Deans and administrators reveal their plans for the implementation of the Summer 2021 Board of Trustees’ Task Force Report
Fr. Jenkins C.S.C. addressed an email to the Notre Dame community on June 26th, 2020 relaying Notre Dame’s regrets about past failures in matters of racism and discrimination and articulating the university’s commitment to address these issues.
He and the Notre Dame Board of Trustees formed a task force dedicated to fixing the culture of discrimination, exclusion, and racially motivated inequities which he referenced. The outcome of this task force was the August 2021 Board of Trustees’ Task Force Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI): an assessment of the university’s current state and a vision for the university’s future regarding diversity and campus climate.
Fr. Dowd C.S.C., Assistant Provost for Internationalization and Religious Superior of the Holy Cross Community at Notre Dame, was appointed a member of this taskforce. He presented their mission in an interview with the Irish Rover, stating, “The taskforce report presents a framework that we propose to the administration; it will be up to the administration and Fr. John [Jenkins’] leadership at the university to decide how to move forward.”
In the August 2021 email announcing the completion of the report, Fr. Jenkins noted that “many students, faculty members, and staff have expressed dissatisfaction with the climate for diversity and inclusion.” He continued, “the challenge here relates to demographics of representation of individuals from various groups, but perhaps the greater concern is that members of certain groups do not feel as welcome or ‘at home’ as others. At Notre Dame, where we take pride in the sense of community on campus, we must do all we can to ensure that every member of this community feels themselves fully a part of that community. If we do, it will be a better home for all of us.”
The report seeks to confront issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion on three fronts: student admissions, faculty hiring, and faculty and staff training. In its own words, “Through this strategic outline, we [The Board of Trustees’ Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] seek to offer the University’s leaders a framework for substantive and long-term progress.” A closer look into these three areas reveals in part the concrete steps which Notre Dame plans to take moving forward.
The largest section of the report focuses on the undergraduate student body. It addresses the statistics revealing Notre Dame’s past diversity, the university’s current status, and the Board of Trustees’ vision of where the university should strive to be in the future.
Fr. Dowd explained the importance of a diverse student body to the Rover: “The concern is making sure that students from historically underrepresented groups—racial and ethnic minorities—have enough peers here for them on this campus that will help them to feel at home and to hopefully build bridges to people beyond their own ethnic and racial groups.”
He continued, “What we try to do is build a campus and community that is going to be diverse in appropriate ways and inclusive, and it’s hard for me to imagine how we can do that without taking that into consideration in the admissions process.”
Don Bishop, Associate Vice-President for Undergraduate Admission discussed with the Rover what diversity means and why it matters for the undergraduate student population: “I would say the term diversity in America has broadened quite a bit. When I started in admissions [forty-five years ago], diversity was only meant to be race and ethnicity. Probably twenty or twenty-five years ago, it was meant to include socio-economic, and probably for at least the last fifteen years it’s included additional cultural orientations, which may include but not be limited to LGBTQ. There are other forms of diversity as well, but those are probably the biggest right now: race, ethnicity, socio-economics, LGBTQ, and gender.”
After this clarification, Bishop continued, “We owe it to every Catholic [student] in America to make sure we’ve had a conversation with them: that’s our first responsibility in my opinion.”
Bishop then noted: “Some of the very, very top Catholics will not apply to Notre Dame or even consider Notre Dame unless they think we’re a diverse enough environment, because they intend to be a leader of the world, not just the Catholic world. So it’s an interesting balance; it’s a very hard one to calibrate. For the student that insists on a very Catholic environment, we should be really good. For the Catholic that’s like ‘I could go to Princeton, I could go to Cornell; is Notre Dame too Catholic? Is Notre Dame going to provide me enough?’ I think that we can show a benefit for Notre Dame for that Catholic student too.”
Notre Dame does not, however, only recruit Catholic students, Bishop clarified. He told the Rover that rather than just pursuing students who list that they are Catholic on their application, “long term, Notre Dame needs to be focused on the mission, [because] there are Catholics that don’t seem to be very strong about our mission, and there are non-Catholics who are very strong on our mission.” Bishop concluded, “I would rather that we stay focused on mission fit.”
Yet determining from an application who fits the university’s mission can be difficult, Bishop admitted. “A lot of [what the mission is] is almost ethereal, so it’s hard to measure,” he said, “But the first thing we say to our admission staff is, ‘As you finish reading every application, does this applicant in any way seem to take pride in giving more of their life than what they take from others?’ No other top university is asking that question.”
Fr. Olinger C.S.C., Vice President for Student Affairs, also spoke to the importance of diversity and the Catholic mission of the university: “I fundamentally believe that our efforts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion flow from who we are as a Catholic, Holy Cross institution. And it really comes down to [understanding] the fundamental truth that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and have that inherent dignity as a person.”
Fr. Olinger suggested that the faculty ought primarily to answer one question: “How do we help our students in our community understand and ground themselves in their deepest identity?”
