Students question university leaders at undergraduate town hall meeting


Students, faculty, and staff gathered in DeBartolo Hall on February 16 for the spring undergraduate town hall meeting with University President Father John Jenkins, CSC; Provost Thomas G. Burish; and Executive Vice President John F. Affleck-Graves.

The university leaders addressed the 2015 commencement ceremony, the new Keough School of Global Affairs, and the controversial Campus Crossroads Project.  The administrators then responded to students’ questions, ranging from concerns about theology requirements and the core curriculum review to the new First Year Experience program, scheduled to begin next semester.

Father Jenkins immediately tackled what he deemed to be the “sensitive issue of commencement.”  Eager to excite the seniors present at the event, Jenkins promptly revealed that commencement for the class of 2015 will take place in the stadium despite the ongoing construction of Campus Crossroads.

“It won’t be finished,” Fr. Jenkins stated.  “There will be a little inconvenience, but I’m sure it will be minimal and it’ll be a great commencement.”

Father Jenkins attributed the ceremony’s location change to the mild weather during December and January, which put the project ahead of schedule.  When asked to comment on Fr. Jenkins’ announcement, senior Amanda Peña, who organized the ND Students for Stadium Commencement Coalition on Facebook, conveyed her doubts regarding the logistical basis of the decision.

“I sincerely believe that the administration would not have made the decision to move commencement back to the stadium had other students and I not actively voiced our frustrations about the relocation to the Purcell Pavilion,” Peña told the Rover.

Although Peña expressed that she is very pleased with the announcement, she remains frustrated with the university’s failure to involve students and the greater Notre Dame community in these crucial conversations.

“I still stand by my comments on the university’s lack of transparency and still believe it to be a serious issue that impacts students’ lives significantly,” said Peña.

Next, Burish discussed the new Keough School of Global Affairs and the core curriculum review.

“No university in the 21st century can be a great university unless it is a global university,” he said.  He acknowledged the strengths and weaknesses of the university’s global identity, mentioning its growing number of study abroad programs and the need to recruit more international students, respectively.  Burish stated that the university’s effort to “internationalize the curriculum” will culminate in the opening of the Keough School of Global Affairs, which will offer an undergraduate program in addition to masters and dual degree programs.

Scott Appleby, Dean of the Keough School, did not respond to the Rover’s request for comment on Burish’s town hall remarks.

Burish proceeded to describe the ongoing core curriculum review as a “faculty-led, campus-wide conversation.”  He displayed an address to which students may email their concerns about the curriculum review process to the committee, and he mentioned that the administration is striving to involve students in the review process.

Hope Feist, a senior theology major, asked Burish about the review committee’s debate over the university’s theology requirement, a controversial topic on campus that recently garnered national attention in the Washington Post.

Burish vehemently denied that there is a “push” to significantly reduce or eliminate its current two-course core requirement.  “There is no push by the administration.  There is no push by the committee,” Burish insisted.

The provost did mention, however, after further probing by Feist, that the entire core curriculum, including the two-course theology requirement, is open to review and reduction.

“We haven’t said ‘we won’t listen to you if you talk about two theology classes.’  We didn’t want to say ‘We won’t listen to you.  We already made up our mind on that’ … There is no push.  But there is an openness to listen to everybody and what they would suggest,” Burish said.

The review committee will not make a recommendation before the end of the academic year.

Andrew Weiler, a senior economics major, posed a question about the rationale behind the shift from the traditional physical education requirements to the First Year Experience, a program that aims to “cultivate physical and mental wellness, spirituality, cultural competency, and academic success and discernment.”

Weiler asked Fr. Jenkins and Hugh Page, Dean of the First Year of Studies, for a more concrete description of how the two, one-credit courses will actualize the “lofty yet admirable goals” of the upcoming program.

Father Jenkins, self-admittedly treading on “thin water,” (sic) stated that the purpose of the shift was to “more effectively serve our students.”  Page offered a more descriptive explanation, saying that the program will enable students “to think about well-being more holistically over the course of an entire year.”

Ending promptly once the allotted hour had passed, despite the lingering line of students waiting to pose questions, Fr. Jenkins concluded the town hall meeting with a conciliatory laugh toward a student who inquired about reform of the DART system used to register for classes.

Catriona Shaughnessy is a sophomore pursuing a psychology major along with a pre-health supplementary major.  She is a seasoned connoisseur of the North Dining Hall cereal bar, and she strategically selects her study spots to correspond with the free-coffee spots on campus.  She can be contacted at