On three contentious campus issues, Notre Dame administration confronts criticism from faculty

Throughout the academic year 2014-2015, the Rover has reported on a number of administrative decisions that have been in progress at Notre Dame.  Most notable among these are the advancement of the Campus Crossroads Project, the core curriculum review process, and the possible partnership of the university with Zhejiang University in China.  As the academic year comes to a close, each of these areas of focus remains contentious among faculty members, many of whom feel they do not have enough influence on major campus issues.


In January 2014, the university announced its Campus Crossroads Project, a construction project with an estimated cost of 400 million dollars.  On April 7 of this year, Notre Dame’s Faculty Senate unanimously, with one abstention, passed a resolution finding fault with the administration for failing to consult the Senate on both Crossroads and the faculty’s 403b retirement plan.

The resolution states that these decisions are evidence of “the failure of the central Administration to consult the Senate on significant matters affecting the faculty as a whole and on matters for which a faculty perspective is appropriate.”  It also notes “the serious concern of the entire faculty about their lack of participation in the governance of the University, a concern emphatically present in the recently reported Faculty Experience Survey reported to the Senate.”

The Faculty Senate called on the administration to respect the body’s advisory responsibilities and role in university governance “by providing the Faculty Senate with the necessary information and adequate notice on important policies” that affect the faculty or that should incorporate faculty perspective before being finalized.

Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves told the Rover that there has been extensive input from faculty since the beginning of the project, including from the departments directly affected by it.  “[E]ighty-four University faculty and staff devoted more than 3,125 hours serving on an oversight committee and eight working groups to examine if and how to make the unused areas around Notre Dame Stadium a year-round hub for academic and student life,” he said.

Walter Nicgorski, Professor Emeritus of Liberal Studies and Political Science, spoke with the Rover about the resolution, which he first introduced in the Faculty Senate.  “It was non-consultation of the Senate on Crossroads which provoked the resolution, but there was also strong faculty concern from changes to faculty pension arrangements that had just been put in place without consultation of the Senate or the faculty in general,” he said.

Jeanne Romero-Severson—Professor of Biology and chair of the Administrative Affairs committee of the Faculty Senate—said that Notre Dame has traditionally valued faculty input and thus created the Senate to provide perspective during decision-making processes.  “We felt that on the Crossroads Project, specifically, and on the retirement changeover from TIAA Cref to Fidelity, that process did not happen,” she told the Rover.  “We don’t think that’s the result of any intent or any malice of forethought … but we feel that the university is not availing itself of the group of people that they explicitly created for this purpose.

“The resolution was drafted, and ultimately passed, to call the university’s attention to this failing—we feel it’s a failing in the system,” Romero-Severson went on.

She noted that faculty members of the directly affected departments were aware of Crossroads planning but that the Faculty Senate and many other departments were unaware until the decision was finalized.  “It came out as a fiat accompli, and from the point of view of many departments, this is how many things [are done at] Notre Dame, it just appears one day as a creation.  And yet there is this impression that there was ‘faculty input.’  So we think there is a disconnect in terms of what the administrative structure thinks faculty input is.”

Nicgorski added that work on the resolution proceeded in November after an unsatisfactory meeting with Affleck-Graves, and the Senate developed a consensus after the administration’s fundraising efforts described Crossroads as ‘transformational’ and an ‘audacious and bold venture.’

“The Senate rejected the argument that departments affected by the project had been consulted, if not in part coerced to go along,” Nicgorski said.  “It rejected the notion that this represented consultation of the faculty.  It rejected the contention that this was not a faculty matter in the same way that most campus building projects are not.”

Romero-Severson suggested that, in the future, similar problems could be remedied by having a member of the Faculty Senate on each decision-making committee who could report back to the Senate and foster communication with university departments.

“The need here is not to have representative government,” she said.  “What we don’t like is the impression that the faculty has had input or that the faculty has been informed when most of the faculty has, in fact, not been informed.”

Paul McGinn, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and chair of the Faculty Senate, told the Rover that he senses that the administration is already addressing some of the issues prompting the resolution.  He mentioned, for example, the formation of a Health Care Strategy Working Group, which will obtain faculty and staff input on possible changes to the health insurance program.