The DEI report also speaks extensively about faculty hiring: “Recruitment of diverse faculty is a top university priority, as is retention of those who are already a part of the Notre Dame community. Providing departments and academic leaders with the resources and tools they need to be successful and creating accountability—both around developing diverse candidate pools and hiring diverse candidates—is critical.”
In an interview with the Rover, Ken Kelley, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research in the Mendoza College of Business, relayed in brief his involvement in promoting diversity among the Mendoza faculty, both before and after the genesis of the recent DEI report: “One of the very first things that I did coming into my role in 2016 was I worked on completing a report on diversity. We cast a very wide net, trying to find a diversity of our faculty. It’s no secret that in this college, especially, we haven’t been the most diverse institution. We’re not so unlike other top universities, but it’s still not where we want to be. And we’re working very hard to recruit a diverse faculty.”
One of the business school’s main struggles in this regard, however, is what Kelley referred to as the “pipeline problem.” In regard to this issue, he expressed: “So you think about large national universities, and if those schools are not graduating under-represented minorities, then literally our marketplace of new fresh PhDs, there’s very few of them. And we recruit very hard every year—we’ve offered tenure track positions or even tenured positions to these underrepresented minorities. [But] there’s not a lot of them producing in this narrowly defined space at the top journals of the disciplines.” Kelley revealed that Notre Dame will attempt to help solve this issue by educating racial minorities in Mendoza’s planned business PhD program which will enroll its first class in the fall of 2022.
Kelley continued his description of hiring: “When we have a faculty position, one of the things we do is we make sure that the pool of candidates that we have is sufficiently diverse. So we cast a wide net to people that apply, check that to see if sufficiently diverse people are on the shortlist, and then we try to select the best candidate for that particular position. The provost office has benchmarks that they’re looking at to see if our pool, and then our shortlist, are sufficiently diverse. We are trying to find a diverse faculty, but we’re also trying to find the best faculty that are going to be thought leaders. So it’s when those two come together that we get very excited.”
Professor Ronald Metoyer, Assistant Dean of Diversity and Special Initiatives in the College of Engineering, spoke similarly of the goals within his school: “Our broad goal is to recruit, hire, and retain faculty from groups traditionally underrepresented in engineering, and more importantly, create an environment where those faculty feel that they belong and where they can thrive. More specific goals and plans will be included in a report by the College’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We will be measuring our progress, yearly, toward the recommendations put forward in our College’s Task Force Report.”
Provost Marie Lynn Miranda clarified for the Rover what the Provost Office examines regarding diversity during their part in the hiring process. “We don’t have anything like a quota that we want ‘“X’” percent of the faculty to be of a particular race or ethnicity,” she stated.
“We certainly need to get more diversity amongst the faculty, but an equally important goal is that we need all of our students and all of our faculty and all of our staff—regardless of their racial background, or their income background, or their ethnic background—to be able to help create an environment here at the university that feels comfortable and inclusive,” Miranda explained, “Rather than talking about it as a goal that we’re trying to work toward, I like to talk about it as ‘look at what’s possible.’ Universities can have more diverse faculty, more diverse student bodies, and still have excellent academics.”
The Rover asked both Kelley and Miranda how the Catholic nature of the university informs these decisions about diversity and what the report means when it mentions “the mission” of the university.
Kelley responded, “I think because catholicism with a small “c” means universal, we are serving not any one group; we are serving the broader world. We’re trying to be a place for good in the world, not just good in South Bend. And the way to do that broadly is to serve the diversity of individuals in the world with the diversity of faculty, and I do think that’s informed by Catholic social teaching.”
Miranda expanded upon this in her interview with the Rover: “You can have what we refer to as a ‘check the box Catholic’: They were baptized and went through the early sacraments, and technically they’re Catholic, but the values of the University are not part of their daily life. Alternatively, you can have someone who is Southern Baptist—is not Catholic and is not going to become Catholic. But when they talk about why they’re in higher education, why forming the mind, body, and spirit of students is appealing to them, why they want to work on a particular research question that they’re working on, you see they’re not Catholic, but they’re fully mission aligned. 56 percent of our faculty are Catholic. The goal for the university is to have at least 50 percent of the faculty Catholic, but our goal in hiring is for 100 percent of our faculty to be mission aligned with the university.”
When asked what the formation of mind, body and spirit means, Miranda clarified, “So I’ve only been at Notre Dame for a little over a year, but I think that means something a little bit different depending on who you ask. I encourage you to ask that question of any number of people. For me, it is about getting students to think about a life framework. We certainly want to help students figure out what they’re going to do—what they’re intellectually interested in and everything like that—but what we also want to do is help them figure out not just what do you want to do, but who do you want to be in this world, and how do you want to be in this world. There can be all kinds of answers to that.”
When further asked whether there is any vision of the good which the university is striving towards, Miranda responded, “So, I think it’s an interesting question. I don’t think so, but you might talk to some other people.” She continued, “I would say it’s more that there are all these different pathways for people to go down to live a life that is meaningful and purposeful and faithful. And the right path for you might be different from the right path for your roommate, but you’re still striving to discern what that right path is.”
