He was a member of the swim team in high school and, as a Notre Dame undergraduate, was involved in intramural sports and the philosophy club.
Jenkins enjoys college athletics and attends all Notre Dame football games. He isn’t ready to provide any details about his plans for the athletics program.
“I think we have a wonderful tradition here of athletic excellence combined with a commitment to integrity, and a concern for students as students,” he said.
As president, Malloy changed the university’s management structure to have Notre Dame’s athletic director report directly to him. Jenkins declined to discuss whether he plans to keep it that way.
Jenkins’ current home is Dillon Hall, a men’s residence hall. For 2004-2005, he’ll be living in Keenan Hall, another men’s dormitory.
Jenkins plans to continue Malloy’s tradition of the university president living in a student residence hall.
“I enjoy it because it allows you to interact with the students away from your administrative duties and your teaching. It allows me to work as a priest,” he said.
Jenkins won’t be teaching a class during 2004-2005, but he hopes to teach a freshman seminar while president.
Jenkins plans to continue Notre Dame’s efforts to be involved in the community and to welcome local residents to campus. The university’s efforts include establishing the Center for the Homeless, the Robinson Community Learning Center and encouraging employees to build new homes in the northeast neighborhood.
Next fall’s opening of the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts on campus will further enhance the community, providing many opportunities for local residents to visit campus for events. “The whole area of arts and performance is going to take off,” he said.
Notre Dame students and employees will continue to reach into the community and work with its residents, he said.
“I think our advancement as a university depends upon the advancement of South Bend,” Jenkins said. “It’s critical that we develop strong, positive relationships with the South Bend community and work together to make this a wonderful place to live, so people will want to come and live here.”