“Additionally, there is now discussion of possible changes in the makeup of the Academic Council (faculty ratio), which has resulted, in part, from the discussions surrounding the Core Curriculum review,” McGinn added.  “I think the administration is looking for ways to broaden faculty input into some of the decision making processes.”

“I am hopeful that the administration will be more respectful of the Senate’s role in the future,” said Nicgorski, “and that the Senate will continue to act at a level expected in the Articles of Governance of the University and in the Senate’s own Bylaws.”

Romero-Severson stressed the resolution’s importance, especially given the fact that the Provost’s office is considering ways to incorporate faculty government more seriously into the functioning of the university.  “We thought this resolution was timely,” she concluded, “and I thought it was important to give the Senate the opportunity to vote on it because of this [administrative] interest in having a more effective faculty voice, and even a degree of faculty governance.”


The ongoing core curriculum review is another process in which faculty have been concerned about their role.  In February, Tom Stapleford, Professor of Liberal Studies, authored a letter to the Core Curriculum Review Committee (CCRC), lamenting the lack of direct faculty influence on the process.

Stapleford told the Rover that his earlier concerns about the core curriculum review have not been adequately addressed.  “The structure of the review process has not changed, although the university administration has reiterated its commitment to consulting the faculty in various ways,” he said.  “I continue to believe that the reform would have more credibility, and the faculty conversation be more robust, if the faculty had greater direct control over the process.”

He also noted that none of the bodies reviewing the CCRC’s recommendations will have direct power to alter or amend them; rather, only the council itself will be able to amend its work. “Half of the Academic Council is elected (directly or indirectly) by faculty; the other half consists of appointees who hold their positions ex officio (e.g., various deans, vice-presidents, and so forth), several appointed faculty, and six student members,” Stapleford explained.

“I strongly believe that there should be a fully-elected faculty body that has authority to amend and approve any proposed changes to the core curriculum,” he concluded.

Sandra Gustafson, Professor of English and Concurrent Professor of American Studies, told the Rover that she would like to see an additional level of faculty involvement once the CCRC has drafted recommendations.

“This might include a process of comment on the draft, perhaps some modifications, and a final vote, either by the entire faculty or by their representatives in the Faculty Senate or in a specially elected body,” Gustafson said.

John Sitter, Mary Lee Duda Professor of Literature, agreed that there should be some direct faculty influence after the CCRC has produced its draft recommendations.  “I think there’s some feeling in the faculty that there should be an elected body, rather than an appointed body at some final stage of the process,” he told the Rover.  “It’s important that the faculty feel ownership of the curriculum and it’s the most important thing the faculty has responsibility for. And it should be clear that the faculty has been represented, not simply appointed.”

He noted, in particular, a generally weak state of faculty governance at Notre Dame.  “The Faculty Senate has often been not very active, or not listened to,” he explained.  “[This uneasiness] comes also in the wake of a number of decisions over the last few years … the Crossroads is one that most faculty have not felt very involved in except for perhaps some of the departments that are going to get extra space in [the buildings].”

Sitter described the university’s ventures into online courses as “one of those things where faculty felt informed rather than consulted.”  Similarly, he mentioned the contention among faculty concerning the renovations of Hesburgh Library, which began without broad faculty input and coincided with plans for the off-campus storage of many books.

Gustafson believes that the administration is open to faculty feedback about the structure of the curriculum review.  “​The administration has made clear its desire to ​involve the faculty in the review process, as is appropriate for a topic so closely concerned with areas of faculty expertise and involving the faculty’s core mission,” she added.  “I believe that the kind of review process that Professor Stapleford has envisioned will be accommodated.”

“There’s a lot of discussion to go,” Sitter noted.  “I think the committee has been hearing from faculty through some of the methods it set up for email contributions [and] a number of open meetings.  … I think there will be more consultation before the process is finished.”

John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters, did not respond to a Rover request for comment about the CCRC’s response to dissatisfaction with the incorporation of direct faculty involvement.


Professor John Cavadini, Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Church Life, recently stepped down from his position on the Catholic Mission Focus Group under the CCRC.  He declined to comment on his resignation at this time.

