Holistic formation is at the core of a Notre Dame education

Charles and Jill Fischer Provost Marie Lynn Miranda joined the University of Notre Dame in 2020 to replace former provost Tom Burish, who retired after fifteen years as the chief academic officer.  Miranda shared her experience in the role, her academic vision for the university, and her thoughts on research, teaching, and interdisciplinarity in an interview with the Rover. 

In her role as provost, Miranda is responsible for directing the deans and assistant deans, maintaining a presence in university life, and serving as a public face for the university to friends, donors, and external institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Congress. Miranda enjoys being available to members of the university.

“I hold open office hours so anybody in the university can come and talk to me. I try to actually do a couple of meetings a day as walk-and-talks so I get a sense of the mood of the campus just by absorbing it,” she said.

Constant availability comes with its challenges, Miranda recognizes: “I wish I could tell you that I was really good at getting through my email every day, but I am still struggling to come up with the system that allows me to churn through about 300 to 350 emails per day … I’m a work in progress, as we all are.”

Miranda appreciates the emphasis Notre Dame places on holistic education, or the “development of mind, body and spirit,” a goal which she has sought to extend beyond undergraduate education into graduate education and employment of faculty and staff.

“We are all in a lifetime of discernment. We are in a lifetime of figuring out what our highest calling is, and how we can be that ‘force for good,’” she said, “And I really love the fact that we are extending [holistic education] to the entire university community. That is tightly tied to our Catholic character.”

Miranda pointed to the “false dichotomy” often seen between research and teaching. She explained: “I am a researcher myself, and I can tell you my research made me a better teacher, and teaching made me a better researcher … Your research program teaches you a lot about how inquiry works and how to share that inquiry with other people. So I think it really makes us stronger teachers.”

She added: “I also think that good research programs provide incredible opportunities to students to get involved in knowledge discovery processes. We have a student body that really yearns for that opportunity to connect at a very deep intellectual level with a subject, and that is supported by a strong research program at the University.”

In addition to the university’s status as a research institution, Miranda spoke to the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of education at Notre Dame. Neuroscience, environmental sciences, applied computational mathematics and statistics, medieval studies, and the new global affairs major are all examples of interdisciplinary majors, she said. These programs are an essential part of the modern university, she argued.

“We have now reached a point in higher education, where we’re going back in the other direction, where we’re saying that we actually need to integrate across multiple disciplines to attack the most important problems that the world faces today,” Miranda said. “So if you think about inequalities, surely we need an understanding of how inequalities have been depicted and wrestled with throughout the ages in literature.”

“The faculty are figuring out that these connections across departments and even across colleges and schools are really fruitful ways for us to think about teaching and to think about research. Interdisciplinarity in our educational programs is not necessarily to solve specific problems, as it is to provide an ability to integrate across disciplines that contribute to whole areas of inquiry,” Miranda explained.

She noted that the university must constantly adapt to the needs of students and of the world. “One of the things that we have to understand is that while we hold very dearly the most important intellectual and social traditions here at the university, the way to live the mission of the university today is different from how we lived it 30 years ago, and the way that we live it 30 years from now is going to be different from today, because as each new generation of students come in, they come in with a different set of life experiences, a different set of preparations, and a different set of desires for engagement and meaning.”

She continued, “That’s what Notre Dame wants to do: take on the most challenging questions that the world presents to us.”

Zef Crnkovich is a senior from Falls Church, Virginia, studying classics with a minor in constitutional studies. He greatly appreciates hot takes: please send them and other comments to jcrnkovi@nd.edu.

Photo credit: University of Notre Dame, Office of the Provost