Provost ready for challenge

by Margaret Fosmoe

Burish drawn to Notre Dame job by mission, Catholic character.

SOUTH BEND — Thomas G. Burish believes that the University of Notre Dame can build its reputation as a Catholic graduate and research institution, and maintain its excellence in teaching.

“Becoming a greater research institution should not and need not interfere with its teaching mission. If it did, it seems to me that it would be too great a price to pay,” said Burish, who will become Notre Dame’s next provost.

“I think it can be done, and at the same time retain the strength of its Catholic character and mission,” he said during an interview Saturday in South Bend.

Burish, 55, is leaving the presidency of Washington and Lee University to take Notre Dame’s second-highest ranking administrative job. He previously served as provost at Vanderbilt University for 10 years. He also has credentials as a professor and researcher in clinical psychology.

Burish didn’t initially apply for the Notre Dame provost’s job.

When he became president at Washington and Lee in 2002, he thought he’d finish his career there. He never imagined he’d return to Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1972.

Burish and his wife, Pamela, have two sons. The couple visited Notre Dame in recent years while their younger son, Brent, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees here.

While attending his son’s commencement here in May, Burish was approached by the Rev. John I. Jenkins, who became Notre Dame’s president July 1.

“I have great admiration for Father Jenkins and I have a great sense of excitement about his vision for the university and for its future,” Burish said. He expects to begin here in late August or early September.

Burish grew up in Wisconsin in a strong Catholic family. He attended a small Catholic college in his home state as a freshman, then transferred to Notre Dame as a sophomore. He was drawn to Notre Dame by its academic reputation and its Catholic nature.

Burish became interested in psychology during college.

As an undergraduate, he did research on mental retardation with two psychology professors, Thomas Whitman and John Borkowski, both of whom are still on the faculty. The project led to publication of an article, with Burish listed as a co-author.

That research, which involved working with children at Logan Center, convinced Burish to pursue an academic career.

“He was an exceptional student,” Whitman recalled. “He was not only bright, but extremely curious and extremely interested in psychology. And dedicated to doing good work.”

Burish’s first task will involve getting caught up on how Notre Dame has changed and grown.

He sees the primary job of the provost as creating a setting in which faculty can excel. “Ultimately, no university can be better than its faculty,” he said.

Burish has long been active in cancer research and policy. He got started while at Vanderbilt when a colleague asked him to study the impact of stress on cancer patients.

He’s currently chair of the American Cancer Society’s national board of directors.

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