A conversation with Dean Kevin O’Rear


When talking with Notre Dame alumni, one might hear them say, “This place has changed so much,” or “None of these buildings were here back in the day.” While it is easy to evaluate the physical changes on campus, as many new buildings are erected every year, it is significantly more difficult to evaluate the non-physical changes, such as student life, academics, and faith. Recently, the Rover sat down with someone having wisdom on that subject: Dean Kevin O’Rear.

O’Rear, an Assistant Dean of the Notre Dame Law School, is a 1985 graduate of Notre Dame and a parent of many who have passed through the community. Michael, his youngest son, is a freshman and resident of Alumni Hall; Connor is a graduate student studying psychology; Patrick, his oldest son, is a 2015 Law School graduate; and his twins, Margaret and Bridget, are Saint Mary’s seniors. O’Rear was a resident of Howard Hall (pre-conversion, of course) and majored in economics and history. He went on to earn his law degree from the University of Virginia. O’Rear offered a unique perspective of Notre Dame as a student, parent, and administrator.

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity has defined its education for the last 175 years, and still today, roughly 80 percent of the current student body identified as Catholics during the admissions process. O’Rear staunchly disagreed with the view that Notre Dame has sacrificed part of its Catholic identity to become a more prestigious university. He said that Notre Dame is promoting Catholic social teaching even more than in years past.

He recalled a moment from his first few weeks on campus in 1981, when he was a lector at Howard Hall Mass. He noted that the chapel was small, and they did not have many seating options, so many Howard men were seated on the floor during Mass. This was his first experience of the power of campus faith, and it helped instill in him a sense of community with his residence hall.

O’Rear spoke about academic changes as well. Although still a great institution, he observed, Notre Dame continues to become more exclusive as it gains prestige. This, however, is not necessarily a bad problem to have, said O’Rear. He noted that of the roughly 25 Howard men with whom he still maintains contact, not many (including himself) would have been accepted to today’s Notre Dame. Still, he affirmed, they have all become successful people who have stable, fruitful lives. He also noted that many students who were not admitted would be able to succeed at Notre Dame, which could be because of the positive environment of the student body.

O’Rear has noticed a wave of more conservative influence in academic life at Notre Dame in recent years. Moving forward, he suggested that he would like to see students working in smaller groups as opposed to larger projects, and that he would like to see students from different majors mixing academically, such as engineering majors in classes with business majors, in order to promote diversity and expose students to different students within the Notre Dame community.

According to O’Rear’s comments, student life has perhaps undergone the most drastic changes over the last 30 years. He said that the idea of moving off-campus was nearly unheard of while he was at Notre Dame, but it has become much more acceptable now. He says this could be a result of shifting dorm regulations but also due to development around campus. He added that, in general, going off-campus was not popular unless you were an upperclassman going out for a drink. The area around campus has become much safer, and with developments such as Eddy Street Commons, University Edge, Ivy Quad, and The Overlook, moving off campus is more plausible.

One thing that is impossible not to notice about campus, O’Rear commented, is the never-ending construction, which is something he did not encounter much as a student. He said that the newest buildings during his time were likely Grace Hall and Flanner Hall, which even then were over a decade old. The vast increase in donations over the last 30 years has largely contributed to this expansion across Notre Dame’s campus.

Finally, O’Rear stated that he finds the current size of the student body appropriate and does not want to see much of an increase. Currently, he teaches a freshman Moreau class, where he regularly advises them to get to know people from different backgrounds.

Shad Jeffrey II is a freshman at Holy Cross College. He is studying pre-law and has a passion for low-budget Christmas movies. Contact Shad at sjeffrey@hcc-nd.edu.