Professor Mark Roche, the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, CSC, Professor of German Language and Literature, serves as the Chair of this focus group and, in February, debated Cyril O’Regan, Catherine P. Huisking Professor of Theology, over the role of theology in the university’s core. Roche declined to comment to the Rover at this time about the current status of the curriculum review.

O’Regan offered his thoughts about the current status of the review process.  “One of the truly surprising things that have become apparent over the year is the lack of understanding by administrators and even our colleagues of the nature of Theology and the role it plays and ought to play in the university that dares to call itself Catholic,” he told the Rover.

“Theology is the science of God’s Word, charged with transmitting and exploring its twin foci of scripture and tradition, and inquiring about the relation between faith and reason and how this faith contributes to and continues to have dialogue with our incredibly complex world and its various discourses and sciences,” O’Regan continued.  “Thus, Theology is sui generis and unsubstitutable.  It is the place in the curriculum where without proselytizing the university implicitly makes a claim to truth.”

He also discussed the goal of sustaining Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.  “The contradictory nature of the statements from representatives of the CCRC as to how to promote the Catholic character of the university through the curriculum I take to be evident,” O’Regan said.  “The stated aim is not merely to sustain but enhance the Catholic character of the university; this implies the logic of addition. The suggested means of attaining this goal is the reduction in requirements of philosophy and theology; this is the logic of subtraction rather than addition.”

O’Regan concluded by arguing that the CCRC does not have a principle regarding what is fungible in the core.  “There was no compelling reason not to reaffirm the centrality of Theology in the university,” he stated.  “In any event, the Department of Theology is moving ahead.  Currently, groups of faculty in the department are generating exciting proposals for the two course Theology requirement that should inspire students as well as instruct.”

The core’s theology requirements, however, are not the only courses on the table, and some note that philosophy, too, plays an essential role in Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.  John O’Callaghan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, spoke with the Rover about this claim.

“Catholic education is impossible if it does not include within it serious engagement with the discipline of philosophy,” he said, “reflecting upon both God’s revelation to humanity for its salvation and God’s creation as it is known throughout the arts and sciences as the world within which God has created us to live.”

O’Callaghan argued that philosophy is linked to the mission of the Church throughout history and today.  “The reality of Catholic thought and life as it exists today and looks to the future is unthinkable without [philosophy].  If revelation is the heart of the Church, and theology its brain, disciplined philosophical engagement is its lungs.”

“What happens when the heart and brain are denied oxygen?  The body dies.  An educational institution without serious engagement with the discipline of philosophy informing its mission is not and cannot be Catholic.  It may call itself Catholic.  But it won’t be,” he concluded.


Finally, Paul Browne, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications, spoke with the Rover about the current status of the university’s possible partnership with Zhejiang University in China.  “Notre Dame will not enter an agreement with Zhejiang University that would compromise our Catholic character or mission,” he affirmed.

But Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, Professor of History, is not sure that Browne’s statement will be proven true by the university’s actions.  “I have said from the outset that the Notre Dame administration will proceed ahead on this awful idea regardless of the sizeable opposition on this campus,” he told the Rover.  “Be assured that these administrators will do so at the expense of Notre Dame’s Catholic character and mission.”

In particular, Fr. Miscamble noted the opportunity that Notre Dame has to speak out on behalf of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest in Shanghai since 2012.  “If Notre Dame was living out its Catholic mission fully it would have already raised public concerns about the extent of religious persecution in China,” he added.  “Instead, a self-censorship operates.  This will only increase as Notre Dame gets drawn more deeply into the web of collaboration with ZJU.”

Father Miscamble is not the only faculty member to remain unconvinced that this collaboration is a good idea for Notre Dame.  Last month, the Rover reported that a number of faculty members still doubt the wisdom of the project, and such doubt has been evident since the initial faculty town hall in December 2014.

When asked about methods of incorporating faculty feedback into the decision-making process, Browne mentioned, in particular, emails to the “white paper” website, faculty committees, and ongoing college and departmental meetings.  “These diverse comments help shape and inform our discussions with Zhejiang faculty and administration, and weigh in the University’s decision-making,” Browne concluded.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a junior political science major.  Contact her at adesanct@nd.edu.