On Tuesday (Sept. 5), in front of a crowd of 450 faculty and academic staff members gathered in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Leighton Concert Hall, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., dedicated his annual faculty address to celebrating the University’s admission into the Association of American Universities (AAU) and marking the launch of a new strategic framework that will guide Notre Dame over the next decade.
In his opening remarks, Father Jenkins described May 25 — the day he received a call from AAU President Barbara Snyder extending an invitation to Notre Dame to join the prestigious organization — as one of the “most memorable days” in his 19-year tenure as president.
“I was as stunned as I was joyful,” Father Jenkins said.
Father Jenkins described the many practical benefits of joining the AAU, which marks Notre Dame as one of the 71 top research universities in the U.S. Those benefits include attendance at meetings with other AAU institutions and access to valuable data and studies conducted by the AAU that can help inform University decision-making.
“But aside from these practical benefits, the AAU’s invitation is a recognition by the world’s most distinguished association of research universities of the progress Notre Dame has made in recent decades,” Father Jenkins said. “Notre Dame’s academic reputation has long been associated with its superb undergraduate education, but in recent decades a great deal of time, effort and resources have gone into enhancing our research. The AAU’s invitation is a recognition of the progress we have made.”
Having just announced the University’s third straight year of more than $200 million in research funding, Father Jenkins cited this growth as a key factor in Notre Dame’s invitation to join the AAU. He thanked the faculty for their invaluable contributions to this achievement: “There is no group on whom it reflects more brilliantly than on you, the faculty of Notre Dame. You generated the ideas, you conducted the experiments, you led the research teams and you wrote the books and articles that earned this recognition. Our celebration of Notre Dame’s membership in the AAU is above all a celebration of you and your accomplishments.”
Even while celebrating the many achievements and milestones of the last 15 years, Father Jenkins cautioned against the temptation to grow complacent.
“An institution recognized for the steep upward line tracking its research will look far less impressive if the line plateaus or declines. We must sustain and even enhance the work of recent years,” he said.
Father Jenkins also noted that Notre Dame has an opportunity to make a particular contribution to the world of university research as the only explicitly religious institution in the AAU.
“Notre Dame’s distinctive mission and special contribution is to bring faith into dialogue with inquiries across the disciplines in order to engage the great questions and challenges of our time,” he stated.
Turning to “Notre Dame 2033: A Strategic Framework,” released last week, Father Jenkins noted that it “sets the course for Notre Dame’s continued progress in the next decade. We hope and believe that it will usher in a decade of progress every bit as impressive as recent decades.” He thanked the many faculty and leaders across campus who contributed to the formulation of the framework over a two-year planning process.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Father Jenkins invited John T. McGreevy, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost, to facilitate a roundtable conversation with Snyder and Peter Lange, provost emeritus and professor emeritus of political science and public policy at Duke University, about the strategic framework as well as the challenges and opportunities facing higher education. Among the topics Snyder and Lange touched on were the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion; how to build a strong faculty now and in the future; and the centrality of the University’s Catholic mission.
Regarding the newly launched strategic framework, Snyder commented, “Notre Dame had the courage to make distinctive choices. I think the candor with which you address the current state of affairs is pretty rare in a strategic framework document.”
McGreevy asked the panelists for advice on how Notre Dame can successfully implement the framework.
“It starts with being redundant,” Lange explained. “It has to be a team effort where everyone gets on board. There has to be a lot of transparency for building a shared understanding for what you’re trying to accomplish. It must be a combination of central framing, but the initiatives have to come from faculty, students and staff because that’s where the real vitality and energy come from. And lastly, there must be a strategic understanding of resources — financial, leadership, ideas and people. You have to bring it all together for the plan to succeed.”
McGreevy also asked both guests for a brief assessment of the University’s risks and opportunities.
“Complacency,” Lange said when addressing the risks. “If you just sit where you are and bask in the incredible accomplishments you’ve had, you’re actually going to go backwards. As for an opportunity, Notre Dame has the chance to blend its broad Catholic values with the principles of the strategic plan to make yourself both distinguished and distinctive.”
Snyder noted that Notre Dame is at a critical juncture.
“This is a moment for Notre Dame. Inflection points (in the history of a university) come along very rarely,” Snyder said. “You have one in front of you right now. I hope that everyone sees that as both the biggest risk — not seizing this remarkable opportunity — and the greatest opportunity for Notre Dame. I think the University is in a position to really make a difference.”
A recording of the event is available here.