Susan Collins, associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, predicted answers such as those offered by Miranda. During a lecture this fall, Collins observed, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean something different to different people, and the policies that flow from them are dependent upon these meanings.”
The Rover also reached out to Dean Mustillo of the College of Arts and Letters and Dean Cole of the Law School, asking if they could speak about “any effects the [DEI] report has or will have in the sphere of academics,” neither of whom responded.
Faculty and Staff Training
The DEI report also states, “With respect to staff support and mentoring, we should evaluate the DEI staff training offered through Human Resources to measure impact and efficacy, develop strategies for greater engagement of majority employees, as well as metrics to measure success, and consider investing additional resources in Employee Resource Groups as mechanisms of support and advocacy.”
Provost Miranda spoke briefly with the Rover regarding staff training, stating, “We’re talking about holistic formation with faculty and staff as well. We’re all in this constant process of discernment.”
Erin Oliver, the Assistant Vice President in the Office for Institutional Equity, told the Rover via email, “I would assume that the DEI staff training mentioned in the report was speaking primarily to the multiple trainings that Eric Love, Director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion, facilitates. While he does a number of trainings throughout the year, the primary programs are We Are All ND and Multicultural Competencies and Hiring Game Changers.”
Oliver later scheduled an interview with the Rover, but then cancelled the interview an hour prior to its occurrence via her assistant and could not be reached for an explanation or further comment.
When approached for comment regarding these staff trainings, Eric Love told the Rover via email, “Thanks for your interest in the DEI staff evaluations. This is under development at the moment. I decline an interview or further discussion.”
This fall, Notre Dame’s human resources department added the position “Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager.” According to a September 16 university news release, recent hire Eve Kelly is the first to hold this role. She is “pursuing a doctorate in diversity and equity in education from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign with an expected graduation of May 2023.”
The Rover approached Kelly for an interview, seeking to learn more about her new role, but she abstained, stating, “Thank you for reaching out. I decline your offer to be interviewed.”
The Rover also contacted Maura Ryan, Vice President and Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs regarding the report’s claim that “diversity, equity and inclusion goals are an integral part of [professors’] annual performance goals” regarding which “they will be evaluated for the progress they make.” When asked what the “diversity, equity, and inclusion goals” are and how professor would be evaluated, Ryan responded, “the trustees’ report stresses that enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at Notre Dame, becoming a truly welcoming community, is everyone’s responsibility—students, staff and faculty. That said, the section of the report you are asking about refers to campus leaders and managers, e.g. deans and department chairs. All Schools and Colleges have DEI plans. The goals mentioned are contained in those plans.” She did not respond to a request for further comment.
The Rover also asked Robert McQuade, Vice President for Human Resources, about the implications of the report in the human resources department. Afterwhich Dennis Brown, Assistant Vice President for News and Media Relations, contacted the Rover, stating, “Your request for an interview with Mr. McQuade was forwarded to me. Thank you, but we’ll decline.”
The Rover will report further on revised DEI trainings as information is made available.
In his letter announcing the completion of the report, Fr. Jenkins spoke optimistically of its foreseen results: “The commitment and effort I have seen so far give me confidence that we can respond vigorously to the recommendations and aspirations contained in the report. There is, however,” he acknowledged, “much more to be done. There can be no doubt that the real and lasting change we seek is not the work of a month or a year, but of a longer period in the life of the University. Our commitment must be for the long term, so that the change we seek will last.”
Daniel Philpott, professor of political science at Notre Dame, presented a positive vision of how this commitment to change can be rooted in the fullness of the Catholic faith. He explained to the Rover, “The challenge for Notre Dame is whether we will root DEI efforts genuinely in our Catholic mission.”
He continued, “To do this is not simply to adopt models and concepts from surrounding secular universities, link them to correlates in Catholic social thought, and label this Catholic. This has it backwards. Rather, our task is to begin at the heart of the Church and then ask how diversity, equity, and inclusion flow from it.”
Philpott concluded his remarks, “Students and faculty, for instance, might study the lives of saints who have lived and promoted diversity in heroic ways, and they might study ways in which people in the Church have compromised these principles at various times, for instance, the historical episodes for which Pope John Paul II apologized in the 1990s. We would study and enact repentance and forgiveness, repair and reconciliation. There are other marks, too, of a DEI approach that flows from the heart of the Church rather than merely grafts Catholic language into essentially secular approaches. For instance, a genuinely Catholic approach would hew consistently to the Church’s teachings on life, marriage, and sexuality and would insist upon the academic freedom of the faculty and upon the university’s freedom to remain true to this message in the face of surrounding legal and cultural pressures.”
W. Joseph DeReuil is a sophomore studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, Classics, and Constitutional Studies. He is currently catching up on all the homework he neglected while writing this article. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Office of the President, University of Notre Dame