“Diversity and Inclusion.” These three words are rather loaded with meaning, although most would agree that they signify an important aspect of university life. While they have been a prominent part of university discussion for some time, they have also raised questions about balancing these ideals with the maintenance of Catholic identity.
In his address to the faculty on September 20, 2016, President Fr. John Jenkins touched upon many topics related to the university, an important one of which was of diversity and inclusion.
Father Jenkins spoke about student body diversity as well as faculty diversity. “Like many institutions, we are committed to hiring faculty from underrepresented groups and to the hiring and support of female faculty,” Fr. Jenkins stated in his address. The idea is that where the faculty goes, the university follows. Professors in the classroom and faculty on hiring committees have a direct influence on the trajectory of the university.
The university renewed its efforts to increase diversity among faculty in more recent years. As part of an ongoing effort towards increasing faculty diversity, the university appointed Pamela Nolan Young the Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion in April 2016. Young is working closely with all colleges in a continuing endeavor to hire more diverse faculty members with emphasis on hiring historically underrepresented minority members.
She said in a statement to the Rover, “Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are not new to the university. They began decades earlier with the admission of African Americans in 1940’s and women nearly three decades later in the 1970’s. I believe Father John’s recent addresso to the faculty on September 20, 2016, best explains the motivation for these initiatives. As he said, ‘Our commitment to diversity and inclusion also arises from our aspirations about the community we want to be, the educational environment we hope to provide our students, and the moral character they will develop during their time with us. It goes to the heart of our mission, to who we are and to what we want to be. … Our rationale at Notre Dame must be different and can be, I believe, more deeply embedded in our mission. As a Catholic institution, our commitment finds a firmer foundation in several pivotal principles of a rich social teaching.
“We affirm,” continued Young, “first of all, the transcendent dignity and worth of every human person, from conception to natural death, regardless of race, nationality or ethnic group, religious tradition, gender, socio-economic class, immigration status, sexual orientation or anything else. There is not a more fundamental or consequential principle than this one.’”
Doctor John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, further emphasized the College of Arts and Letters’ commitment to hiring a more diverse faculty in a statement to the Rover. He said, “the initiative builds upon efforts in [Arts and Letters] and across the university to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty and is very welcome for that reason. We’re already working with Pamela Young from the Provost’s office on the project and are delighted to do so.”
Some faculty members believe that the university’s diversity initiatives should be more nuanced. Patrick Deneen, David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies, told the Rover, “I note that there appears to have been no substantive discussion of the value of institutional diversity, with specific recommendations of the ways that Notre Dame can and should be a distinctive and even courageously diverse institution in an academic landscape that shows every sign of homogenization and standardization, particularly the widespread demotion of the liberal arts and increased emphasis on narrow job preparation.”
Deneen continued, “Calls to increase hiring of members of marginalized groups should be closely linked to efforts to hire faculty supportive of Notre Dame’s distinctive Catholic mission. We should pursue and value diversity that does not make Notre Dame blandly indistinguishable from every other ‘aspirational peer’ institution.”
What makes Notre Dame unique and not blandly indistinguishable from every other aspirational peer institution is its Catholic identity, some would argue.
William Dempsey (‘52), President of the Sycamore Trust, an alumni organization concerned with the preservation of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, has long been concerned with the direction of the university in hiring Catholic faculty and echoed Dr. Deneen’s sentiments.
Dempsey said in a phone interview with the Rover, “The principal point respecting hiring for diversity in relation to hiring for Catholic identity is that the mission statement requires that there be a ‘predominant number of Catholics’ on the faculty in order for the school to be a Catholic university whereas there is no comparable requirement that the school be diverse nor any specific numerical test for whether it is ‘diverse enough.’ Increasing diversity must be subordinate to the necessity of meeting the test of Catholic identity. The school’s mission statement and statutes (the university is to remain ‘Catholic in perpetuity’) require it.”
Dempsey cited the falling percentage of Catholic faculty since the 1960’s as underlying his concern for the Catholic identity of the Notre Dame. The percentage of Catholics on Notre Dame’s faculty has fallen from about 85% in the 1960’s to about 54% currently. The quickly changing demographics of the faculty is what concerns Dempsey the most. “Once we lose the Catholic identity, we won’t get it back because the faculty are in charge of hiring new faculty,” he said to the Rover. Without a strong Catholic faculty dedicated to the Catholic mission of the university, there are no guarantees that the university will preserve and uphold its Catholic mission to the best of its ability.
Pamela Nolan Young emphasized the university’s commitment to hiring more diverse faculty while also maintaining the Catholic identity of the university. She told the Rover, “The Board of Trustees and the Administration are deeply committed to maintaining our Catholic character; hiring Catholic faculty and those attracted to our Catholic mission is a university priority.”
Brie Bahe is a senior studying neuroscience and behavior with a philosophy minor. She has a great RA section in Welsh Family Hall and a beautiful smile. Contact Brie at firstname.lastname@example.org.