On Monday, June 14, 2010, just days after assuming his new role as vice president for student affairs, Father Thomas Doyle, C.S.C. fired long-standing employee, Bill Kirk, from his position as associate vice president for student affairs.
University spokesman Dennis Brown explained to The Rover, “Mr. Kirk’s position was eliminated as part of Father Doyle’s organizational restructuring.” Brown also told The Rover, “More information will be provided on the restructuring in the near future.”
The university’s Human Resources policy on restructuring, available on its website, provides, “Advance notice of layoff should be given as early as possible to provide ample time for employees to seek other employment on or off campus. Generally, at least a 60-day notice is preferred, and may be required in some cases.” In an email correspondence with The Rover, Associate Vice President for Human Resources Robert McQuade said that “the University’s Human Resources group ensures consistent treatment of employees as it relates to its policies.” University policy prevented McQuade from commenting on specific cases and he did not say whether Kirk had been given advance notice of his termination.
Kirk gave over 21 years of service to the university. He graduated from Notre Dame as an undergraduate in 1984 and attended Notre Dame Law School, during which time he served as assistant rector of Sorin Hall, rector of Holy Cross Hall, and rector of Stanford Hall. He was appointed assistant vice president for student affairs in 1991, and was promoted to associate vice president in 2003. As associate vice president, Kirk oversaw the Office of Residence Life and Housing and the Notre Dame Security Police. Kirk’s wife, Elizabeth, serves as associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture. Kirk and his wife have two young boys and a newborn daughter, whom they were expecting at the time of Kirk’s dismissal.
This semester, Kirk continues to teach a business law course that he has taught for several years. University spokesman Dennis Brown sent The Rover an excerpt from Father Doyle’s letter to campus colleagues, in which the vice president praised Kirk for his service to the university:
“As many can attest, Bill’s contributions to Notre Dame and her mission have been considerable. Directing the varied and sometimes delicate issues related to residence life, as well as overseeing the safety and security of the campus, requires an individual with consistency, good judgment, compassion, and much more. Bill has demonstrated these attributes throughout his tenure, and we are indebted to him for his deep dedication to Our Lady’s University.”
Nevertheless, due to his long-time service to the university, many have raised questions about the unstated reasons behind Kirk’s termination.
Some have questioned whether pressure from athletics played a role. Kirk was known for his impartiality in matters of discipline; one source commented, “He [Kirk] believed that if you broke a rule, it didn’t matter who you were or who your parents were, you should be treated the same as everyone else.”
In a December 2009 interview with News Center 16 sports director Jeff Jeffers, former football coach Charlie Weis was asked what he felt was the biggest problem on Notre Dame’s campus. He responded:
“Oh, it’s Residence Life…, it’s not even close for second…I didn’t even know Residence Life existed when I went to school…I think if you took a poll of the students at Notre Dame on what’s the biggest negative issue, I would bet at least 50 per cent of them would say Residence Life…Without getting into the names of people who work at Residence Life…: I just think that these are college kids and college kids do what college kids do…Let’s say a kid has been too loud because he had some alcohol, why wouldn’t you just tell him to go to bed ? Why would that be something that ends up in the hands of Residence Life…? I’m just saying that boys will be boys and I’m just defending them; we as parents know what we interpret with our own kids what is out of line, and we all wish the best but we know our kids are going to be in trouble in their lifetime — but there are so many things that I think border on petty.”
Some have speculated whether Kirk’s connection to the pro-life movement was a factor. In March of 2009, Kirk’s wife Elizabeth, the faculty advisor for the Right to Life club, helped students to organize NDResponse, the coalition that protested the university’s invitation to President Obama. Part of Kirk’s role as associate vice president was to approve or reject any demonstration requests from the students, including those from ND Response. Kirk was known within the administration to be sympathetic to the students’ pro-life efforts. In the days preceding commencement, Kirk attended the Palm Sunday rally held outside the Main Building, and he joined faculty and NDResponse students in praying the Rosary in the grotto the night before Commencement. On Commencement Day, when NDResponse hosted a rally on South Quad, philosophy professor David Solomon asked the university faculty, staff and administrators present to approach the podium in support of the students. Kirk was the only senior administrator to do so.
Finally, some suspect that the continuing litigation involving the “ND88” may have had something to do with Kirk’s termination. The university recently filed a motion to quash Judge Michael Scopelitis’ ruling that ND88 defense attorney Thomas Dixon could depose university officials. Dixon is attempting to depose Kirk. Dixon told The Rover:
“I am seeking to depose him [Kirk] because he was in charge of granting demonstration permits, and there discrepancies in the application/enforcement of ND’s demonstration policy, which have already been brought to light.”
On these discrepancies, see “A Need for Consistency” in the April 26th, 2010 edition of The Rover (now available online at www.irishrover.net).
As stated previously, Dennis Brown told The Rover, “More information will be provided on the restructuring in the near future.” This statement marks a change from earlier in the summer, when an Observer article reported, “[Father] Doyle, along with university spokesman Dennis Brown, declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Kirk leaving the post.”
The article further stated, “Doyle said the University considers personnel matters private and as a policy, does not offer comments on staff changes. Doyle also said he cannot say whether Kirk will remain an employee at the University or if his former position will be filled.”
Father Doyle could not be reached for comment by The Rover for this article. Likewise, other faculty and administrators did not respond to requests for comments from The Rover, including Father Poorman, former vice president for student affairs, and Jack Swarbrick, director of student athletics.
Kirk declined to provide any comments for this article.
Gabby is a junior PLS and Philosophy major. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.