Administrators and students meet to explore controversial initiatives
In an effort to keep undergraduate students informed on new building plans and initiatives, the Notre Dame administration held a Town Hall meeting on February 24. The meeting consisted of presentations by University President Father John Jenkins, CSC; Erin Hoffman Harding, Vice President of Student Affairs; and Hugh Page, Dean of the First Year of Studies.
Father Jenkins announced new renovations, namely two new residence halls behind Pasquerilla East and Knott, additions to the Hesburgh Library and a new multi-disciplinary research facility, all in addition to the Campus Crossroads project, which will add three buildings to the football stadium, including offices, departments and a new student center.
Diversity was also a key issue addressed by the three speakers.
Father Jenkins cited diversity as a deeply important issue that “can slip through the cracks.” For this reason, he established a presidential diversity committee to, as he said, “deepen fairness, monitor progress and look into the welcoming character of campus.”
Harding, the second speaker, announced a new diversity initiative, the Spirit of Inclusion, which “speaks to the aspirations of the community to be welcoming.” According to Harding, students want the statement displayed prominently in residence halls, and it will be exhibited by the end of the semester.
Page likewise added: “Diversity is a moving target and something we have to constantly be attentive to.”
Page also announced that a core curriculum committee, which meets every 10 years, is in the process of a review to address the strengths and weaknesses of the current core curriculum.
Once the speakers opened the floor to questions, students raised crucial concerns about goings-on at Notre Dame.
Senior Madeline Gillen [Editor’s note: Gillen is the managing editor of the Rover] asked about the purpose of the Campus Crossroads project and how football and sacred music will improve each other by coming together in one area.
Father Jenkins responded: “What we’re trying to do is bring people together. Our ticket revenue will allow us to take out debt. Athletics help us pay for academic purposes, but it’s not about that. It’s a bold program, and what we want to accomplish is interaction for students to be part of a single enterprise.”
Eduardo Andino, a graduate student studying theology, asked what Notre Dame plans to do in the legal battle over the HHS mandate. He cited US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit judge Richard Posner’s observation that Notre Dame’s temporary compliance is not the best evidence that the university is committed to resisting the mandate.
“Our complicity is not an evil so grave that we would compromise our conscience by going along,” Jenkins claimed, noting that it would cost Notre Dame $1 million per day if it did not comply.
Regarding Father Jenkins’ response, Andino later told the Rover: “I’m not sure that I totally agree with what he refers to as the prudential decision to comply. Both reason and unanimous witness of USCCB bishops show that this is not an acceptable solution. It still does implicate the school in purchasing insurance that provides the materials. It is a question of objective moral wrong that we can’t, in good conscience, comply with.”
Sophomore Colin Devine questioned how Notre Dame is taking up Pope Francis’ challenge to maintain a Catholic identity, especially as the university complies with the HHS mandate. He further suggested that the university should better keep students up to date on this issue.
According to Fr. Jenkins, Pope Francis urged Notre Dame to continue its contributions to education. Of keeping students updated about the mandate, Fr. Jenkins remarked, “I think students will get sick of hearing every development by email.”
Freshman Ben Swanson, concerned that Notre Dame had not considered every option before complying with the mandate, inquired about how this decision can be reconciled with the university’s Catholic identity and mission in the eyes of both the student body and the rest of the world.
“We’re complying under protest,” Fr. Jenkins responded. “We feel this is an infringement on religious freedom, but we have a variety of factors to consider, like legitimate government authority.” Father Jenkins sought to draw a distinction between Notre Dame giving out contraceptives directly and a third party distributing them: “I don’t see this as a scandal because we are not giving out contraceptives.”
Junior Mark Gianfalla asserted that the money used for the Campus Crossroads project could have been better spent paying the penalty of non-compliance with the HHS mandate. He asked why this money is not being spent to restore current structures.
Harding responded that the university has spent $50 million on residence halls, saying, “I measure success in our halls in terms of community.”
“There are a lot of people with a lot of needs, and we’re trying to respond to it,” Fr. Jenkins added.
Gianfalla, dissatisfied with the response, told the Rover: “They didn’t address the issue of misallocation of capital. One of biggest issues with Crossroads is that money needs to be raised from scratch. Capital is going over the heads of residence halls to new structures that replace space. New halls cover overcrowding, but not renovation.”
“I thought the questions were very good. It’s just about clarifying for the students what we’re trying to do,” Fr. Jenkins told the Rover. “I thought it went well, but it ultimately depends on what the students thought.”
Contact Hailey Vrdolyak at email@example.com.