Notre Dame focuses on “strategic” hiring in the scientific disciplines to solidify its role as a research institution.
Through its recent allocation of funds and new hiring initiatives, Notre Dame is heavily emphasizing its role as a Catholic research university, as it commits many resources to new scientific endeavors.
The administration announced the Advancing Our Vision (AOV) program in 2011, promising to commit $80 million in internal resources to 14 different research projects. The AOV website states, “there will be collaborative efforts to advance our vision of Notre Dame as a powerful force to heal, unify, and enlighten our world.”
An integral part of the AOV program is the Strategic Hiring Initiative, which creates 80 faculty positions in key areas of research. In the press release detailing the initiative, University president Father John Jenkins, CSC, stated, “by thinking and investing strategically, we will continue our momentum.”
With 8 of the 10 projects selected by the AOV program being scientific disciplines, the university is investing heavily in the quantifiable disciplines of science and engineering, rather than the humanities.
Projects created include chemical, bio-molecular and electrical engineering; analytic chemistry; biochemistry; nuclear physics; computational data science; applied and computational mathematics and statistics; non-embryonic stem cell research; global history and economics. Of the aforementioned, only the latter two are housed in the College of Arts and Letters. John McGreevy, the dean of Arts and Letters, is quoted on the AOV website as saying that “everyone recognizes that the whole university is sacrificing to enhance our research capacity and profile.”
The fewer number of faculty positions created for the College of Arts and Letters highlights the effects of these sacrifices. Yet the Departments of Economics and History are excited for the investments in their futures.
Professor Patrick Griffin, chair of the History Department, said in an interview with the Rover that “the endorsement of the AOV program will synthesize areas of history with certain hires and allow the department to focus not only on national processes, but also global ones.” Griffin is thrilled to welcome the history department’s newest faculty member, Gabe Paquette of Johns Hopkins, a specialist on empire in the old world and the new.
The AOV website further states, “Father Jenkins and the university’s leadership have worked to define the university’s vision and direct our energies toward realizing our future. This has influenced such decisions as whom we’ve hired, the building construction we’ve undertaken, and the types of students we’ve recruited.”
The past three decades have seen a serious reduction in the ratio of Catholic faculty hires to total hires (although in the past handful of years the general downward trend of the Catholic faculty composition has been stayed, hovering at about a nominal 55 percent); the announcement of much new building construction; and most importantly, an influx of students looking forward to their careers early in their undergraduate lives. This lattermost shift is evidenced by the recent announcement of more stringent application standards to the Mendoza College of Business.
The evolving mindset of undergraduate students mirrors, or perhaps is formed by, the investments of the university in research and scientific disciplines, as well as the culture in which their academic and professional aspirations mature. Less emphasis is placed on reading the great books and classic authors. These texts’ and authors’ ability to expand, cultivate and train the mind in analytic thought are neglected, according to some longtime members of the university community.
Program of Liberal Studies Professor Emeritus Walter Nicgorski, who taught at Notre Dame for nearly five decades, commented in an interview with the Rover, “I am not in a position to know just what the University needs to do to be the great research university its leaders seek, but I sense a tremendous imbalance in how this University is presenting itself in these days.
“There is a continuous drumbeat of emphasis on a certain kind of research. Such imbalanced rhetoric has surrounded the announcement of the Advancing Our Vision Program and the 80 new faculty positions,” Nicgorski continued. “There seemed to be no effort to relate this initiative to the full mission of the University and specifically to the quality of undergraduate education that can be potentially transforming and that has long been the heart and soul of this University. It seems that Father Jenkins moved subsequently to correct some of this imbalance in his recent elaboration of the Strategic Plan for the University which elevated to prominence its Catholic dimension and its deep commitment to undergraduate education.”
Philosophy Professor Alfred Freddoso emphasized the importance of a core liberal arts curriculum in his presentation “A Public School in a Catholic Neighborhood,” delivered at Notre Dame in summer 2010. Freddoso stated then, “within any given university this core ensures that students are, at some point in their undergraduate career, thinking about a common set of important intellectual issues and reading a common set of worthwhile books … this sort of education leads one to see that intellectual formation in itself is an ongoing and life-long affair.”
Similarly, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in his book God, Philosophy, and Universities: “contemporary research institutions cheat their undergraduate students by failing to provide them with a foundation of generalists that would give them the needed context for their training as specialists in a particular discipline.”
Another concern, assuaged in part by Fr. Jenkins’s recent Strategic Plan announcement earlier this month, is that the university’s ongoing investments in research are not driven by Notre Dame’s Catholic character.
“The Catholic intellectual and moral tradition,” Fr. Jenkins stated in the press release, “are the University’s points of greatest distinction from many other fine research institutions.” The Strategic Hiring Initiative’s website stressed the administration’s desire to draw faculty and scholars to Notre Dame who will, “provide our students with an unparalleled undergraduate education, contribute research and scholarship, and do all this in a university community informed by its Catholic mission.”
Kate Hardiman is a freshman majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and economics. She hopes that people in the distant future will still read the great books. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.